It’s pretty much my goal as an amateur gourmet on a budget to recreate the fabulous things I eat (or smell) in restaurants on the cheap, on the veg, or at all. Since I can’t afford to eat out often, I pay close attention and occasionally take notes (or poor resolution camera phone pics).
Working without a recipe can be risky for sure, especially when you’re a cheapskate like me. I HATE wasting food. But I also find it extremely rewarding. It’s creative and fun, and when it works, it’s thrilling. I dance around, give the dog a carrot, and if it’s really good, call my mother to brag.
Last Friday, I had the pleasure of dining at Spring Street Natural, an organic wonderland in New York City’s SoHo district. Two work friends recommended it and were stunned I’d never been there. After I took a gander at the online menu, I was stunned too. There were so many delicious-sounding vegetarian choices. I really have to get out more. Mid-year Resolution: No more veggie burgers in pubs!
Later that evening I found in front of me a plate of corn-crusted tofu, sautéed spinach, and jicama mango salad. It was all lovely. The tofu had a great texture, and the seasoned cornmeal crust gave it a flavor and crispiness reminiscent of the catfish I grew up with. The spinach was spinach. I love spinach; but it was nothing to call mom about.
But the best part of the meal was the jicama mango salad. Oh yeah. It’s why I ordered that entrée in particular. I could have had a veggie casserole with quinoa—Maude knows I love quinoa—but the jicama mango combo was speaking to me. And once on my fork, it spoke to me right in my mouth.
A sweet/savory combo done right is a dream come true. The jicama was crispy and mild; the mango was tart and crunchy with just the right amount of sweetness countered by cilantro, red onion, a tang, which I assumed was lime juice, and some kind of heat. But what was it? Garlic? I didn’t think so. Cayenne? Jalapeño? It was a mystery; there was heat without flavor. Of course, my palate is not that sophisticated, so it could just have eluded me.
For days (okay, two), I talked about this salad before I decided I just had to make it. My only real challenges were finding jicama and balancing the proportions. Jicama is a Mexican tuber with a mild flavor, kind of like an apple. It’s just a touch sweet—just a touch—and crunchy when served raw. Actually, I never had it any other way.
The jicama to mango proportion had been about 2:1, and the cilantro and onion did not overpower. I decided to use cayenne for heat, and if it tasted weird, to add a teeny bit of garlic to a small portion of the slaw to check the flavor. It turned out to be a nonissue.
Never leaving a three-block radius of my apartment, I went to four different vegetable markets on my quest for ingredients. First, I went to my tried-and-true, everything-here-is-about-to-go market, where I scored mangoes at two for $1, red onions for 75¢ a pound, and seven limes for $1. But no jicama. Then, I went to the Korean market—where they coo over my dog—and got cilantro for 79¢ a bunch. Still no jicama. So, Snack and I trucked it down to the Mexican produce market. No señorita, no jicama para tí.
Luckily I was able to draw on the vast (ha!) knowledge of world cuisine I gained working as a waitron at a glorified diner on the Upper West Side. Daikon, a white radish, has a, well, radishy flavor, but is fairly mild. Its texture is similar to jicama, so I figured it would make an adequate substitute. I shoved Snack in his pet carrier, went into the Amish Market (the name of the store, not run by actual Amish people), and procured the proxy ingredient (for 99¢ a pound).
If you try this recipe and can’t find either jicama or daikon, try a firm, tart apple like Granny Smith. It will work great. When choosing mangoes, go for the firm, not-so-ripe ones. You’ll be amazed how much easier they are to cut in this state. Get your chopping gloves on. All the chopping for this recipe gave me a blister.
Daikon (Jicama) Mango Slaw
Adapted from the Jicama Mango Salad at Spring Street Natural
Yields about 14 ½ -cup servings
4 medium daikon, julienned
2 mangoes (firm, not-yet-ripe), julienned
3 limes, juiced
1 small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
½ medium red onion, quartered and sliced thin
Cayenne to taste
NOTE #1: This dish is all about Julienne and her cutting style. If you have good knives, you’ll be a-okay. If you’re not sure if you have good knives, you’ll know soon enough. I have crappy knives, but I’m persistent. I wore a band-aid at the base of my index finger like a badge of honor when I served this delight at a Memorial Day BBQ.
1) Julienne (cut into thin sticks) the daikon (jicama) and mango. Place in a big ol’ bowl.
2) Stir lime juice into bowl with fruit and veg.
3) Add cilantro and onion. Stir
4) Add salt to taste.
5) Add a few dashes of cayenne. Wait 30 minutes. If you still want it hotter, add a bit more. The daikon gives a little bit of that heat I was looking for.
NOTE #2: The longer this dish marinates the better. A subway ride to Brooklyn is a good start. Here we are a couple of days later, and my Mom is getting a call about it.
Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
34.3 calories, .2 g fat, $0.37 per serving
4 med daikon: 240 calories, 1.2g fat, $2.50
2 mangoes: 170 calories, 1.2g fat, $1.00
1/2 medium red onion: 20 calories, .1g fat, $.25
1 small bunch cilantro: 22 calories, .5g fat, $.79
3 limes, juices, 28.5 calories, .1 fat, $0.08
1 tsp salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1 tsp cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
TOTALS: 480.5 calories, 3.1g fat, $5.21
PER SERVING: 34.3 calories, .2 g fat, $0.37 per serving