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Pickled jicama celebrates Cinco de Mayo

Jicamstars this escabeche quick pickle  vegetables. | DAVID HAMMOND PHOTO

Jicama stars in this escabeche, a quick pickle of vegetables. | DAVID HAMMOND PHOTO

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Updated: April 29, 2014 11:50AM

Cinco de Mayo menus traditionally include classics like refried beans, carne asada and guacamole — none of which would likely be considered “light.” To add some fresh, low-cal crunch to a substantial Mexican meal, we recommend jicama.

Jicama is a tuber with delicate and moist flesh, much like that of a water chestnut. It looks a bit like a turnip. Though it has gained popularity around the globe, jicama is indigenous to Mexico, and so it’s appropriate for Cinco de Mayo. The crisp sweetness of jicama pairs well with spicier foods, the kind you might have on May 5, which celebrates the 1862 Mexican defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla. Much like St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo is a bigger celebration in the U.S. than it is in Mexico.

When shopping, try to purchase the small to medium jicama. As jicamas grow larger, the sugars in the vegetable are converted to starches and so the vegetable gets woodier.

Using jicama in a simple salad is easy, but we like to do an escabeche, a quick pickle of several vegetables including jicama. You can see big plastic containers of escabeche on the tables at many Chicagoland taquerias; the sweet-sourness works well with Mexican seasoning.

1. Cut 3 medium carrots (peeled) into circles, about ¼ inch thick; steam lightly.

2. Simmer 1 medium onion and 2 medium jalapenos, roughly sliced, in ¼ cup vegetable oil, 1 cup water and 1 cup vinegar; cook lightly, cool and add to carrots.

3. Peel and cut into straws 1 medium jicama; add to carrots and onions with 2 teaspoons oregano, 4 garlic cloves, sliced, and 2 bay leaves. Chill.

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