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Published October 29, 2010, 12:00 AM

Prairie Faire: Try a new vegetable every once in a while

“Mom, we had a different food at school today. I think it was a ‘Yakima,’ ” my second-grade daughter noted one day. The only Yakima I could think of was a city in Washington.

By: Julie Garden-Robinson, INFORUM

“Mom, we had a different food at school today. I think it was a ‘Yakima,’ ” my second-grade daughter noted one day.

The only Yakima I could think of was a city in Washington.

“Can you tell me a little more?” I asked.

“Well, it was kind of white and crunchy. Our teacher said it started with a ‘j,’ ” she continued.

“I bet it was a jicama. We pronounce it hee-ka-mah,” I said.

“That’s what it was!” she exclaimed.

Later, my seventh-grade daughter announced that she had jicama at her school, too. She had tried it, and it was pretty good.

After this fairly enthusiastic response to a novel vegetable, I decided to buy a jicama at the store. I found the tan-colored root vegetable near the gingerroot in the produce section.

When I set it on the counter to buy it, the clerk said, “What is this?” So, I helped her find it in the computer.

When I set it on the counter at home, my son said, “What is that thing, a potato?”

You might guess what my husband said when he saw it. Actually, he said, “Do we have to eat that tonight?”

Well, I had a new vegetable, and I wanted to serve it. I peeled it and sliced it into crunchy jicama sticks, which I served with dip. To me, it had a “green” flavor, kind of like snap peas.

Since this vegetable was such a mystery to everyone, I decided to find out a little more about its history and worldwide use.

Jicama is native to Central America because it needs a long, warm growing season. Although a jicama can weigh up to 6 pounds, the one I bought weighed about half a pound. Jicama often is called the “Mexican potato” or the “Mexican turnip.” In Mexico, jicama often is served with lime juice and chili powder.

Jicama is used in Asian cuisine, too. In China, it is known as the “yam bean.”

Jicama often is used in fruit or vegetables salads, but it adds a crunch to stir-fries since it retains its texture while cooking. Jicama can take the place of water chestnuts in casseroles or spinach dip.

Unlike a potato, jicama does not turn brown quickly after slicing. Therefore, it can be cut up ahead of time for use as an appetizer.

A half cup of jicama has about 25 calories, 3 grams of fiber, 6 grams of carbohydrate and 20 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

When choosing a jicama, look for an unblemished, smooth skin and avoid those that are cracked or show any signs of spoilage. A whole jicama can be kept for up to three weeks if stored in a cool, dry place. After cutting, it should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and can be stored for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Buy something different at the grocery store now and then. You may end up with a real conversation-starter. This salad is an interesting blend of sweet oranges with a spiced-up dressing.

Jicama-Orange Salad

¼ cup canola oil or olive oil

1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 tsp. fresh lime juice

½ tsp. seasoned salt (or to taste)

½ tsp. seasoned pepper (or to taste)

¼ tsp. dry mustard

3 medium navel oranges, peeled and sectioned (or use mandarin oranges)

1 small jicama, peeled and julienne cut into 1-inch pieces

½ cup sliced green onions

¼ cup diced red onion

Mixed greens

Combine first six ingredients in a medium bowl. Rinse and prepare vegetables and fruit as indicated. Toss together. Serve on a bed of mixed greens. This salad pairs well with grilled chicken or pork.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 160 calories, 9 grams (g) of fat, 16 g of carbohydrate, 3 g of fiber and 125 milligrams of sodium.

Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.