Thursday, October 1, 2015

Vegetable Feature: Jicama

by Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Harvesting Jicama
Before we kick off this week’s vegetable feature, let’s cover one thing right off the bat—pronunciation! Our delicious feature this week is jicama, which you can choose to pronounce one of two ways: HICK-uh-mah or HEE-kuh-mah. Also known as the Mexican yam or Mexican turnip, jicama is native to—you guessed it—Mexico! This vegetable is the edible tuberous root of a vine that can grow to be 20 feet in length. The largest recorded jicama weighed in at a whopping 50 pounds! At Harmony Valley Farm, we deal in much smaller versions of this vegetable, keeping them to less than 5 pounds each—a much more manageable amount to work with in your kitchen.

Apart from its brown papery skin, jicama is entirely edible. The creamy white flesh is firm, sweet and slightly starchy with a very distinct crunch. Thinking of jicama as a savory apple, as TheKitchn describes it, may help in classifying this unique food that many of us may have had limited exposure to.

Jicama is typically enjoyed raw, though it can be sautéed or stir-fried and still retain its crunch. To prepare, begin by peeling the skin. Using a chef’s knife, remove a thin slice from the top and bottom of your jicama in order to create a flat surface on each end. Working from top to bottom and following the curve, carefully slide your knife under the skin to remove it. Once peeled, you don’t need to worry about removing any seeds as the entire interior portion is edible.  Jicama is often served in very simple preparations such as salads, slaws, salsas or just eaten raw on a vegetable tray.  It pairs well with citrus fruits, peppers, avocado and cilantro.

The jicama harvest begins! 
Unlike apples and other fruits, jicama doesn’t oxidize (turn color) once its flesh has been exposed to air. Store half of your jicama in the fridge for later use and all you’ll need to do is remove the thin layer of exposed flesh that has become somewhat dry. In general, store your jicama loose in a cool, dry place at room temperature where it should keep for about 2 to 3 weeks.  The storage for jicama is similar to sweet potatoes.  They are actually subject to chill injury at temperatures less than about 50 degrees.

While it’s challenging to grow jicama in the Midwest, we’re continuing to learn about growing this crop in Wisconsin.  One of our employees, Jose Antonio Cervantes Gutierrrez, introduced us to this crop several years ago with a small handful of seeds he brought from home.  After some experimentation, we’ve finally figured out how to pull off this crop with success.  We use a combination of an early start in the greenhouse and the use of plastic mulch to trap heat and increase the soil temperature to create a microclimate more similar to the ideal growing conditions for this crop.  We hope you enjoy this little taste of the tropics!

Jicama Sticks with Chile & Lime 

(Botana de Jicama con Chile y Limon)

Servings: 6
1 pound jicama, peeled
Juice of 2 limes (about ¼ cup)
Juice of ½ bitter orange (about 1 Tbsp), optional
1 Tbsp distilled white vinegar
¼ tsp ground dried chile, cayenne or red pepper flakes
¼ tsp salt
⅛ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp finely chopped cilantro, optional
1 tsp sugar, optional

  1. Cut the jicama lengthwise into ½-inch thick slices, then cut the slices into ½-inch wide sticks. 
  2. Place the sticks in a medium bowl and toss with the rest of the ingredients.  Arrange in small 2-ounce shot glasses, standing them up like breadsticks, and moisten with the juices of the marinade.

This is a traditional way to enjoy jicama in Mexico and is a common street food offering.  This is Maricel Presilla’s interpretation of this method of preparation that is featured in her cookbook, Gran Cocina Latina.

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