Hearts, of Palm

October 30, 2012

The heart has its reasons which reason knows not.
~Blaise Pascal

A jaunt southward toward misty cloud forests.

Hearts of palm are harvested from the soft inner cores and growing buds (apical meristems) of palm trees notably the palmito, açaí, huasaí, juçara, sabal, and pejibaye varieties. They thrive in tropical climes, needing some 150″ of annual rainfall each year to flourish, and are harvested when the plant is about 5-6′ tall and 4″ in diameter. To harvest hearts of palm, a young tree must be felled and the bark (along with the fibrous outer layers) peeled away to reveal the inner softer core. Once the core is removed from the tree, the tubular white heart is cut into smaller sections, each a few inches long, ready to be sold fresh or, as is more often the case, canned. Unfortunately, the harvesting process of most wild palms results in tree death. Because they have only one stem, extracting the inner core kills the plant. So, several palm species have been domesticated which produce multiple stems, allowing farmers to reap them while allowing the tree to live.

A delicacy in Latin and South American cuisine, they are also heralded in France which remains an exuberant importer of hearts of palm (coeurs de palmier). Hearts of palm are tubular, have an ivory hue and impart tender, subtle flavors–strikingly similar to artichokes. They are often seen with a myriad of greens, and also make appearances sautéed, puréed, braised, steamed, fried, marinated, on pizzas, in pastas, soups, and so on.

HEARTS OF PALM WITH AVOCADOES & OLIVES

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 C fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
1 t honey
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 C extra virgin olive oil

14 oz can hearts of palm, drained
4 ripe Hass avocados
3/4 C Niçoise olives, pitted, sliced
Scallion greens, sliced across in half, then thinly lengthwise
Boston or bibb lettuce leaves or arugula

In a blender or processor fitted with a steel knife, purée garlic and cilantro with lemon juice, mustard, honey, salt and pepper. While blade is running or after adding the mixture to a medium glass bowl, add olive oil in a narrow stream, blending or whisking until dressing is emulsified.

Cut hearts of palm and avocado into 3/4″ cubes and very gently fold together with olives and scallion greens and enough vinaigrette to coat in a large glass bowl until combined well.

Line chilled salad plates with lettuce leaves or arugula and mound hearts of palm-avocado-olive mixture on top.

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