Jicama: Healthy Mexican Yams

Elmer and Ailyn Viernes grow fruit and vegetables on 40 acres at Kilohana Plantation in Lihu’e. Sustainable farming techniques include seed saving, crop diversity, crop rotation, chicken manure as fertilizer and no chemical pesticides.

What’s growing: Apple banana, beets, bitter melon, bok choy, cherry tomato, chicken eggs, eggplant, herbs, Chinese ginger, green onion, jicama, long beans, okra, peanuts, pineapple, pumpkin, GMO-free sunrise papaya, sweet potato, wing beans.

JICAMA

Jicama (pronounced hick-a-ma), also known as Mexican yam, yambean or Mexican turnip, is a native Mexican legume that produces an edible tuberous root. The white-fleshed tuber can weigh from half a pound to 5 pounds or more. Spaniards spread cultivation of jicama from Mexico to the Philippines, and from there it went to Southeast Asia.

Shaped like a turnip, jicama has a thin, brown skin and crisp, juicy flesh similar to a fine apple or water chestnut. Its mildly sweet flavor enables it to be used in many ways. Uses of jicama include fresh lumpia in the Philippines, popiah, a crepe-like wrapper filled with stir-fried vegetables in Singapore and Malaysia, and yusheng, a Chinese raw fish salad.

Mexicans recognize jicama as one of the four elements used for The Festival of the Dead, celebrated Nov. 1, and make “jicama dolls” from strips of paper.

Season: The jicama plant is a vine that grows 20 feet or higher. On Kaua’i, jicama can be grown year-round.

What to look for: Jicama can be eaten at any size and freshly harvested, they will have smooth, taut skin with a dull sheen.

As a tuber, jicama will store for a long time, but turn woody as they age.

Storage: Store at room temperature for up to one week, after that the starch begins to break down and the bulbs become tough and lose flavor.

Preparation: Jicama can be eaten raw, steamed, stir-fried or baked. Peel away papery skin before using and add raw to salads along with any combination of carrots, mango, avocados, oranges, radish, bell peppers or cilantro. Shredded, they make an excellent addition to coleslaw. Mexicans enjoy raw jicama thinly sliced and tossed with chili powder and lime juice.

Health benefits: Although jicama can be used in some of the same ways as a potato, it is less starchy and lower in calories. One cup of jicama has 46 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates and 1 gram of protein. It’s very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, a very good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C and a good source of potassium.

Elmer’s Farm produce can be found at: Restaurants: Hanamaulu Cafe. Farmers markets: Kukui Grove, Mondays at 3 p.m.; Kapa’a, Wednesdays at 3 p.m.; Vidinha Stadium, Fridays at 3 p.m.; Kaua’i Community College, Saturday at 9:30 a.m.; Hanalei, Saturdays at 9:30 a.m. Call 652-4201 for details.

FLAWLESS JICAMA SLAW

ABOVE Peel jicama’s papery skin to enjoy the sweet flesh RIGHT This zesty jicama slaw makes an excellent topper for fresh fish tacos

This salad can be tossed with cubes of tofu or served with grilled chicken and is an excellent topping on fresh fish tacos. Feel free to add shredded carrots, fennel or cabbage, and use any leftover lime-mint vinaigrette with cucumbers, lettuce, rice or melons. Makes four servings.

* zest and juice of 1 lime
* 4 tablespoons canola oil
* 2 scallions, sliced into rounds
* 2 tablespoons chopped mint
* 1 medium jicama, (about 1 pound) shredded
* 1 small Hawaiian chili pepper, diced
* Hawaiian sea salt, to taste
* freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine lime juice, zest, oil, chili pepper, scallions, mint, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk. Add jicama and toss to combine. Add 1 tablespoon of dressing and toss through. Taste and add more dressing, if desired.

Marta Lane is a Kaua’i-based food writer. For more information, visit TastingKauai.com.

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