Sunday, July 5, 2015

What the heck is that? Jicama

Not every fruit or vegetable is a showstopper. Not every kind of produce is gorgeous or dramatic or just plain weird.

Some produce items have a quiet kind of charm. Jicama is in that camp.

It's hard to image a less attention-grabbing look than jicama's. Jicamas are squat and dun-colored, and like potatoes, jicamas are tubers. Native to Mexico, the jicama was brought by Spanish colonialism to the Philippines and from there, elsewhere in Asia.

What accounts for the multi-continental spread of this modest root vegetable? Perhaps this very modesty is the secret source of the jicama's popularity.

First, as a root vegetable, jicama keeps very well. Dry, temperate storage (not refrigeration) can keep the jicama usable for months - the essence of low maintenance.

In taste, too, the jicama is modest. It tastes like a very mild, starchy apple, with a light, refreshing quality that lends well to many uses. It can be eaten raw or included in a stir-fry -- with never a fear that it will overpower a star ingredient, spice or condiment.

Jicamas are often found showcasing the great Mexican flavors of lime and hot peppers (or its kissing cousin, hot sauce). Sounds good to me!

To make a modest and refreshing Mexican snack, peel the jicama. Rid of its tough outer skin, the jicama bears a striking resemblance to a water chestnut - albeit an extraordinarily large water chestnut.

"Preparation" thereafter is extremely simple: just cut into thick matchsticks.

Some salt, some lime and your choice: hot sauce or finely diced jalapeno.

That's it? Really? Okay, you could put it on a plate.

Or add it to a platter of crudites, for a color pop against the red bell pepper and baby carrots. Julienne it and add to salads. Serve it with creamy dip or hot refried beans. Jicama can be counted on to bring a refreshing, mild taste and satisfying crunch to whatever you have in mind.

You can cook with jicama, too. Any dish that could incorporate water chestnuts is fair game for jicama - soups, stir fry, pot stickers. Jicama is a good team player.

I'm sure jicama wouldn't mind this praise - even if it would never go out of its way to draw attention to itself.

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