This fleshy underground tuber pronounced (HEE-ka-mah) grows on a plant that also produces a poisonous legume - pea pods. There are two primary varieties, one that originated in Mexico and the other in South America. Spanish traders brought it to Asia in the 17th century where it flourished. Today, it is primarily enjoyed in Southwestern restaurants, as chefs love the texture it brings to recipes with its fabulous crunch. Because of the proliferation of Latin and Asian communities nationwide, jicama is now readily available in most produce markets.
Parents should take note that its inherent crunchiness, juiciness and slightly sweet flavor offer tremendous appeal to children. At dinnertime, when little ones are bored of snacking on the ubiquitous carrot, why not let them explore this fascinating looking vegetable? My youngest has been known to keep focused for 20 minutes on the task of peeling a chunk of jicama. While it can be awkward to hold, if you cut it into 'building block' shapes of rectangles and triangles, kids can easily peel the outer sides one by one with a vegetable peeler while you are close at hand supervising.
Because it's so subtly flavored, my favorite way to use jicama is as a tasting device for kids. Once they agree that they like its subtle taste, you can set them on a quest to find jicama's most delicious accompaniments. While you're cooking, offer long fingers of raw jicama (cut like long French fries) for your child to dip into various sauces, soups, dips, etc. (If you store it this way, it will keep for about one week wrapped tightly in plastic or in a plastic container.) Start this with your child's favorite foods. Rather than use a spoon to 'taste' your spaghetti sauce, let them dip the jicama into it. The hot sauce will cool more quickly for a taste than when it's on a spoon as well.
When you have had success with foods they like to taste, it's time to use it to entice your child to taste new foods you want them to try. The jicama trick will make it more fun, especially if you're asking their opinion about what foods taste good with jicama. There are so many foods that would taste delicious when tasted with a jicama stick:
- Salad dressing
- All types of soups
- All types of pasta sauces
- Sauces for meat or fish
Kids tend to be pretty fussy about these things, so the jicama trick can be a welcome strategy for encouraging kids to taste something new. Here is my family's favorite jicama recipe. Since it absorbs the vibrant flavors of Asian and Latin cuisine, adding jicama to recipes will provide a crunchy addition with textural fun to simple meals.
Jicama, Avocado, Crab and Rice Salad
Adapted from Lynn Fredericks
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup rice (Japanese sushi rice or regular medium-grain rice)
- 1/2 very ripe avocado
- 4-6 artificial crab sticks
- 8 ounces jicama (about 1/4-1/3 typical sized jicama)
- 1 Tablespoon mirin (Japanese cooking wine)
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Have your child measure the rice and water and pour them into a saucepan. Heat the rice and cook on low heat until the water is absorbed. (If you are not using Japanese rice, you may need to add more water).
While the rice is cooking, have the children help you peel the avocado. With a table knife, even small children can help you slice and chop the avocado into small pieces. Place in a medium salad bowl.
The children can also help you cut up each crab 'stick' into 5-6 small pieces and add to the bowl. Then they can help peel the jicama. If you are working with very small children (under 8 years), the adult should slice the jicama into small matchstick shapes or tiny dice.
When the rice is cooked, turn it into a bowl to cool. When just slightly warm, add the seasonings and mix. Then add rice to the bowl with crab and vegetables. Adjust seasoning, adding some salt if necessary. Just before serving, sprinkle the sesame seeds over the salad. It's a great side dish for Asian marinated flank steak, pork or shrimp.
Jicama, jicama, jicama
how many times can you say it in a row? While trying, check out these jicama recipes from other StarChefs
Keep kids in mind and give them tasks you know they can do safely!
Chef Rick Bayless
Spicy Jicama Salad with Tangerines and Fresh Coriander
Chef John Manion
Blue Marlin and Smoked Jalapeņo-Tequila Ceviche
Fredericks thoughts on feeding her children