I wouldn’t have given it a second glance if the name hadn’t popped out at me like a flashing neon light through the bleak, wintry darkness. Maybe it was the fluorescents playing tricks on my already failing eyes, but I thought the label said “Jamaica.” What a coincidence as that was exactly where I wanted to be, rather than the chilly aisle of the produce section. I looked again. Oh, jicama. With its roots sheared off, it resembled a squat, scabby potato, but I bought it anyway, hoping to bring a little piece of Jamaica home with me. I was soon deflated by the cashier who commented on my jicama, pronouncing it HEE ca mah. Hmmm. That didn’t even sound close to Jamaica. Probably because, as I was soon to discover, the jicama’s roots are not Jamaican, but native to Mexico. In fact, one of its aliases is “The Mexican Potato.” But the good news is, Mexico is another place I want to be this winter. Especially when I receive fun-filled emails from relatives who are spending six months in Puerto Vallarta. Judging from their photos, while we’re having snowed-in pajama parties, they’re having blowout piñata parties. So, I’ve chosen jicama to be my little piece of Mexico this winter. While it certainly isn’t the most attractive vegetable, once you peel away the blemished tan-coloured skin, pure beauty is revealed in its bright, white flesh. As I scraped away, I thought of the many ways I could pleasure my palate with this tempting tuber. I took a bite and found the place where a hint of kohlrabi meets sugarcane, then finishes with a splash of clear, sweet, juicy potato starch. I roasted some with vegetables I was preparing for soup. When used in cooking, jicama borrows the flavours of its co-ingredients, and contributes a subtle sweetness to the mix. I cut some more and shredded and tossed it with chopped tomatillos. I teased it with chillies, then tempered with lime. I sliced it in rounds and spread it with peanut butter. I cut it in strips and dipped it in ranch dressing. Wow! This is one versatile vegetable. A jicama could fit in equally well on either a veggie tray or a fruit platter. It doesn’t discolour when cut, and even after sitting awhile, still packs a crispy crunch. But there was only so much to go around. Julienned with peppers and tomatoes for salsa, and slawing with cabbage, carrots and Italian dressing will have to wait for another time. After all the chopping, roasting, spreading and dipping, I decided my favourite flavour was the first one. Unadorned, without garnish, yet anything but plain – I liked it just the way it was. I declare jicama as my new favourite member of the potato family. Its nutritional value is similar to our traditional tuber, with one cup of raw jicama providing 40% of an adult’s daily vitamin C requirements. It’s also high in fibre and folic acid, and has the added benefit of having only 46 calories a cup, about 10 less than a potato. Which just goes to show, you can’t judge a root (or a fruit, for that matter) by its cover. It’s what’s inside that counts!
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