It’s been a while since I’ve discussed an undereaten vegetable, isn’t it? Previously, I’ve talked a bit about cabbage, kohlrabi, and turnips. The idea of this series is to review the benefits of the underdog veg as well as easy ways to integrate it into your diet. Jicama, for those who don’t routinely eat it, is a delicious crunchy white root originally from Mexico. Today, it’s also commonly eaten in Mexico, Central America, and in Southeast Asia. Jicama tends to be reasonably affordable in supermarkets that serve Latino populations or have a wide selection of produce. There was a bump in jicama popularity about 10-15 years ago, but the trend seems to have faded.
Preparation is quite simple: peel, and slice or dice. They come in a wide range of sizes: from 250 grams to 2 kilograms. The ones I buy here are often around 500 grams. The roots are often waxed for storage, so you may find it easiest to use a knife rather than a vegetable peeler. Slice off the top and bottom, then place it top down on the cutting board. Slice vertically down the sides to remove the skin. Continue as with any other root vegetable. Jicama is commonly eaten in salads, and I quite like eating it as jicama sticks mixed with carrot sticks (kid-friendly lunch box idea!). Traditionally, it’s a cooling food that can be mixed with fiery spices for a balanced culinary experience. Try dipping it in salsa instead of tortilla chips, serving it beside a spicy taco, or adding to an Indonesian or Chinese fried rice instead of water chestnuts. A simple spicy black bean and corn salad benefits from the crunch and sweetness of diced jicama. Not very long ago I saw a recipe for making oven roasted jicama fries. I haven’t tried them, but it seems like an interesting option.
In the north, growing jicama can be a bit of challenge. (Caveat: I haven’t done it. yet.) The roots need about 4 to 9 months to mature, and the plants don’t start to produce tubers until the days are long enough. Season extension may make it possible for you to grow your own, if you have a short season. Both starting the seedlings indoors and then using low tunnels or cold frames can give you a better chance of harvesting a good-sized tuber from your plants. They are sensitive to frost, and the plants may benefit from trellising or other support. CAUTION: the leaves and seed pods are poisonous.
In terms of nutrition, it’s a great source of vitamin C and fiber. Also, like most vegetables, it contains some potassium. For dieters, it’s low in calories (23 calories in a half cup, raw), making it great way to add some volume to your meal without too many calories. Happy eating!
Image courtesy of the CDC.