Qué es La Jícama?

Jícama looks like a cross between a potato and a huge turnip. I love eating cold slices as a snack, and so do most Mexicans. Have you noticed the frequency of street eating in Mexico? For every holiday, every evening on the plaza, at every beach, every bus stop, every market, there is someone with a cart selling sliced watermelon, cucumber, pineapple, or jícama — all sprinkled with chile powder and spritzed with lime juice.

While I can’t advocate street eating for us weak-stomached foreigners who have no way of telling if the vegetables have been disinfected, if the knife, cutting board and hands are super clean, we can prepare jícama at home using our favorite method for cleaning and disinfecting produce. And we can use chile powder or not, lime juice or not.

Jícama in the stores can look unappealing sometimes. They can be a little beat up, muddied and oddly shaped, or smooth and clean as a whistle. Look for smooth, light skinned, small jícama. Don’t worry about a little dirt. Just scrub it off and soak the tubers in a disinfectant solution.

The skin pulls off when you grab the end with a paring knife. If it doesn’t want to pull away, as sometimes happens, use a vegetable peeler. Often you can pull off a piece of skin with your fingers, once you get it started.

Use a paring knife to finish cutting out little rootlets or nicks. Then slice, dice or chop.

For an easy snack or an appetizer that is muy mexicano, squeeze some lime juice over cold, sliced jícama, and sprinkle with coarse salt and chile power. Or sauté chopped jícama in a stir-fry as a substitute for water chestnuts. Or sprinkle with cinnamon and a pinch of brown sugar. Or use as a base for spreading guacamole or ceviche. Or add to a fruit salad or vegetable salad. Or just eat it cold, sliced and unadorned.

Notes:

  • Etmology — The name jícama is from the Nahuatl word, xicamatl.  Jícama is the name of this native Mexican plant, as well as the name of the edible root. It also goes by the names of yambean and Mexican turnip.
  • The tuber can weigh up to twenty kilograms, but you will never see them in the stores this big. Usually they are between one half to one kilo (1-2 pounds) in weight. A half kilo-sized jicama is young and juicy.
  • Jícama has a water content of 86-90%, and is high in dietary fiber.


More Reading:

Jícama (Wikipedia)

Jícama Factbites

Jícama Mexconnect


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Mexican chocoflan, the impossible chocolate cake

Chocoflan, a combination of chocolate cake on the bottom with flan on the top, defies baking logic. It goes into the oven with the flan on top, and comes out of the oven with the flan baked on the bottom, out of sight. Invert the cake pan on a plate, and there is the flan again, now on the new top.

Normally, flan is baked on a base of caramelized sugar. Chocoflan, marching to its own drum beat, uses a base of cajeta, a sweetened, caramelized concoction made with leche de cabra (goat milk), famous throughout Latin American countries and designated as this year’s Bicentennial Dessert of Mexico.

A caja is a little box, and cajeta can still be purchased in little pine boxes in and near the city of Celaya in Guanajuato, Mexico. One of our long-ago travel memories is stopping to buy a number of small boxes of cajeta to take home as gifts, only to immediately lose all will power and eat every single bit with the tiny plastic spoon supplied with each box. I can still picture those elegant little boxes, decorated with a colorful goat picture and tied with yellow string.

David Lebovitz recently baked a Chocoflan, also called Pastel Imposible (Impossible Cake), and since I read his blog, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Plus, Cooking in Mexico could use some more readers and there is nothing like a recipe with chocolate to bring the Mexican foodies to my blog’s doorstep, hoping  for a few morsels.

