by Avery on July 11, 2011

Musical pairing – Englishman in New York by Sting

Alien Encounters: Jicama – There’s no doubt about it: Jicama¬†(HIH-kih-muh) can be quite intimidating. The large, brownish root, derived, Mark Bittman informs me, from a poisonous Central American vine, is very possibly as large as my head and devilishly tricky to peel. Not to mention the fact that the jicama will probably always be directly connected in my mind with the mysterious and slightly alien.

I remember ten or so years ago when my family had a monthly share in a local farm. It would be an undeniable thrill every month when we got our box full of fruits and vegetables and joyous wildflowers: the brimming cardboard stuffed with strawberries or raspberries, carrots or tomatoes, seemed like a monthly Christmas present (and, even better, an edible one!). But one month, we opened the box to find inside bulbous brown over-grown turnips…or something like that. Quickly enough we learned that the mysterious root was a jicama, and I recall my parents feverishly looking up recipes, attempting to learn what on earth they could do with this thing. Perhaps they never found anything, because when I went to the store this afternoon looking for a jicama, I still felt like I was hunting down some unknown quantity– I couldn’t even picture a jicama, much less think of how it tasted.

Don’t let the strangeness of the jicama frighten you. Don’t be discouraged by the toughness of its peel. Don’t let the comforting “may substitute cucumber for jicama” of the recipe dissuade you. This root is one worth digging up and exploring. It’s got a flavor I’ve never found anywhere else, and is a crucial ingredient in a recipe from Vegetarian Times’ Farmers’ Market Cookbook–blackberry, jicama, and apple salad–that is so fresh and beautiful that I’m not sure I’ll ever want to eat another kind of salad in the summer ever again. Even more refreshingly, the recipe is flexible and easy. Not having arugula on hand, I substituted baby spinach, and I’m sure raspberries or blueberries would be lovely in place of the blackberries. But humor me: don’t substitute that jicama!


Avery Olund-Smith is going into her sophomore year at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, where’s she’s studying English. She’s from Cincinnati, Ohio, where she attended the School for Creative and Performing Arts. She loves biking to Findlay Market and writing with the Cincinnati organization Women Writing for (a) Change, and considers food, writing, reading, and the beauties of both the city and the natural world amongst her passions.