May 13, 2010

Jicama and Asparagus Spring Salad

I made this salad the other day, and for the first time discovered what makes jicama so very special... its sugar! Combining the sweet jicama with sour lime juice and lightly steamed fresh asparagus and bok choi, the salad made for a great side dish for dinner on a warm spring day. 

It's always fun to mix local and unlocal produce at this time of year when you're still waiting for the first peas and broad beans to come up. Because Jicama is definitely imported, I'll only have it once in a while, and for this reason, this was the first time I've managed to use it in the way it's intended- freshly. Previously, my only introduction to the root vegetable had been through seeing it cooked in the traditional Northern style (boiled, steamed), as a substitute for turnip or similar.

If you're going to invite a new vegetable around for dinner it's always best to know it's likes and dislikes, right?  In many countries where Jicama is grown you'll find it mainly used in fruit salads and in other dishes with a refreshing, pick-me-up nature - a great use for a starchy root vegetable with high amounts of fructose.

Jicama is a root tuber that is generally grown in tropical climates, although with a good greenhouse and a mild climate I don't see why you couldn't grow it in parts of this country and in Europe too (however it's good to keep in mind that only the root is edible- the rest is actually poisonous!). Jicama looks similar to a yam with it's very white interior and brown, paper-like skin, however it has a unique, crisp texture as it's made up of 90% water- similar to cucumber. It might be worth trying to squeeze out some of this water through a cheesecloth some time...who knows, it might even make a refreshing summer drink.

Jicama and Asparagus Spring Salad

2 green onions (scallions) sliced finely and soaked in cider or white wine vinegar to cover
3/4 of 1 jicama, peeled and cut into roughly 1.5"x1.5" strips, then thinly sliced
handful of fresh asparagus, cut into 2" long pieces
1 'head' of bok choi, washed and leaves and stems separated- stems cut in bite-size pieces
5-6 green/filled olives cut into quarters
pinch salt
juice of 1 lime
small handful of cilantro leaves- a few stems are okay too, roughly chopped

Place the sliced jicama in a mixing bowl with the lime juice. Drain the green onions after they've been soaking for a few minutes in the vinegar and add to the jicama along with the pinch of salt. Stir to coat all the jicama slices in the lime juice. Add the chopped olives.

Boil water in a pan and add the asparagus to cook until just tender. Have some ice and water (mostly water) ready in a bowl. When the asparagus is just cooked remove and plunge into the ice water to preserve it's great colour. Do the same with the bok choi starting with the stems followed by the green leafy tops.  Remove from the ice water using a sieve or slotted spoon and add to the salad. Add the roughly chopped cilantro leaves, toss to coat and serve.

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