HEARTS OF PALM
When I moved to Costa Rica over four years ago and started cooking with local fruits and vegetables I made a lot of wonderful and delicious discoveries. Much of the thrill from those discoveries were finding delicacies previously unavailable to me. due to cost or shipping issues, that were suddenly plentiful.
One of those treats was and is Hearts of Palm, or Palmito, as it is known here. For years I only knew hearts of palm as a sort of slippery, soggy and tasteless spear that came from a badly decorated can. And later, in the early part of this century, I saw hearts of palm fresh, but priced prohibitively, sometimes as high as $13-14 a pound.
So I was excited to discover, upon spending some time at the Feria, that hearts of palm were not only readily available, but also quite affordable. Fresh, they were crisp, refreshing and ready to pair with so many other flavors. And not only could I find them at the Feria, I discovered that they grow up and down our coast here, hidden in the jungles. It turns out that Costa Rica is the world’s largest shipper of hearts of palm to the US.
Hearts of palm, as we serve them at La Cusinga, are cut from wild palms on our property. Only the soft core of the palm is taken and the young tree dies. Much of the palmito grown here, however, is taken from pejibaye palms, grown expressly for the purpose of harvesting the heart.
One of the true ironies of dining here on the coast is ordering an “Ensalada de Palmito” in a restaurant and receiving canned hearts of palm which have been grown in Costa Rica, shipped to the US to be steamed in a can, and then returned to Costa Rica to be placed, bland and soggy, on top of a salad for an unsuspecting guest.
ENSALADA DE PALMITO
I like using palmito raw. There are a number of recipes here in Costa Rica for palmito stewed, or braised with other vegetables, but I find that seems to obscure the already delicate flavor. Palmito can be sliced thinly and tossed with lettuces and a light vinaigrette, or, it can be done as a salad on its own. At La Cusinga, I make a very popular palmito salad that I serve alongside a green salad and garnish with a few marinated cherry tomatoes.
Palmito takes very well to citrus flavors and here, with so many mandarinas available, I have used the combination of the two to great effect. This recipe calls for roasted red peppers (chiles dulce), but using them raw would add to the nice crunch from the palmito. When cleaning your hearts of palm be sure to check that the stringy outside part is stripped away. Much of the palmito sold at the Feria retains a bit of this stringy outer layer. An easy test is to see how easily a knife slide through it, or, better and tastier, just slice off a thin piece and pop it in your mouth.
CHEF DAVE’S HEARTS OF PALM
1# (.5K) Hearts of Palm, thinly sliced;
2 large red sweet Red Peppers (Chiles Dulces), roasted, peeled and cut in thin strips;
3 green onions (cebollinas verdes) sliced thin, all the way up to the ends;
Juice (jugo) of 3 Mandarinas;
1 oz. Good Olive Oil (30 ml)
Salt and Pepper
Toss hearts of palm with mandarina juice immediately after cutting to prevent discoloring. Add slices of chile dulce and green onion and mix well. Pour olive oil over top and mix again. Salt and pepper lightly. Let stand for at least 30 minutes before serving. Check for salt and pepper again before serving.
Serve alone or with dressed lettuces.