I’m referring to two different roots – they’re both yellowish/beige outside and white inside. If you’re a little tired of greens, these roots would make a happy salad alternative.
The first one is jicama root – taken from a native vine originally found in Mexico. The popularity of the jicama root spread to Asia and most Asians have wholeheartedly adopted it as part of their diet. They make it as a side dish or mix it in with other ingredients in meals that call for some crunch, crunch!
Jicamas are usually not sold in supermarkets, but a few ethnic stores sell them, especially during the summer (I notice they don’t last too long in the winter). In Vietnam, jicama is called cây củ đậu or củ sắn or sắn nước; in China it’s called bang kuan or dòushǔ and in the Philippines, we call it singkamas. In Bengali , it’s known as Shankhalu. (thank you, Wikipedia!).
The jicama root looks like this:
It has a rough outer covering. Make sure the skin does not have too many "pockmarks." I can tell I’ve stumbled on a fresh jicama when I cut off the crowns at both ends and can easily peel it with my hands. It’s not always this easy to peel, however, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fresh. If there are soft and deep brown holes or too much scarring inside, throw it out. You might see some tiny brown spots on the surface but these are nothing to worry about. You simply cut them off with your knife (as you would when peeling and slicing potatoes).
As a salad, I cut the jicama in half-inch (or less than half inch) slices but you can cut them any way you want. I put all slices in a bowl. I mix 1 cup of white vinegar with a tablespoon each of sugar and salt (coarse salt is recommended). Using a glove, I "swoosh" the slices around with my hand in this vinegar mixture. Jicama has a notoriously crunchy texture and you could get hooked; that is, if you like the idea of water and fiber. It is about 75% water and contains plenty of fiber. It has a subtle sweetness. Once you’ve eaten it, you feel like your "plumbing system" has been properly drained and is good as new! The image below is how I serve jicama salad:
The second is a root many of you may be familiar with. Here in Montreal, we call it "celeri rav" which is how the Francophones call it, and "celery root" as the English call it. It’s available all year round and most supermarkets have them in stock more often than not. There are times – rarely though – where you can’t find them anywhere.
This is what celery root looks like. As you can see, it’s similar to the jicama root but this one has deeper "craters" and looks wild and unhandsome (notice the tiny roots all tangled up in the lower picture):
Again, you can slice celery root any way you want and combine it with grated carrots or beets doused with olive oil or with your favorite vinaigrette. After peeling, I slice them up in bite size pieces and run them through my Cuisinart shredder/grater/slicer. I use the shredding drum and they come out in half julienne strips (I say half because my machine can’t really produce whole julienne strips). I squeeze lemon (about 1-1/2 to 2 tablespoons) to prevent them from turning brown and then coat them well in mayonnaise and a knob of mustard (you can use any kind of mustard – do be careful with the quantity if you’re using a strong mustard). Add salt and pepper and you’re done!
Celery root salad is best refrigerated for a few hours before serving. For vegetarians, it will be a hit – guaranteed. It’s a palate pleaser – and it is a refreshing alternative to romaine or iceberg salads. This is what it will look like as a finished salad:
Remember your roots. They do make great salads or side dishes. Jicama salad is especially welcome when you have a heavy meal like steak and fries or a dish with a rich, creamy sauce. The celery root salad goes great with light chicken and rosemary, fish (baked or fried) and maybe a meatloaf or…buckets of fried chicken!