Rustic Jicama Appetizer with Red Chile and Lime
Entremes de Jicama
Serves 8 or so as a snack or informal appetizer
A plate of this elemental, full-flavored jicama appetizer is one of the best ways to experience Mexico: the gentle sweet crunch jazzed with a squeeze of tartness, a dusting of powdered heat and a sprinkling of perfume--in short, all the flavors and textures celebrated in Mexico's salsas and snacks.
I've tossed oranges, cucumbers and radishes into the mix to add even more variety. And why the pickled red onions? Though they're not part of most versions of this classic, which I've enjoyed most often in Yucatan and West-Central Mexico, these Yucatecan onions add a dramatic magenta topknot that's sweet-sour, crunchy and herby.
1 medium (about 1 pound) jicama
2 small cucumbers
3 seedless oranges
6 radishes, thinly sliced
The juice of 2 limes (about 1/3 cup)
Salt, about 1/2 teaspoon
About 2 teaspoons powdered dried hot chile, preferably ancho or guajillo
About 2/3 cup pickled red onions (optional)
About 1/3 cup roughly chopped cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
1. The vegetables and fruit. Peel away the brown skin and fibrous exterior layer of the jicama (a small knife works best for this), then cut in half. Lay each half on its cut side and slice 1/4-inch thick; cut slices in half diagonally. Slice cucumbers lengthwise in half, scoop out the seeds (if there are a lot), and cut each half diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices. Cut stem and blossom end off oranges, stand oranges on cutting board and, working close to the flesh, cut away the rind and all white pith. Cut oranges in half, then slice each half crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices.
2. Finish the salad. Mix the jicama, cucumbers, oranges, radishes and lime juice in a large bowl. Let marinate about 20 minutes, then season with salt. Pile the vegetables and fruit onto a serving platter and drizzle with any accumulated juices. Sprinkle liberally with the powdered chile, top with the optional pickled onions and strew with the chopped cilantro. Garnish with the cilantro sprigs and your simple crunchy appetizer is ready to set before your guests.
Advance preparation: This incredibly fresh, rustic appetizer should really be eaten moments after its put together.
Shortcuts: Feel free to omit the pickled onions or replace them with thinly sliced red onion (I'd toss them into the mix, rather than strewing them on top).
Variations and Improvisations: This recipe is very flexible: It can be made with just jicama or just cucumber; sliced young raw turnips make an interesting addition, as does sliced raw fennel, apple or Asian pear. Oranges can easily be varied to grapefruit and tangerines, while the powdered chile may be replaced with bottled hot sauce.
PICKLED RED ONIONS
Escabeche de Cebolla
Makes a generous 1 cup
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch thick
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cider vinegar
Blanch the onion slices in boiling salted water for 45 seconds, then drain and place in a medium-size bowl.
Coarsely grind the peppercorns and cumin in a mortar or spice grinder, and add to the onions. Add the remaining ingredients, plus enough water to barely cover. Stir well and let stand for several hours until the onions turn bright pink.
Advance Preparation: Covered and refrigerated, the onions last for several weeks.