Chocoflan

  • 1/2 cup ( 5.4 oz./154 grams) cajeta
  • 2 large eggs, cool room temperature
  • 6 oz. (180 ml.) evaporated milk
  • 6 oz. (180 ml.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml.) Kahlúa
  • 1 3/4 cups (7 oz./200 grams) all purpose flour
  • 1 cup (7 oz./200 grams) sugar
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (1.2 oz./33 grams) cocoa powder (not Dutch processed)
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (4 oz/114 grams) butter at cool room temperature
  • 9 fluid oz. (260 ml.) buttermilk (or equivilent amount of plain yogurt thinned with milk to buttermilk consistency)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoon (45 ml.) Kahlúa
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F. (180 C.). Butter a tube cake pan (8″ across and 4″ high/200 mm.  x 100 mm.)  and spread cajeta on bottom of pan.
  2. Heat a small sauce pan of water for hot water bath to pour into a pan larger than cake pan.
  3. Prepare flan mixture by blending eggs, evaporated milk, condensed milk and 1 tablespoon Kahlúa. Set aside.
  4. In standing mixer (or use a hand-held electric mixer), mix butter and sugar for 2 minutes on medium-high speed. Scrape down sides of bowl, and add egg and 3 tablespoons Kahlúa. Beat for 30 seconds.
  5. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa and salt. Add half of dry ingredients, alternating with half of buttermilk, until all is incorporated into butter mixture. Beat for 1 minute on medium-high speed.
  6. Spoon batter into cake pan over cajeta, and level with a spatula. Pour flan mixture over cake batter, pouring over a spoon to gentle the pressure (see photo below).
  7. Set cake pan in a larger pan, and place on oven rack. Add boiling water to large pan to a depth of 1″.
  8. Bake 50 minutes, or until cake tests dry with a wooden toothpick. (Cake will pull away from sides of pan after it is removed from oven.)
  9. Remove from water bath and cool on a rack to room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to serve. To serve, run a thin knife around inside of pan sides and invert onto cake plate. If any cajeta sticks to the pan, spread onto the cake.

Notes:

  • Don’t use an angel food pan with a removable bottom because the flan mixture will leak out all over the floor of the oven. I know this, because one of my readers tried it and reported the unsatisfactory results. She said she was left with an inch of flan on the cake, but she did have the presence of mind to put a baking sheet underneath to catch the leak.
  • This recipe was inspired by David Lebovitz and based on a recipe by Rick Bayless, with a few changes to his recipe. I halved the flan recipe (not the cake batter recipe), since I did not have the  10″ x 3″ round pan called for in his recipe. The proportions of cake to flan turned out to be perfect, as I would not have wanted twice the amount of flan.
  • Dulce de Leche is another name for cajeta.
  • If you have left-over cajeta, treat yourself to Crêpes with Cajeta, Nuts and Chocolate Sauce.


Related Articles:

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Roasting, toasting, peeling and eating chiles poblano

Chiles poblano, the large, meaty, almost succulent chiles famously used for Chiles en Nogada and Chiles Rellenos, are one of the treasures of Mexican cuisine. Named after the state of its origin, Puebla, it is a mild chile, though can sometimes be surprisingly hot. We can eat poblanos every day, if I can keep up with the blistering and peeling, not really a difficult task. If there is a container of rajas in the fridge, it doesn’t last long, being added to eggs, sandwiches, pizza, grilled meats, soup. Raja means a strip of something, in this case, strips of roasted chile poblano cooked with sliced onion.

For most uses, poblanos first need to be roasted until they blacken and blister, then peeled and seeded. For large batches, use an outside propane or charcoal grill. A smaller number is easily blistered on a gas cook stove or under a broiler. If using the cook stove, I use a cake cooling rack over the stove burner to support the chiles. Turn the chiles with tongs until all sides are blackened and blistered. Don’t let them get too black and burn right through the chile. When blackened, put them in a plastic bag to steam. This will finish cooking the chiles and loosen the skin.

When the chiles are cool enough to handle, get out a large cutting board, a serrated knife and a paper towel. And put on some favorite music, something to help get you into the Zen of cleaning chiles. Maybe Carlos Santana?

Holding the chile by the stem, gently scrape the blistered skin off while you rotate the chile, until most of the skin is removed. Don’t worry if little pieces remain. Wipe the knife on the paper towel as the knife serrations fill up with bits of skin. Now slit the chile from just below the wide end down to the narrow end through one side only — don’t cut all the way through the chile.

Cut off the stem end, including the “crown”, the ridge just below the stem. Lay the chile flat and scrape out the seeds, using the back of the knife, the non-blade side. Periodically, clean the seeds off on the paper towel. Don’t rub your eyes!

If you want intact chiles for making Chiles en Nogada or Chiles Rellenos, don’t cut off the stem and crown. Just slit the chile down one side (not all the way through) and carefully cut out the knot of seeds attached to the stem. Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds, gently turning the chile partially inside out if need be.

The cleaned chiles are ready to fill with cheese for Chiles Rellenos or seasoned meat and fruit for Chiles en Nogada. Or whatever strikes your fancy, such as shrimp, black beans, or a rice filling. If there are small tears in the chile, don’t be concerned. If you are making Chiles Rellenos, the egg coating will encase the chile and enclose the melted cheese. If your chiles are for Chiles en Nogada, the cream and walnut sauce will conceal any tears. That’s tears, as in rips, not tears, as in what will happen if you wipe your eye with a chile-coated finger.

I’ll post a recipe for Rajas de Chile Poblano soon. You’ll want to keep them on hand to jazz up everything you cook.

 

Notes:

If you have sensitive skin, wear gloves when you work with chiles. And avoid rubbing your eyes or lips.

For easier roasting, select poblano chiles that do not have deep creases. Flat-surfaced chiles blacken more quickly.

For some reason, poblano chiles north of the border can be extremely hot, while in Mexico they are generally mild. Diana Kennedy, in her great book, The Cuisines of Mexico, advises soaking the peeled and seeded chiles in salt water for thirty minutes to pull out some of the heat.

In Mexico and throughout Latin America, “chile” is spelled with an “e”, not chilli or chili. I think the latter must be anglicized spellings. It’a a Latino word, so please spell it the way Latinos do. Of course, here in Mexico, they spell hamburger as “hamberguesa”, so what do I know…

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Oaxaca al Gusto, by Diana Kennedy

Diana Kennedy, who has been my guide, my inspiration and my teacher ever since I fell in love with Mexican cuisine, has published a new book, Oaxaca al Gusto.  In March, I had the great thrill of meeting Mrs. Kennedy at a book signing for the Spanish language edition at Thierry Blouet’s restaurant, Café des Artistes, in Puerto Vallarta.

I had arrived early before anyone else, and there was Mrs. Kennedy, sitting by herself. I introduced myself, and she could not have been more gracious, more friendly, more willing to share with me memories of past experiences in small Mexican towns, stories about meeting the towns’ best cooks to gather recipe material, about little incidents that happened in places I knew well from past travels.  I could not believe my good fortune that I was really sitting down with someone I had admired from afar for decades. It was incredible, a once in a life time experience.

Oaxaca al Gusto: An Infinite Gastronomy (William and Bettye Nowlin Series in Art, History, and Culture of the Western Hemisphere)

This was an evening event and I had my camera with me, but knew using the flash was out of the question. Here is my poorly lit photo  taken during Thierry’s introduction of Mrs. Kennedy, before her slide show to share with us how and where she collected the material for Oaxaca al Gusto. The slide show itself was fascinating, a glimpse into her efforts to collect new recipes, often in remote areas where she relied on the local school teachers to translate the indigenous language.

And some pages from the book …

Mrs. Kennedy has been recognized for her achievements in Mexican cooking and writing by being awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest award given by the Mexican government to foreigners. And she has been decorated with an Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth for advancing ties between Great Britain and Mexico. Her home in the state of Michoacán reflects her interests in ecology and a sustainable life style.

I paged through a Spanish copy of her book at the book signing. This book and its photos are so beautiful, it could be called a “coffee table book”, but it will spend more time in my kitchen than on the coffee table, and become dog eared and stained with use. I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I’m looking forward to sharing her recipes and inspiration with you.

An excerpt from the publisher:

Organized by regions, ‘Oaxaca al Gusto’ presents some three hundred recipes—most from home cooks—for traditional Oaxacan dishes. Kennedy accompanies each recipe with fascinating notes about the ingredients, cooking techniques, and the food’s place in family and communal life. Lovely color photographs illustrate the food and its preparation. A special feature of the book is a chapter devoted to the three pillars of the Oaxacan regional cuisines—chocolate, corn, and chiles. Notes to the cook, a glossary, a bibliography, and an index complete the volume.

Oaxaca al Gusto can be ordered from the University of Texas Press at a 33% website discount of $33.50.

More  Reading:

An Interview with Diana Kennedy (Miami New Times)


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Huitlacoche quesadillas

Huitlacoche, the wonderful corn fungus of Mexico, has made its appearance in the supermercados. At 166 pesos a kilo, it isn’t cheap, but it is worth every peso, and compared to the price of truffles, it has to be a bargain. With a taste all its own, it is hard to describe, but comparing it to a rich mushroom-corn flavor would be the closest. If you like mushrooms, you will love huitlacoche. The only problem is that if you aren’t in Mexico in August and September, you will have to add the price of airfare to the cost. Sometimes Mexican grocery stores in the U.S. carry canned Herdez huitlacoche, which I’ve read is a good substitute for the real thing, but I’ve never tried it.

Fresh huitlacoche is silver-gray, turning inky black when cooked. See those large pieces in the photo? Those are individual corn kernels, enlarged and deformed by the fungi.

Corn farmers in Iowa and Nebraska know this strain of fungus (Ustilago maydis) well and must lose thousands of dollars destroying smut infested corn, while Mexicans are happily eating the same fungus and consider it a delicacy.

Many of the foods we eat in Mexico today that have been eaten since pre-Columbian times still bear their ancient names. Such is huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche). Derived from the Nahuatil language, one explanation is that it is named after their word for “raven’s excrement”, no doubt because of its appearance and color. Would you like a couple of raven’s excrement quesadillas? They are delicious.

Huitlacoche Quesadillas   makes 4

  • 2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil, plus oil for griddle
  • 1/2 lb. (227 grams)  fresh huitlacoche, cut off the cobs and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips
  • 2 sprigs epazote, thinly sliced (sorry, there is no substitute for this unique herb)
  • salt to taste
  • 4 corn or flour tortillas
  • 3/4 cup thinly sliced cheese, such as queso Oaxaca or fresco or Monterrey Jack
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat.
  2. Sautee onion and garlic until tender but not brown.
  3. Add huitlacoche, poblano strips, and epazote and cook about 10 minutes. Salt to taste.
  4. Heat an oiled griddle over medium heat.
  5. Place tortillas on griddle and divide huitlacoche mixture evenly among them, placing on one side of tortilla.
  6. Place cheese on huitlacoche. Fold tortilla in half.
  7. Cook for about 2-3 minutes per side, or until cheese is melted and tortilla is starting to brown.

Notes:

If you can’t find huitlacoche where you live mushrooms are a good substitute, especially portobello mushrooms with their stronger flavor.

Epazote is a wonderful herb that belies description. With its stinky aroma and bitter taste, it adds a certain flavor to a pot of beans and to quesadillas that is distinctly Mexican. There is no other herb to use in its place, another reason to buy a plane ticket for Mexico.

Cold, left-over quesadillas make great snacks. Make extra.

Description unavailable
Image by CIMMYT via Flickr

More on huitlacoche:

In Mexico, Tar-Like Fungus Considered Delicacy (NPR)

Corn Smut (Wikipedia)

Huitlacoche (Gourmet Sleuth)

Huitlacoche: Cornell Mushroom Blog (Cornell University)

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