Blog Archive

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Something New Under the Sun? Jícama Fries!

Something New Under the Sun?  Jícama Fries!...And Two Dipping Sauces
  by Victoria Challancin

From the likes of the Stoic Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius to the Old Testament of the Bible, we have come to know and appreciate the words "There is nothing new under the sun."  And nowhere is it as true as in the culinary world, it seems.  X number of ingredients, countless ways to prepare them...but what is ever really and truly "new?"  

I thought I had rendered every possible vegetable into some sort of French Fry or Chip Wannabe.  Sweet potatoes, eggplant, carrot, yucca, and yes, even cactus (if you haven't made these yet, check out my recipe here for Baked Nopal Cactus Fries).  And now, I proudly offer you a new one that you may not have thought of yet:  Jícama Fries!  Nihil sub sole novum, indeed! 

A Wee Bit About Jícama

When you think about it, of course jícama should make a great "fry."  Vaguely sweet and very starchy, Mexico's favorite edible tuberous root, the jícama (often called Mexican yam bean or Mexican turnip), is a likely candidate for a faux fry.  The Pachyrhizus erosus, whose cultivation was spread by the Spaniards via the Philippines, and from there to China and other parts of Southeast Asia, is usually eaten raw.  In Mexico it is a favorite snack when sprinkled with lime juice and powdered chile and in Asia with rice vinegar and salt.  Of course, it can also be cooked.  It pairs well with both fruit and vegetables, and often appears in soups and stir fries (it is a terrific substitute for water chestnut, which I can't find here in Mexico where I live).  

Jícama, which is high in carbohydrates in the form of dietary fiber, is composed of 86–90% water and is a good source of both potassium and Vitamin C.  

Does it work as an acceptable and desirable "fry?"  You bet.  Par-boiling it a bit before tossing it with oil and herbs and spices takes away just enough of its natural crunchiness to make it an almost perfect choice. Below is the recipe I came up with after reading several online.  I found I didn't like the idea of powdered garlic, which most recipes called for, so I grated a little fresh instead.  Ditto for powdered onion. And since I was serving these with two different dipping sauces, I skipped sprinkling them with parsley for fear of gilding the lily a bit unnecessarily.

Cook's Notes:  I used coconut oil, which worked splendidly.  Olive oil would be nice as well, perhaps paired with smoked Spanish paprika.

                       Recipe:  Baked Jicama Fries

Serves 6

Note:  Seasonings are optional.  Use what appeals to you.

1 medium jicama
1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cumin or coriander seeds (or both)
½ teaspoon dried oregano or mixed dried herbs
1/2 teaspoon grated garlic (or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 teaspoon grated onion (or 1/4 teaspoon onion powder)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, basil, or cilantro for garnish

Preheat oven 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Peel jicama and cut into skinny fries. Bring water to boil in medium saucepan on medium heat, add jicama and cook for 8 minutes until jicama is a bit less crunchy. Drain water using a colander, transfer jicama to a large bowl and toss with olive or coconut oil, lime juice, and remaining herbs and spices. Place in a single layer on a prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until crispy, turning halfway.  To serve:  place on a serving platter with sauce on the side.  Sprinkle with minced parsley

Recipe:  A Quick Romesco Sauce
Cook's Note:  Romesco is one of my favorite sauces.  Truly.  And I normally take the time to make a killer version I developed years ago for a class on Spanish Tapas.  But here I chose to make an easy almost "cheat's" version which I found here, and it worked fine!

1 15-oz jar roasted red bell peppers, drained
2/3 cup blanched almonds, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon paprika or smoked paprika
2 large cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.  Check and adjust seasoning.

 Cook's Notes:  a bit of ground chile wouldn't go amiss in this.  
Recipe:  Cilantro-Garlic-Lime Greek Yogurt Dipping Sauce
3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice and zest of ½ lime
Kosher salt to taste

Mix ingredients together in a bowl and set aside.  Taste and adjust seasoning before serving.

An artichoke gone to flower.  Made me happy.

Parting Shot:  Fergus is Really a Ruby!

OK.  I now have to admit it.  I am an idiot.  Or at least a wee bit confused.  At my age you would think I might be able to tell the sex of an animal, but clearly not.  It turns out that Fergus is a girl!  Ruby!  Growing, happy, well-adjusted, and plays with Roscoe and Molly at all hours.  Good for everyone, including the humans.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende,

Friday, June 24, 2016

Three Cold Summer Soups

                                 Three Cold Summer Soups
                         by Victoria Challancin

When life gives you unusually warm weather, your kitchen should surely reciprocate by offering up some chilled soups.  Or that is what I thought when I prepared the recipes for my cooking classes for Mexican cooks last week.  In fact, I got so carried away that I chose THREE!  

Cook's Note:  While they were all good eaten on the spot, barely cold, each one improved dramatically after overnighting in the fridge.  

The first one, which turned out to be my favorite, is a Chilled Curried Zucchini Soup with Coconut Milk.  Wow!  Of course, the success of this soup depends on the quality of the curry powder, which in a perfect world is made by your own hands, after considerable time spent toasting and grinding spices.  Alternatively, just buy some really a good prepared spice blend that suits your tastes, mine being Muchi Curry by Frontier Natural Products, which is sold by Whole Foods or found online.  Specifically, it includes turmericcumingingerblack peppercoriander,fenugreek, dehydrated garliccelery seed, cloves, cayenne, caraway, white pepper, and mace.  Potent and delicious.  And we topped it with toasted almond slices for a bit of crunch!

