These friends of ours were roasting a Turkey today and invited some people over for something like a Thanksgiving in September. I was told to bring whatever I felt like making – that is usually the best answer I like hearing when I offer to bring something – another chance to experiment or use what I have. Especially since I was craving hearts of palm and had a jar sitting in my pantry, waiting for some action, plus plenty of cucumbers from our garden. Not that this dish has anything to do with traditional Thanksgiving fare, but it is still summer, after all. It turned out to be a refreshing side for the juicy turkey and we devoured both in no time (and plenty more food).
All other ingredients were prepped and ready to go, but I could not get the jar of palmitos (how we call them in Brazil) open for the life of me. I remember the trick of sticking a knife under the lid and letting air in to make it pop, but I swear I almost pulled a muscle trying to open that jar and nothing was working. It was certainly entertainment for my baby, watching mommy jumping up and down fighting with a jar in the kitchen. I was seriously envisioning arriving for a feast with a baby in one arm and a jar of hearts of palm on the other. And then the jar popped, to remind me that zero force was needed, just like I thought.
Hearts of palm are essentially the inner core of the palm tree and are considered a delicacy because of the labor intensive process of harvesting them. Tender and delicate in flavor, they somewhat resemble artichoke hearts. Hearts of palm can be found in jars or cans in most supermarkets, imported mostly from Costa Rica, Brazil or Ecuador. When buying them, I always read the label to make sure they are sustainably harvested.
In Brazil we eat hearts of palm as fillings in pies or pastéis (sort of a Brazilian version of empanadas), on risottos, or in simple salads of lettuce and tomatoes, but this time I wanted to give them a new face and add them to ingredients that we eat more frequently – my kids live off avocados and cucumbers. I love hearts of palm plain, with no seasonings (even better with an ice-cold beer at a Brazilian beach), and you can taste them a bit more in a simple lettuce and tomato salad, but I needed a change. We could definitely taste them in this salad, and I loved the contrast between their crunchiness and the smoothness of the avocados, combined with the refreshing cucumbers.
I added a couple of thin celery sticks from our garden because I wanted to use them, but I thought those overpowered the subtle flavors of the salad, so I didn’t include them in the recipe. I did think it was odd that our celery stalks were so dark, thin and bitter (but I was so proud of us for growing them). Have you heard about blanching celery? Well, I had not before I transplanted the one we had started re-growing in water to our garden bed. Blanching is when you cover the stalks with straw, soil or rolled up paper cylinders, to encourage the production of chlorophyll. If blanching is done 10-14 days prior to harvesting the celery, and growing conditions were just right (cool temperatures, lots of water and nutrients), the celery should have a sweet taste, not the bitterness I encountered. Well, that means no more celery in our garden. My current gardening style is: kids sow seeds, we water, go on a trip, come back and harvest what is left.
Back to the salad: best of all, it was quick and easy – I made it with my baby climbing on my legs – and a great dish to bring to our friends. May I suggest you grab a jar of hearts of palm on your next trip to the supermarket, and the next time you need a quick something for a dinner party, you shall have the solution.
AVOCADO CUCUMBER AND HEARTS OF PALM SALAD
Serves 4 as a main or 8 as a side
3 cups cucumbers (about 3 small cucumbers or 1 large), chopped
1 jar of hearts of palm (500g), drained, rinsed and cut in half lengthwise then chopped
4 ripe avocados, pitted and chopped
4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of lime juice
1 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of lightly packed parsley leaves, rinsed and chopped
pepper to taste
Combine the cucumbers, hearts of palm, avocados and parsley in a large bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, lime juice and salt. Pour over the vegetables and gently toss to coat, trying to avoid smashing the avocados. Add pepper and adjust salt to taste.
Make ahead: Avocados can brown when exposed to the air, so if you want to make the salad ahead, refrigerate the other chopped vegetables and leave the avocados for chopping right before serving. It is so quick and simple that you can make the whole thing right before eating.