Saturday, June 9, 2007

Tex-Mex Jicama Salad

A week or two ago I mentioned Hugh Carpenter, a very talented chef, author and restaurant consultant. I think his name cropped up in the Los Angeles Times Food Section one year (this was back in the mid-80's) because he was consulting with several new restaurants, helping them develop their menus and specifically the food. Back then he was really into Asian food, but was one of the early advocates of fusion - Asian fusion - Pan-Asian, or Pan-Californian. We zipped up to L.A. on several occasions to try the food in these restaurant establishments and were very interested in the food combinations and layers of flavor. He lives up in wine country, but must spend some time in L.A. So when Carpenter began teaching at the Bristol Farms facility in South Pasadena, I drove up there to take some classes. I was impressed. He's a very engaging, entertaining guy, high energy and skinny as a rail. Still is. He must not eat a lot of the food he prepares, or else he's one of those kind of guys who has a very natural high metabolism. His wife, Teri Sandison, was there with him, and we learned that she helped in the kitchen, but her angle was pottery. More than one of the Carpenter cookbooks contains nothing but his wife's plates, platters, bowls, etc. and she's listed as a co-author.

This recipe was from one of the classes, although it could have been from a more recent one rather than years ago. I'm not sure, nor do I know which of his cookbooks this is from. I've made it several times, and it seemed very appropriate today since we're going to an afternoon barbecue with a group of friends. All I do know is that it's tasty. I happen to love watercress. It has a peppery tang that dances on my tongue. It's a little difficult to find these days . . . I don't know why, but it is. The salad is different (because of the jicama, the watercress, and the abundance of pecans), crunchy (also because of the jicama), and the dressing is a cloud of flavor with every bite (unique because of fresh lime juice and honey). But you just gotta use the walnut or pecan oil. Under no circumstances should you substitute olive oil or even vegetable oil. Actually I don't think I've ever seen pecan oil, but walnut oil isn't too hard to find these days. Just remember to keep the oil in the refrigerator - it doesn't have a long shelf life at room temp. Give yourself ample time for all the chopping and mincing. I think it takes about an hour from start to finish, but it's good to chill everything before actually serving, so if possible, allow an extra hour for that.

Tex Mex Jicama Salad
Recipe: Hugh Carpenter, cookbook author
Serving Size : 4

1 pound jicama
2 cups watercress
1 whole red bell pepper
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 cup lime juice -- freshly squeezed
3 tablespoons walnut oil -- or pecan oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon hot chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 whole garlic clove -- minced
2 tablespoons cilantro -- chopped

1. Advance Preparation: Preheat oven to 325°. Using a knife, trim off the jicama skin - hold the jicama on it's edge and slice away pieces of skin. This is much easier than using a potato peeler. Cut the jicama in small julienne pieces. You want about 4 cups total. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Wash the watercress, discard any tough ends, and refrigerate. Char the red pepper over a gas flame or under the broiler. Just cook until the skin is charred on all sides. Transfer to a plastic bag, seal and set aside for 10 minutes. Then rub away any skin, stem it and cut into matchstick sized pieces. Refrigerate.
2. Place nuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 15 minutes. In a small bowl combine the lime juice, oil, honey, chile sauce, cumin, salt, garlic and cilantro. Refrigerate. All of the above can be done up to 8 hours in advance.
3. To serve: In a large bowl combine the jicama, watercress, red pepper, and nuts. Stir the dressing and pour over the jicama, then toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a salad platter or on individual plates.
Serving Ideas : Good with grilled meat. Since I have trouble finding watercress I have used arugula and it was just great.
NOTES : The dressing is sensational, and could also be drizzled on grilled salmon or halibut. Since jicama has very little taste, it's the dressing you DO taste. Give yourself plenty of time to julienne the jicama and red bell pepper. If you don't have Asian chile sauce, use some kind of hot sauce to give it a kick.
Per Serving: 361 Calories; 29g Fat (67.5% calories from fat); 4g Protein; 27g Carbohydrate; 8g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 281mg Sodium. Exchanges: 1 Grain(Starch); 0 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 5 1/2 Fat; 1/2 Other Carbohydrates.
Click on the title at the top to print just the recipe.

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