Thursday, July 2, 2009


In my kitchen, there are generally two types of recipes that come to be made and eaten. The first are the planned, schemed, dreamed, or otherwise formulated recipes that I make after lots of thinking about ingredients and flavors. They are the ones that start with a simple idea or combination (pistachio and coconut? beets and curry? tahini and lemon?) and then finally come to fruition after lots of thinking, mental tweaking, and, generally, a trip to the grocery store.

And then there are the by-the-seat-of-your-pants recipes - the ones that just sort of happen, depending on my mood or the time of day or the slightly past their prime specimens in the refrigerator that need to get used up sooner rather than later. No, I don't dream about the happy marriage of things like cabbage and goat cheese, but sometimes the whims of my pantry demand a little open-mindedness.

Today's recipe is of the latter variety; something born out of a combination of necessity and curiosity. The starring ingredients? Jicama, cottage cheese, and Chinese 5-spice powder. Just like mom used to make, right?

Well, though they may not sound like a winning trio, they sure got the job done with these quick and lovely mini-muffins: jicamuffins, if you'll indulge my weakness for cloyingly cute recipe titles.

So how did they come to be? It started with the farmers market. Here in cold and dreary Boston (It's rainy day #14 and I'm about to build myself an ark), the farmers market doesn't get started until May, and even then, it's slim pickings. When I went during those first couple of weeks, all I could find were a few greens and an army of seedlings, which don't really have a place in my balcony-free apartment.

But I've resumed my semi-weekly trips recently, and it seems that in a matter of mere days, the farmers market has exploded into summer and is bursting with all sorts of good things to eat. Which is all to say that, when I used only half of that bulb of jicama a week ago, I wasn't expecting it to get fully eclipsed by so much delicious, fresh produce. But it did, and there I was, with an unloved, half-eaten, slightly desiccated chunk of the stuff in my refrigerator.

And then there's the cottage cheese. Fat-free cottage cheese, no less, which seemed like a fine and proteinacious idea when I was at the store, but ultimately, was not. It's that kind of fat-free stuff that has a weird texture to over-compensate for its leanness and that really has no place in my fridge when for about 2 calories more I could just eat a perfectly reasonable 1% version. Without the sliminess.

Finally, there's my 5-spice powder, the product of a recent buying spree at one of my favorite online retailers, Penzey's Spices. Every time I go, usually just to stock up on cinnamon or Telicherry peppercorns or some other necessity, I find something new. And this time, it was 5-spice powder. I had seen it used before and it seemed like something I would love, and I was so excited when it arrived a week or so ago. However, I hadn't yet found the time to use it, and I was getting anxious, so jicama and cottage cheese seemed as good complements as any, and before I knew it, there I was, mixing up a batch of jicama, cottage cheese, and 5-spice mini-muffins.

The verdict? Well, I am in love with the 5-spice powder, that much is obvious. The subtle hit of anise, mixed with warm spices and, my favorite, ginger, is really wonderful. And the muffins? Surprisingly enough, they were a hit, too. Even Jonathan sang his praises, despite the relative healthiness of this recipe and the chunks of chopped, crystallized ginger that I couldn't help but add to the batter.

It turns out that jicama, when grated and added to baked goods, lends an apple-y sweetness and plenty of moisture, almost like carrot or zucchini in their respective baking applications. And the ginger, of course, is perfect with the flavor of the 5-spice. It also serves to add a little extra sweetness to these generally not-too-sweet muffins. While I found the mini size to be perfect for these muffins, I've received several (OK, one) request to make them standard size in the future. That must be a good sign, right?

As always, a couple of notes: I grated the jicama for these muffins using the large holes of a box grater. Once grated, I gave the jicama a good, hard squeeze to get rid of extra water. I then fluffed with a fork and measured. I decided to weigh the jicama, because when it comes to volume of grated, squeezed, fluffed jicama, my 2 cups could be somebody else's quart, or teaspoon, for that matter. So, 200 grams of squeezed jicama it is. But if you have to use volume, shoot for about 2 cups. Or a big ole' bunch, or a small-sized bulb's get the idea.

When mixing up the batter for these, you'll see that it is at first very dry. This is because the jicama has lots of moisture, and a wet batter will results in overly chewy, gummy muffins. And I like my muffins a tad on the crumbly side. So, just keep stirring and smooshing until the batter is uniform and moist. It should be a bit stiff, but definitely still muffin batter-y. If it is truly too dry, add a splash or two of milk to moisten things up.

Finally, I used cottage cheese for the afore-mentioned reasons, which necessitates a spin in the food processor (to get rid of the chunks). Although I haven't tried it, using yogurt, sour cream, mascarpone, or some other soft dairy product would probably be fine, too. I'll leave it to you, and to whatever your fridge happens to be demanding of you at the moment. Enjoy!

Jicamuffins (makes 24 mini-muffins)

1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 tbs. turbinado sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Chinese 5-spice powder
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
200 grams grated, squeezed jicama (about 2 c.)
1/4 c. chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 c. cottage cheese
1 egg
2 tbs. olive oil
1/4 c. applesauce
1 tbs. agave nectar or honey


Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in a mixing bowl, and set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the cottage cheese, applesauce, agave, oil, and egg. Blend until smooth, and set aside. Grate a large chunk of jicama using a box grater, and thoroughly squeeze to remove excess water. Once squeezed, weigh jicama using a kitchen scale - you should have 200 grams, or about 2 cups' worth of squeezed, fluffed jicama. Add wet ingredients, jicama, and ginger to the flour mixture and stir to combine. The batter will seem very dry at first, but continue mixing; the jicama will still have plenty of moisture to release to create a stiff muffin batter. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter into mini-muffin tins, filling to the top. Bake at 375 degrees for about 18 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch.


Christina said...

while a most unusual combination, it definitely makes sense! I love using five spice powder, though I don't often, and since I have a jicama just sitting there maybe I'll try this out.

Anonymous said...

I find myself becoming frustrated at recipes that call for "1 small onion" or somesuch thing, so I really appreciate that you took the time to weigh your jicama and further explain how much it might be without the scale. Thumbs up on the crystallized ginger in this, as one of my most popular scones has apricots and crystallized ginger, which gives it such a sweet zing.

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