Jicama—the large, bulbous, woody-looking root vegetable—has something of a raw potato texture and a slightly sweet apple taste. And when it’s one of the small (¾-pound) fresh-dug variety that comes out in the fall, it needs nothing more than the street vendor’s squeeze of lime and sprinkling of salt and hot chile powder. In West-Central Mexico, restaurants sometimes offer jicama prepared with orange and cilantro (pico de gallo), and everywhere in the Republic the street-side fruit-salad sellers mix it with cantaloupe, watermelon, papaya and the like.
The refreshing recipe that follows is from a street vendor in Mérida, Yucatán.
Yield: 6 to 8 cups (depending on the ingredients chosen), 6 to 8 servings
1 small (1-pound) jicama, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
½ cup bitter orange juice (or Mock Bitter Orange Juice, see Notes)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 red-skinned apple, cored and cut into ¾-inch cubes (optional)
½ small cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch cubes (optional)
3 tangerines, peeled, broken into sections and, if you wish, seeds cut out
About 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
Powdered dried chile, about 1 teaspoon (see Notes)
2 or 3 small leaves romaine lettuce, for garnish
1. Marinating the Jicama: Place the jicama in a large noncorrosive bowl, pour in the bitter orange juice and sprinkle with salt. Toss well, cover and let stand at room temperature for an hour or so.
2. Finishing the salad: About 15 minutes before serving, add the apple, cantaloupe, tangerines and fresh coriander to the bowl and mix thoroughly. Toss the mixture every few minutes until time to serve. Season with powdered chile, and add more salt and fresh coriander, if desired. Toss one final time and scoop the salad into a serving dish lined with romaine leaves.
Jicama: If none is available, you can make a nice salad (though one that lacks the gentle sweetness and open crunchy texture) by substituting small fresh turnips and/or daikon radish.
Powdered Dried Chile: Jicama gets sprinkled with the fiery-hot powdered chile seco in Yucatán and chile de árbol most everywhere else. I like to use the less-hot powdered New Mexico or California chiles, then add a little cayenne to bring, up the heat level.
Tirning and Advance Preparation
The dish should be started 1½ hours before serving, though you will spend only about ½ hour actively working on it.
Pico de Gallo: This West-Central version of jicama salad is named “rooster’s beak” because everything is chopped up. Marinate the jicama in ¼ cup lime juice and a little salt. Toss with 2 small seedless oranges (segmented and cubed), fresh coriander and powdered chile. I’ve also had an elegant version of sliced jicama laid out on a platter, alternating and overlapping with rounds of orange and cucumber; the whole assemblage was sprinkled with lime, coriander and chile.
Cress and Jicama salad: Cut ½ small jicama and an equal portion daikon radish into matchsticks, and marinate in the bitter orange juice. Drain reserving the juice. Blend to gether half the juice, an equal portion of olive oil and ½ chile serrano. Toss with jicama mixture, a large bunch of cress (large stems removed) and a little chopped fresh coriander.
Mock Bitter Orange Juice
YIELD: 1 generous cup
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
12 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
½ teaspoon finely minced orange zest (colored part only)
Mix all the ingredients in a noncorrosive bowl and let stand 2 to 3 hours; strain to remove the zest. Use within 24 hours.