Sunday, February 5, 2012

Further Adventures in Produce: Jicama

When I made this week’s trip to the produce section, I decided to scout out a vegetable adventure.  (After two weeks of fruit, it seemed only fair.)  Little did I know, when I picked up this week’s candidate, that I’d chosen a sweet vegetable sometimes used in fruit salads:  jicama.

As you can see from the photo, jicama is an odd-looking tuber:  pointy, rough-skinned, slightly hairy.  The Hubs was pretty certain we’d tried it before, but I have no memory of this–which, I confess, doesn’t mean much of anything these days.  A little research prepared us for something that tasted like a cross between a potato and an apple.  But, while jicama looks like a potato, the taste and texture really don’t compare at all.

Before you taste it, of course, you have to peel it.  The rough outer skin of the jicama was a little too much for my potato peeler; however, I quickly determined that using a paring knife to lift up a piece of the skin made it possible to pull off large swatches with ease.  Underneath the outer skin is a tough, fibrous layer that’s easily removed with the aforementioned potato peeler.  This sounds complicated, I know, but it took me less than three minutes to peel the jicama.

We tried the jicama raw, first, after reading this suggestion.  It’s surprisingly easy to chop into matchsticks, since jicama is jucier than you might imagine it would be (given that it looks so much like a hard, dry potato.)  I recognized its flavor immediately, though I couldn’t place it at first; it took me a few minutes to realize that it reminded me of the flavor of sugar snap peas.  The Boy gave it a taste and said “It’s just neutral.  Not sweet, not bitter, not good, not bad.”  The Hubs gave it a taste and wrinkled his nose–which, to his credit, doesn’t happen very often.  The Girl, who had heard none of this, took a taste at my prompting and said, “It tastes like lettuce.”   I told her my impression, and she nodded.  “You’re right.  It tastes exactly like those pea pods.”

I think raw jicama would work for us in a green salad, primarily as a crunchy texture–I liked it well enough raw, on its own, but I was clearly the only one.  It might also work as a firm texture in fruit salads, as one webpage suggested, in place of apples.

I decided to try the jicama in a stir-fry, since the family wasn’t crazy about it in raw form.  I chopped up some baby carrots and a little onion,  then tossed the carrots and onions with some olive oil–just enough to coat them.  That mixture went into a hot saute pan, where it stayed until the carrots started to soften up.  Then I added the diced jicama, a splash of soy sauce and a sprinkle of garlic powder.  This concoction was more to the family’s liking–The Girl said the jicama suddenly tasted just like a potato, and The Hubs really liked the combination of sweet carrots, salty soy sauce and crunchy, juicy jicama.  I was pleased to discover that jicama doesn’t change texture after cooking.  You could easily substitute it in any Asian recipe that calls for water chestnuts.

The final verdict:  jicama is squarely in the “maybe” category on my shopping list.  No one objected to it, but no one seemed particularly excited about it, either.  If I’m planning a stir-fry, it would be an easy ingredient to include; if I’m making a big green salad for a social gathering, I might chop some jicama and toss it in as a novelty.  The sweet flavor would be a good compliment to a tart lemon vinaigrette dressing–and since jicama is also a good source of Vitamin C, it’s a healthy addition to salads.  The jicama I bought this week cost just over a dollar, which means it won’t be a big indulgence if I decide to try it again.





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One Response to “Further Adventures in Produce: Jicama”

  1. 1

    Ali — February 27, 2012 @ 10:59 am

    Sounds like it would be good grated in a salad, along with some grated carrots! :)

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