Saturday, June 30, 2007
J is for Jicama Dippers
It was my good friend Laura who suggested our next J vegetable, the jicama. Her family live in New Mexico and the jicama (pronounced hikama)is a staple across Central America. It looks like a rather pale skinned tear-drop shaped turnip. Tracking down the jicama was rather harder. I visited five different supermarkets, three street markets and then resorted to phoning grocers and specialist food shops in the yellow pages. "Hello, I wonder if you can tell me if you sell a jicama? H-E-E-K-A-M-A - but it's spelt with a J. It is like a turnip. No I don't want to buy a turnip, I want a H-E-E-K-A-M-A."
I offer up its other names; Mexican yam bean, ahipa, saa got, Chinese turnip, lo bok, and the Chinese potato. Eleven calls in and I find a man with several crates of jicama. But he only sells industrial quantities. I was sure Freddie would not appreciate having to eat through a tonne of unknown turnipy-style vegetables. The man with the jicama makes one helpful suggestion, a new american food store, Wholefoods, that had opened in trendy Kensington. There in the glitzy vegetable department there was a basket of jicama. They are possibly the most expensive vegetable I have ever purchased, at over £8 a kilogram. At that price it should have been diamond-encrusted. At the checkout, an American shop assistant handled the jicama with care. "I love this vegetable." he said nostalgically. I did my usual thing of quizzing him on how to prepare it. "We eat it raw. I like to grate it in slaw with swede and cabbage. And I add sweet red bell peppers because that's where I am in life at the moment." I was intrigued, imagining what it must be like to know where you are in life by the vegetable you are eating. But then that is precisely what had happened for my family with the Great Big Veg Challenge - a life marked by ever-changing vegetables.
Back at home I rang Laura who suggested that we should first try it very simply, raw with lime juice. I cut it into dipper shapes, doused it with lime juice and served it with hummous and taramasalata. Unless you are talking about bloody meat, Freddie is not a great raw-food enthusiast. But jicama is mild and sweet-tasting and has a crisp texture like a water chestnut. He was happy to try it. "It's ok",he shrugged. "But think how many football cards I could have bought with the money."