Mexico Life
Serve jicama raw or cooked, as in a stir fry. Serve jicama raw or cooked, as in a stir fry.

Jicama is a versatile vegetable but make sure it’s fresh

They’re inexpensive and readily available all over Mexico

I don’t know about you, but jicama is another one of those things I’d never heard of or even seen before I moved to Mexico. Even then, at first I ignored the round, bumpy tubers piled up at the mercado and little tiendas in my neighborhood.

At some point curiosity got the better of me and I began to buy one now and then, carefully peeling off the paper-thin skin and cutting it into thin sticks to munch on. Inside it looks like a potato, but is sweet, crispy and juicy, like a firm pear.

That was about all I ever did with jicama until a friend served a salad that included shredded jicama and I saw what I’d been missing. 

In my opinion the most important thing to know about this member of the bean family is how to pick fresh ones. Once they’re a little old, the crispy, sweet, juicy flesh gets stringy, tough and kind of tasteless. This was something I didn’t learn until one of the farmers at the Mazatlán Mercado Orgánico (whose nickname is, appropriately, “The Jicama Guy”) had me taste jicama that had just been dug that morning. All I can say is – wow! What a difference than the store-bought ones!

The name jicama comes from the Náhuatl word xīcamatl. It’s sometimes called the “Mexican turnip” or yam bean, although it’s really like neither of those in flavor or texture. The plants produce pretty flowers and then bean pods (which are poisonous and used in the making of insect poisons!), but the edible tubers themselves grow underground.

Make sure you buy jicama fresh for the best flavor.
Make sure you buy jicama fresh for the best flavor.

Jicama plants require a long, nine-month growing period and do not tolerate frost or cold. They’re inexpensive and readily available all over Mexico; just try to find the freshest ones possible for the best flavor.

Jicama, cut into sticks, can be kept in a container of water in the fridge for a tasty, calorie-free snack. Creative chefs are also using paper-thin slices of jicama in place of tortillas for tacos and wraps.

Apple-Jicama Slaw

  • ½ small head green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced
  • ½ large jicama, sliced into matchsticks
  • 1 apple, sliced into matchsticks
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup pineapple or apple juice
  • 1 tsp. white sugar
  • Hot sauce to taste
  • Salt & pepper
  • Chopped fresh cilantro

Place cabbage, jicama and apple in a large bowl and toss. In a separate bowl, whisk mayonnaise, juice, sugar, hot sauce, salt and pepper in a bowl until smooth and fluffy. Pour mayonnaise mixture over cabbage, jicama,and apple; add cilantro and toss to combine. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Jicama & Pepper Stir-Fry

When making a stir-fry, always cut the veggies the same size and thickness, so they cook quickly and uniformly. Feel free to use what you’ve got on hand: carrots, asparagus, celery, mushrooms – whatever!

  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • ½ medium onion, cut into wedges
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 green, yellow or red bell peppers, cut into thin strips (2 cups)
  • 1 jicama, peeled and cut into 2x ½ -inch pieces (about 1-1/3 cups)
  • 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh limón juice
  • 1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame seeds
  • Optional: 1 cup cooked cut-up chicken, pork or tofu

Pour cooking oil into a wok or large skillet. (Add more cooking oil as necessary during cooking.) Preheat over medium-high heat. Sauté onion, ginger, and garlic in hot oil for 15 seconds. Add sweet peppers and jicama; stir-fry for 2 minutes. Add protein, if using, and heat through. Add soy sauce and sesame oil; sauté about 2 minutes more or until peppers are crisp-tender. Sprinkle with limón juice and top with sesame seeds.

Jicama Mango Salad

  • Great as a side dish, or serve on fish or shrimp tacos.
  • 1 large jicama, peeled & cut into matchsticks
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 mango, peeled & cut into matchsticks
  • ½ red onion, cut into matchsticks
  • ½-1 fresh jalapeño, minced

Dressing:

  • ½ cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne

Toss jicama, red pepper, mango and onion together in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix together cilantro, lime juice, honey, salt and cayenne. Pour cilantro mixture over the jicama mixture and toss gently to coat. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 15 minutes to blend flavors. – AllRecipes.com

Oven-baked jicama fries — try them with guacamole.
Oven-baked jicama fries — try them with guacamole.

Baked Jicama Fries

These won’t get as crispy as fries made with potatoes, but they taste good nonetheless. Serve with a creamy dipping sauce or guacamole.

  • 2-3 jicama, peeled and cut into medium-sized fries
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp fresh limón juice 
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/8 tsp. chile powder
  • 1/8 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a small bowl, combine spices. Gently toss the jicama fries with the oil and lime juice, then sprinkle with the spice blend. Spread fries evenly on a baking sheet, making sure they’re not crowded or they’ll steam and get soft instead of crispy. Bake for 20-25 minutes, flip, and bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately. –Huffpost.com

Janet Blaser of Mazatlán, Sinaloa, has been a writer, editor and storyteller her entire life and feels fortunate to write about great food, amazing places, fascinating people and unique events. Her work has appeared in numerous travel and expat publications as well as newspapers and magazines. Her first book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expats, is available on Amazon. Contact Janet or read her blog at whyweleftamerica.com.

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