Jícama (hee-kah-mah) is a tuber that looks like a squashed softball with rough, paper brown skin. It has crisp, juicy flesh kind of like a very crunchy, unsweet apple. Like apples, jícama is great raw in salads and salsa, but also delicious when cooked. Unlike other tubers such as yams and sweet potatoes, which require cooking, jícama is great served raw—in salads, slaws, or salsas—making it a refreshing anomaly. Jícama is also delicious when cooked: Sautéed or stir-fried briefly, it retains a crunchy texture (similar to that of a water chestnut or a firm pear) and is great at soaking up flavors. For crunch and freshness, and fabulous salads in the dead of winter, look no further.
Part of the legume family, the jícama plant is a vine that can grow 20 feet or longer. It’s typically found in frost-free regions and is native to Mexico and Central and South America. The plant’s edible tuberous roots (also known as Mexican potatoes or yam beans) weigh between 4 ounces and 6 pounds and are turnip-shaped, with thin skin that requires peeling. Jícama’s ivory-colored flesh is a good source of vitamin C and potassium.
Jícama is available year-round, though its peak season is between November and June (when its growing regions are at their warmest). Look for it in most supermarkets and in Latin American grocery stores. Choose firm roots that seem heavy for their size; blemishes, wrinkled skin, or dark spots may indicate overripeness.
Remove jícama’s thin, fibrous peel with a vegetable peeler or paring knife, as you would for a potato. Peeled jícama can be sliced, diced, julienned, or shredded and prepared many ways. In Mexico, it’s commonly served raw with a squeeze of lime, a sprinkle of salt, and a touch of chili powder for a snack. Uncooked, it adds crunch to salads, condiments, and slaws; cut into large sticks, it can be dunked in guacamole and other dips. Try it sautéed with chicken or shrimp, add it to savory stews, or glaze and broil it. Jícama can also be baked, boiled, steamed, and fried. It pairs well with fresh flavors like cilantro, ginger, lemon, and lime.
Store whole jícama in the refrigerator for up to one month; wrap cut jícama in plastic and refrigerate for up to one week.