Food & Drink

Jicama traveled to us from Mexico

Q. Where can I find jicama?

I recently had taro root at a Malaysian restaurant. What is taro? Can I prepare it at home?

My father used to make a dish where he hollowed out bitter melon and filled it with ground pork, and then steamed it. I would love to have this again, but I can't find bitter melon.

All of these are available through Produce on the Run at the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road. Taro and bitter melon can be found at most Asian markets, including New Century Grocery & Food, 4500 N. Tryon St.

Jicama is in the produce department of most supermarkets. You also can look at Latin American supermarkets such as Compare Foods, which has several locations, including 5610 E. Independence Blvd.

Here's a little more about them:

Jicama (pronounced “HEE-kah-mah”) is the bulbous, starchy root of a plant native to Mexico that was later exported to Asia.

The root is the only edible part. The seeds and leaves contain rotenone, which is used in making pesticides and insecticides.

Jicama's texture is reminiscent of water chestnuts, and it has a mild sweet flavor. Jicama can be eaten raw. But in Asia, it is frequently stir-fried, deep-fried, steamed or boiled.

Taro is a starchy root vegetable native to Malaysia. Humans have cultivated taro for nearly 7,000 years, making it one of the oldest domesticated plants. It is described in Apicius, one of the oldest known cookbooks.

Raw taro is not toxic, but it is inedible because it contains small needle-shaped calcium crystals. These crystals are broken down during cooking, so be sure to cook it thoroughly. Taro is usually deep-fried, steamed or boiled. It makes delicious chips and fries.

Bitter melon is an acquired taste. This bumpy green fruit grows on a vine. The bitter flesh surrounds a tough, fibrous core that is usually removed before cooking. Like eggplant, bitter melon should be salted or blanched before cooking, to draw out the bitterness.