What is it?
Any Mexican will be able to answer immediately: jicama!
Jicama, pronounced "HEE-cama", is a root vegetable native to Mexico and is very common here, especially eaten as a snack with lime juice, chilli powder or chamoy.
I've got a jicama - now what do I do with it?
In all my twelve years in Mexico, I'd eaten jicama lots of times but never prepared it myself until a couple of weeks ago. As part of the celebrations for Children's Day at the end of April, at the kindergarten where I work we organised a "cookery" workshop, in which one of the activities involved dipping sticks of jicama in a chamoy fountain. Chamoy, by the way, is a sweet/ acidic chilli sauce, artificially bright red in colour and very popular with kids. It could be worthy of a post to itself - watch this space!
We had to prepare the chopped jicama beforehand of course, as small children and sharp knives are not a good combination, so the previous day I took some of the jicamas home and in the evening tried to work out what to do with them! They needed washing first, since the jicama is a root they were covered in a rather dusty dirt. Then obviously they needed to be peeled because you don't eat the rather tough brown skin. So I got out the vegetable peeler and set to work. Big mistake! It was such hard work! I thought the vegetable peeler had suddenly gone completely blunt. I struggled to peel the whole jicama, with somewhat patchy results and feeling totally disheartened, and daunted at the prospect of the second jicama I still had to peel.
On the chopping board, I took a big chef's knife and chopped of the root end, then used this flat surface as the base and cut the jicama into thick round slices. I then had to cut off the remains of the skin from each slice, as just under the outer brown layer, the white flesh is still very tough and fibrous. It was then I had a brainwave: I'm not going to peel the second jicama, I thought to myself. I'm just going to chop it into slices and cut off all the skin slice by slice! I felt rather clever.
So no vegetable peeler for the second jicama, I just chopped off one end with the knife and was going to start slicing the rest when I noticed that as I cut into the skin I could just lift it up and pull it and peel off a whole strip of skin quite easily, kind of like peeling the bark off a stick. So I ended up peeling the whole jicama that way, which didn't take long. It was then that I had the revelation: You're not supposed to peel jicama with a vegetable peeler - you peel it with a knife!
Why had no one told me that? I had to find out the hard way! Needless to say, subsequent jicamas were peeled and chopped much more quickly and easily.
Unless you're catering for a lot of people, you probably won't want to chop up a whole jicama all at once as it will dry out after a couple of days, but you can keep it much longer if you just cut off the amount you want as you're going to use it and put the rest in the fridge. It doesn't discolour but the exposed part will start to go dry so you'll have to cut the dry part off the next time you use it.
6 different ways to eat jicama:
Most typical: cut into sticks, maybe also with carrot and cucumber sticks, sprinkle with chilli powder and squeeze lime juice over it.
Alternatively, grate the jicama into a clear plastic cup, add grated carrot and maybe some thin strips of cucumber too; don't mix together, so that you can see and taste the distinct colours and flavours. Sprinkle with lime juice, chilli powder or chamoy.
The famous "jicaleta" was a snack craze a few years ago and you used to see them everywhere; these days they're less common. The name is an amalgam of "jicama" and "paleta" (lollipop). Cut the jicama to the size and shape of a Magnum ice cream, then put a stick in one end and there you have your "lollipop". You can then dip it into or sprinkle it with sweet chilli powder, chamoy or different coloured and flavoured powders. Despite the extra sugar, salt and artificial colourings, the jicaleta is still a healthy snack!
In a salad: Needless to say, there are endless combinations of ingredients you can use with jicama to create the perfect salad. This one I made not long ago was near-perfect, even if I do say so myself. Chopped lettuce, cucumber, diced mango, grated jicama, chicken strips and cubes of panela cheese. Add a dressing of your choice - I just used lime juice, olive oil and salt. It was so delicious and refreshing!
|Jicama, mango and chicken salad|
In a stir-fry: I've never tried cooked jicama, but apparently it's good sautéed for a short time so it still retains its crispy texture. Next time I buy a jicama I'll try this.
Baked jicama crisps: Another recipe I haven't tried; apparently somewhat time-consuming but could be worth it. Cut the jicama into wafer-thin slices (you can use something called a mandolin - I thought that was a musical instrument!) and bake in the oven until crispy.
What makes it good for you?
High fibre and low calories mean jicama is excellent for helping with weight loss and a healthy digestive system.
A good part of the fibre in jicama is oligofructose inulin, an inert carbohydrate which does not metabolize into simple sugars in the body and is therefore an excellent snack for diabetics. This substance can also help to
- lower cholesterol
- maintain healthy bones
- boost the immune system
- lower the risk of colon cancer.
- It is very high in vitamin C (around a third of your recommended daily allowance in one cup of raw jicama) - an antioxidant essential for your immune system and to help fight against cancer.
- It contains potassium - important for managing blood pressure and keeping our bodies hydrated.
- It has smaller but still significant amounts of iron and copper - good for healthy circulation.
- It is a source of iron, copper, calcium, manganese and magnesium - minerals which contribute to maintaining strong, healthy bones and preventing osteoporosis.
- It contains small amounts of B-complex vitamins, such as folates, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, thiamin and piridoxine.
Also remember: don't use a vegetable peeler!
Let me know if you have any other recipes or useful facts about jicama in the comments section below.
I'd also be interested to know if anyone in the UK has ever come across jicama there, as I'd never seen them before I came to Mexico. It would be great to be able to post an update with a list of places where you can buy jicama, for readers in the UK or other countries.
Sources and further information: