Until very recently Mexican vegetables have been practically unknown in the United States. Now at last it's possible to buy seeds imported from south of the border and, as a result, these unusual, delicious vegetables are popping up in home gardens everywhere. They are easy to grow, fun to raise, and rewarding to eat.
Jicama (HEE-ca-ma) is a vine with lovely white flowers, but is cultivate for its big tuberous root which resembles a large, unusually ugly turnip. It's eaten raw or cooked (try combining it with sliced potatoes before frying), and the flavor will remind you of water chestnuts.
You can substitute jicama for the more expensive water chestnuts in your favorite Oriental recipe and the kids will love to snack on it raw, sprinkled with salt.
Jicama likes rich soil, so prepare your seedbed well, spading in plenty of compost and fertilizer. Sow the seeds one-half inch deep, a foot apart, later thinning to two feet apart. You can grow the vines on a fence or trellis to save garden space, if you prefer, but it's not necessary.
Jicama requires little water and is not attractive to garden pests.
When the flowers appear, pick them off immediately so that your tubers will not be misshapen and undersized. Six months after planting, your jicama will be ready to harvest. Dig the tubers from the ground and wash and dry them as you would sweet potatoes. they will keep for weeks in the refrigerator. Jicama seeds are poisonous, so be careful to keep them stored out of the reach of children and pets.
The tomatillo (toe-ma-TEE-yo) has been a staple vegetable in Mexico since the days of the Aztecs. They look like tiny green tomatoes and their piquant taste delights everyone. Use them raw in salads or substitute them for tomatoes in any cooked dish. Half tomatoes and half tomatillos makes an interesting combination for vegetable soup.
The tomatillo is even easier to raise them its relative, the tomato. It grows like the proverbial weed. Sow your seeds five inches apart, later thinning the plants to two feet apart. Weekly deep watering is sufficient.
A mature tomatillo vine is a sight to see. It looks as if it's decorated with scores of miniature Japanese lanterns because each fruit is encased in a thin, papery husk. When the husk turns brown and the fruit is firm and green, your tomatillos are ready for harvest.
Remove the husks, but never attempt to seed or peel a tomatillo or you'll have nothing left to show for your efforts.
To obtain seeds for these and other interesting Mexican vegetables, write to Horticultural Enterprises, PO Box 34082, Dallas, Texas 75234.