Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Palm heart salad

When I was in Rio a few years ago I was served a slab of palm heart, bark still attached, in a fancy restaurant. I was told it was a salad, though it looked kind of like a tree to me. I ate it with some initial trepidation, not quite sure how to eat a tree, but found it had a wonderful taste and texture. I felt like a panda might feel upon finding a particularly delicate bit of bamboo. I remember slicing into the ivory flesh in that dim space, surrounded by voices full of silibant Portuguese and knowing I was someplace very far from home.

I have become fond of palm heart salad since then. It's as much a textural food as a taste food and, while I can't duplicate the slab-o'-tree, with canned palm heart and good olive oil I can pretend I'm in the tropics again, surrounded by heat, humidity and possibility.

Palm heart possibility salad

Drain one can or bottle of palm hearts. Give them a quick rinse in a stream of cool water, but don't let them soak or linger in the water. You want them to retain some of the salty-sour taste of the brine, and they will fall to pieces if the water is too forceful.

Lay the palm hearts down on the cutting board, wood if possible, as like calls to like. Admire them and marvel that this whiteness comes from inside a tree. Using a sharp knife slice them into pieces, no more than 3/4 of an inch long or so. Bite size. Put them into a bowl.

Sprinkle with a little olive oil. Fruity and sweet is good for this.

Add some freshly cracked black pepper. And maybe just a little more salt.

You can add any of the following, though it's not necessary:
  • minced chives
  • minced parsley
  • other light-tasting green herbs. You don't want to overwhem the palm hearts (they might become shy).
Gently mix it all together. You'll notice the center will fall out of some of the palm hearts. The middle is much more tender than the remaining ring, but both serve their own purpose.

Eat. It shouldn't be too chilled, you want all the different flavors evident. Dream of palm trees and thank them.

(c) 2008 Laura S. Packer

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