When it comes to vegan cooking, you have to put your heart into it and while you’re at it, put some hearts of palm in it, too. If you haven’t cooked with hearts of palm yet, it’s time to get started. This unassuming veggie may be best known as a salad ingredient, but with a little creativity and a lot of imagination, hearts of palm can be used to cook many types of dishes. It’s always fun to learn about and try new foods and today, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to go to the market and bring home some hearts of palm. Once you have them, here’s how to cook with them.

1. Hearts of Palm

Brazillian Hearts of Palm Salad

Hearts of palm are also known as palmito, palm cabbage, palm hearts, chonta, and swamp cabbage. They are harvested from the inner core of the stems of certain palm trees grown in Central America, Costa Rica, and Florida.

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Hearts of palm have tough, ivory-colored husks on the outside, but inside there is a tender, flavorful flesh. The taste is reminiscent of an artichoke mixed with a hint of sweetness and some crunch. That mild flavor makes them a great blank canvas for all types of flavor profiles. The vegetable itself looks like white tubes about three to five inches long and about one inch in diameter. They look similar to white asparagus without tips.

2. Selection and Storage

Raw Mango and Hearts of Palm Ceviche

Hearts of palm are available all year long. You can buy them fresh but most markets carry them in cans or jars. If you buy them fresh, look for intact stalks that are firm and unblemished. Refrigerate them immediately, lightly sealed and they should last up to two weeks. If you buy hearts of palm in jars, store them in a cool, dry place for up to three months. Once you open them, keep them in the fridge and use within a few days.

3. Health Benefits

Hearts of Palm Crab Dip

With no cholesterol and a low number of calories, hearts of palm are a good source of nutrition. They are rich in potassium, which helps maintain blood pressure and cell function. Hearts of palm also contain vitamin C ,which helps boost immunity and zinc, which aids in healing and digestion. This tropical veggie also has plenty of vitamin B6, which helps our sleep cycle, mood, and metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Hearts of palm are also a good source of riboflavin, which helps red blood cell production and calcium, phosphorus, and copper, which all aid in bone and musculoskeletal health. Finally, hearts of palm have lots of dietary fiber, which aids digestion and keeps us satisfied.

4. Prepping

Raw Hearts of Palm and Jicama Ceviche

If you do find fresh hearts of palm, they need a bit of prep work. Use a paring knife to make lengthwise slices and peel away the tough outer layers until you get to the tender core. If it’s hard to peel, steaming them can make it easier. You can eat the hearts of palm raw or blanch them to make them a bit more tender before adding to dishes.

5. Salads

Zucchini Ribbon and Caramelized Hearts of Palm Salad

With their artichoke-like taste and crunchy texture, hearts of palm are a great addition to salads. Top raw hearts of palm with a tasty vinaigrette and you have a delicious salad for a starter or entrée. This simple and refreshing Brazilian Hearts of Palm Salad, also called salsa de palmito, is a great way to introduce yourself to this ingredient. Hearts of palm are tossed with tomatoes, onion, and spring onion in a simple dressing made from olive oil, lime, salt, and pepper, to give it a little bit of spice.

Hearts of palm can be lightly cooked before adding them to salads. This Zucchini Ribbon and Caramelized Hearts of Palm Salad is a salad like no other. It has a base of zucchini ribbons topped with sweet corn, blackberries, herbs, and avocado with caramelized slices of hearts of palm mixed in. The vibrant, lemony, and herby dressing would steal the show if it weren’t for the slightly sweet, crisp hearts of palm. The balance of basil, salty, sweet, and sour in this salad is near perfection.

6. Ceviche

Spicy Mexican Hearts of Palm Ceviche

Ceviche is a popular seafood dish from the coastal regions of Latin America. This Raw Hearts of Palm and Jicama Ceviche uses hearts of palm, which have the perfect texture for replacing seafood. This super fresh, flavorful ceviche is perfect served alongside a bowl of lettuce with tortillas to make tacos or burritos. Mexico has its own version of ceviche that’s a little spicier with added avocado and lime. This Spicy Mexican Hearts of Palm Ceviche is great as an appetizer served with crispy tostadas and baked corn chips, or it can be eaten as a side with a main course. This Raw Mango and Hearts of Palm Ceviche utilizes hearts of palm along with cherry tomatoes, mango, spinach, and a burst of fresh lime. Serve it up in lettuce leaves or fresh, juicy jicama tortillas for your next taco night.

7. Seafood Swap

Hearts of Palm

If you’ve been missing your favorite seafood dishes, hearts of palm may be the answer you’ve been looking for. With its mild flavor, hearts of palm can be used to make “fishy” dishes that are so good, you’ll swear you hear the waves hitting the rocky shore. Hearts of palm provide an unmistakable texture for this Hearts of Palm Crab Dip while a mixture of homemade sauces recreates the flavors of seafood. Serve with chips or crackers at your next party or gathering and we guarantee that this dip will be a hit. In these Battered Hearts of Palm Crab Cakes With Tartar Sauce, hearts of palm are mashed up into a meaty texture and seasoned in a way that perfectly mimics the taste and texture of the Maryland classic. These battered hearts of palm cakes are fried until crispy, then served with a dollop of creamy tangy homemade tartar sauce.

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Hearts of palm can also stand in for lobster in this Hearts of Palm Lobster Roll which has all the New England traditional flavors and textures. Remember those frozen fish sticks your mom used to throw on a sheet pan and heat up in the toaster oven? These Faux ‘Fish’ Sticks With Coconut Basil Crema are way better. Hearts of palm are the secret ingredient in these “un-fish” sticks, and you will be amazed at how similar they look and taste to traditional fish sticks! Vegetables – what can’t they do?

8. Other Recipes

Hearts of Palm Carnitas

Hearts of palm can be used for a lot more than just salads and vegan seafood. Similar to jackfruit, hearts of palm can substitute for chicken or pork in dishes. These unassuming little veggies are a really amazing gluten-free alternative to seitan or other wheat or soy-based plant protein. In this recipe for Hearts of Palm Carnitas, the hearts of palm are hearty enough to stand up to being long-simmered in a marinade, and they magically take on a texture that’s similar to pulled pork. They’re tangy, saucy, “meaty,” and so delicious!

Of course, you can just enjoy the hearts of palm for their own flavor without trying to make it “meaty.” For a dish that you can really play with and make your own, check out this recipe for Spicy Seared Heart of Palm Rounds. Since hearts of palm do not contain a lot of flavor on their own, the tender rounds will easily absorb any and all seasonings and spices you pair with them. With just three ingredients, this simple dish can be made and enjoyed in less than 15 minutes!

For a delicious and healthy meal that’s also gluten-free and soy-free, you must try cooking with hearts of palm. Try any of these recipes and we guarantee your heart will be won over.

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Lead image source: Spicy Seared Heart of Palm Rounds