Recipe:  Curried Zucchini Soup with Coconut Milk
(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart's Great Food Fast via
Serves 4
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, sliced thick
1 baking potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
4 cups stock (the original recipe just calls for water)
2/3 cup coconut milk
Toasted almonds for garnish or chives or slivered basil

Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 4-5 minutes. Add garlic and curry powder and continue to cook, stirring constantly until fragrant (another minute).
Add the zucchini, potato and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until vegetables are tender (15-20 minutes).

Add coconut milk. Puree with immersion blender or in batches in blender until very smooth and velvety. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Seasoning depends on stock and potency and freshness of curry powder).

The second is a Jamaican Chilled Avocado Soup with Fresh Ginger and Lime Cream.  An oldie but goody recipe by Emeril Lagasse.  Thick, creamy, spicy and sooooo good.  The bite of the fresh ginger offsets the slightly unctious texture of the creamy avocado.  When I use any citrus in a dish, I often add a bit of grated zest for an additional touch of citrus joy.

Recipe:  Jamaican Chilled Avocado Soup with Fresh Ginger and Lime Crema
Yield:  4 1/2 cups
1/4 cup butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated (about 1 ounce)
2 large ripe avocados, peeled and mashed
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 green onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup half-and-half
Salt and freshly grated black pepper
Lime Crema:
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice (and a little greated lime zest)
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter in a saucepan and cook the onions for about 4 minutes, until softened. Add the ginger and continue to cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the avocado, lime juice, and chicken stock and whisk to combine. Simmer soup over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the green onion and transfer the soup to a blender and puree, in batches if necessary, until very smooth. Stir in the half-and-half and salt and pepper, to taste. Chill thoroughly before serving.

To make the lime crema, stir together the sour cream, lime juice, garlic, and salt. When the soup has chilled, garnish each portion with a generous dollop of crema.


For the third I chose a classic Andalusian Tomato Gazpacho, creamy, but creamless, served with an interesting twist.  In addition to the usual chopped vegetable garnish, I also served it with a hard-cooked egg in vinaigrette.  Not particularly pretty, this condiment, but what a lovely kick it gave to an already flavor-rich base.  I would use it again--perhaps with another cold soup, on bread, on cucumber slices, smeared on a sandwich, drizzled over asparagus or green beans...lots of possibilities for this.

Check out the link to America's Test Kitchen for a very practical tutorial involving the making of this soup.  The way they salt the veggies is an inspiration!

Recipe:  Gazpacho Creamy Andaluz

(Recipe from America'sTest Kitchen Season 11)
Note:  Most Americans know gazpacho as a chunky liquid salsa. In Spain, the most famous version is a creamy puree.

Serves 4 to 6

Additional Notes:  For ideal flavor, allow the gazpacho to sit in the refrigerator overnight before serving. Red wine vinegar can be substituted for the sherry vinegar. Serve the soup with additional extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, ground black pepper, and diced vegetables for diners to season and garnish their own bowls as desired.

     3 pounds (about 6 medium) ripe tomatoes, cored
     1 small cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded
     1 medium green bell pepper, halved, cored and seeded
     1 red onion, peeled and halved
     2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
     1 small serrano chile, stemmed and halved lengthwise
     Kohser salt
     1 slice high quality white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
     ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
     2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, plus extra for serving (see note)
     2 tablespoons finely minced parsley, chives, or basil leaves
     Ground black pepper

Roughly chop 2 pounds of tomatoes, half of cucumber, half of bell pepper, and half of onion and place in large bowl. Add garlic, chile, and 1½ teaspoons salt; toss until well combined. Set aside.

Cut remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper into ¼-inch dice; place vegetables in medium bowl. Mince remaining onion and add to diced vegetables. Toss with ½ teaspoon salt and transfer to fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Set aside 1 hour.

Transfer drained diced vegetables to medium bowl and set aside. Add bread pieces to exuded liquid (there should be about ¼ cup) and soak 1 minute. Add soaked bread and any remaining liquid to roughly chopped vegetables and toss thoroughly to combine.

Transfer half of vegetable-bread mixture to blender and process 30 seconds. With blender running, slowly drizzle in ¼ cup oil and continue to blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Strain soup through fine-mesh strainer into large bowl, using back of ladle or rubber spatula to press soup through strainer. Repeat with remaining vegetable-bread mixture and 1/4 cup olive oil.

Stir vinegar, minced herb, and half of diced vegetables into soup and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours to chill completely and develop flavors. Serve, passing remaining diced vegetables, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and black pepper separately.

Chopped Egg and Garlic Vinaigrette

Recipe:  Chopped Egg and Garlic Vinaigrette
(Recipe by Martha Stewart)
Note:  This is great served over cooked asparagus or green beans—or just about any vegetable!

2 hard-cooked large eggs         
1 garlic clove, mashed into a paste
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt

Separate the whites and yolks of eggs. In a small bowl, mash yolks with a fork and stir in garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil. Roughly chop egg whites and add to bowl. Season to taste with salt.

Parting Shot:  Fergus, the Newest Member of Our Family

Can you imagine that someone left this precious puppy outside our door on the street????  I can't.  But I am thrilled that they did as he is the loveliest of animals.  Of course, he couldn't be still long enough to pose for a photo.  Roscoe and Molly seem to accept him with grace as well, even when he bites them in the face.  Maybe six weeks old?  Covered with fleas and wielding a slightly damaged back leg, probably an injury, but it doesn't keep him from racing around the yard trying to join Roscoe playing ball.  Lovely personality and nature.  Very cute.

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved

Flavors of the Sun Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico