What are Hearts of Palm?

When I first came to Brazil in 2005 I had never heard about hearts of palm. My husband was quick to introduce me and I immediately fell in love with them. Hearts of palm are mild in flavor, tender, and perfect in salads, pies, or with pasta. Hearts of palm are considered a delicacy because of the labor intensive process of harvesting them. You can find them in almost any supermarket in the USA and if you haven’t tried them before I highly recommend running to your local supermarket, grabbing a jar, and adding them to your salad for lunch or dinner. I can never get enough of hearts of palm and use any excuse to add them to a dish. But, what exactly are hearts of palm?

Simply put, hearts of palm are the inner core and growing bud of the palm tree. The stem of the palm tree is harvested and the bark is removed leaving a layer of white fiber around the central core. This fiber is removed leaving the center core of the heart of palm which is eaten. The fresh hearts of palm tend to be crisp and crunchy whereas the canned hearts of palm lose their crunchiness and are much softer.

Here is a great video showing the whole process of harvesting to packaging the hearts of palm.

There are various varieties of palm trees that the heart of palm is harvested from, this includes the palmito juçara, açaí palm, sabal palm, and the pejibaye. The palmito juçara used to be the most popular uncultivated (wild) palm tree that was harvested for the heart of palm. Brazil was the largest producer of this heart of palm variety until the 1990’s when there was a lot of poaching for these popular stems which resulted in the threatened extinction of the wild palmito juçara. Today Ecuador is one of the highest producers of hearts of palms together with Costa Rica. The majority of hearts of palms that you find in the supermarket now are from domesticated (farmed) palm trees.

When the stem of the palm is harvested for the inner core the palm tree dies. The most common palm trees have only one stem and when it is cut the tree has nothing remaining to keep it alive. It is because of the single stemmed palm trees that palm trees with multiple stems, such as the sabal palm and the pejibaye, were domesticated (farmed) so as to prevent the killing of the palm tree when its stems were cut for the inner core. Today, most hearts of palms come from large farms which harvest the inner core of the palm from a tree that can have up to 40 stems. The multiple stems of the domesticated palm trees prevents the killing of the tree and harvesting hearts of palm becomes much more sustainable.

In Brazil hearts of palms are called palmito. In English there are several different names, some of which I had never heard of: hearts of palm, peach palm, burglars thigh, and swamp cabbage (not sure where burglars thigh comes from, anyone know?). Hearts of palm can be used in so many different ways, my favorite ways to eat hearts of palm is to slice them and add to a salad, cut in half and stand them on a plate and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt, or to make a pie like this torta de palmito!



100 Things to Try When You Come to Brazil PART 1

Brazilian Feijoada

(image from http://www.food52.com)

So, there is this list, a list of 100 things to try when you visit Brazil. This list has been posted on various blogs and was originally created with the idea that people would mark what they had all tried. It’s a great list and really has some MUST TRY foods on it. But, after going through it, I knew there were things that needed to be added and altered. So instead of following the rules I’m going to take this list and adapt it slightly.

When you visit Brazil you have to remember that this is a BIG country and some of the foods are very regional. Of this list I have probably tried half and am not even remotely close to trying the other half, partially because some of these dishes can only be found in specific regions of the country. Don’t go on a mad goose chase to try all of these foods when you visit Brazil. Trust me, there is so much good food here that whatever you manage to try from this list you will be satisfied with.

So here goes, part one of 100 Thing to Try When You Come to Brazil

1. Pão de Queijo Brazilian cheese bread – this can be found almost anywhere and is commonly eaten with coffee.
2. Doce de batata doce A sweetened potato purée/jam/jelly
3. Churrasco Brazilian style barbecue, or as it is sometimes referred to: eat meat until you pop!
4. Tapioca Made with manioc starch, these are usually cooked like tortillas.
5. Pizza assado no forno á lenha Pizza baked in a wood oven. Definitely order pizza one time in Brazil, especially in São Paulo. Some suggestions of which pizza’s to order: portuguesa (onions, boiled egg, ham, & olives), mozzarella (sliced tomato & basil), garlic (lots of crushed garlic, yum), calabresa (sausage).
6. Feijão tropeiro This is one of the many bean variations you find in Brazil. It is: beans mixed with manioc flour, fried pork belly, sausage, boiled eggs, garlic, onions, and seasoning.
7. Arroz carreteiro One variation of rice that you find in Brazil (again there are many variations), white rice, jerked beef, pepper, garlic, onion, and parsley.
8. Açaí na tigela Purée of açaí or açaí berries served in a bowl with granola. Really yummy!
9. Paçoca de amendoim A peanut sweet usually found in cylinder shape. Really yummy and a great accompaniment to an espresso.
10. Pato no tucupi A duck dish commonly found in the state of Pará in the north of Brazil. It is boiled duck in a yellow manioc sauce.
11. Baião de dois Rice, beans, sausage/bacon/jerked beef, and farofa mixed together to create one big pot of goodness.
12. Acarajé Street food served in Bahia. Made of feijão paste w/ all sorts of goodies and shrimp.
13. Pamonha Sweet corn paste wrapped in a corn lead and boiled.
14. Dobradinha Tripe stew.
15. Rapadura Mostly sold in fairs or street markets (feira), this is basically cubed cane sugar.
16. Farofa Coarse manioc flour fried with butter, onions, bacon/jerked beef, and parsley. Commonly served together with beans, stews, and at barbecues. Recipes vary!
17. Barreado Found on the coast or Parana, this is a bean based dished with cooked meats and accompanied with fruits, like apple and banana.
18. Pastel de feira A must try at the local street market. This is a rectangular pastry filled with any kind of filling you can imagine. It is deep fried. Some good fillings to try: cheese, pumpkin, meat, portuguesa.
19. Couve refogado com alho A very common side dish, this is thinly cut collard fried with olive oil, onions, and garlic.
20. Sanduíche de pernil A pork sandwich. Pernil is pork leg.
21. Palmito Hearts of palm. Eat these in a salad or just by themselves with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt.
22. Cappucino Your regular cappuccino but served with chocolate mixed in.
23. Camarão na moranga A shrimp stew served in a pumpkin.
24. Doce de abóbora Sweet pumpkin jam commonly eaten just on its own. Very yummy and serves as a delicious dessert.
25. Feijoada The national dish of Brazil, this is a bean stew with lots of varied meat. Feijoada is commonly served with rice, collard, farofa, and slices of orange.
26. Galinhada com pequi A chicken stew with pequi fruit. Pequi is a fruit that is popular in the center-west of Brazil.
27. Peixe na telha A baked fish dish.
28. Biscoito de polvilho Little biscuits that come in all shapes and sizes. These are made of manioc flour and are very light and just a little bit sour. Absolutely addicting.
29. Galinha á cabidela Common in the city of Recife this is a simple chicken dish that originated from Portugal.
30. Pão de mel com doce de leite Honey bread with doce de leite. Very tasty and commonly comes in small squares or rounds and is covered with chocolate.
31. Any fish baked in folha de bananeira Fish baked in banana leaf.
32. Queijo coalho nab rasa Usually sold at beaches, this is grilled cheese on a stick!
33. Curau Sweetened corn paste/pudding served with cinnamon.
34. Caldo de cana Sugar cane juice. Drink this with a pastel at the local street market; they are always close-by to each other.
35. Prato Feito This is a cheap lunch dish that comes with your choice of meat, rice, beans, collard, farofa, and fries.
36. Buchada de bode A typical dish from the northeast, it is made of Goat. It is the goats stomach stuffed with small pieces of the other internal organs, cooked with a leg bone of the goat for flavour (Thank you Mu for this).
37. Bolo de rolo Very thin pastry rolled with goiabada jelly, almost like a Swiss Roll. Really good with coffee or to finish off your breakfast with.
38. Chá mate gelado Chilled toasted mate. Go to the center of São Paulo to Rei do Maté and you can order chilled maté with your choice of fruit or other ingredients to be added. Some suggestions: maté com acerola, maté com leite e aveia (w/ milk & oats).
39. Rabada Oxtail stew.
39. Vaca atolada Literally, “stuck cow” this is a type of beef soup.
40. Pitanga A fruit native to Brazil. This fruit is tart and very high in vitamin C
41. Quibebe Mashed pumpkin with fried onions, garlic, and olive oil. A very tasty side dish.
42. Caipirinha A must have drink when in Brazil, this is cachaça, lime, and sugar.
43. Cuzcuz Paulista “São Paulo couscous.” This is not your typical couscous. It is a corn-based dish with all types of different vegetables. Made in a bunt tin it always looks beautiful and is wonderfully delicious.
44. Quebra queixo “Jawbreaker” this is a hard sugar-based sweet.
45. Isca de peixe Small pieces of white fish, battered, and deep fried. Perfect to order as a porção (portion) in a bar.
46. Bacalhau There are many different bacalhau’s, but the main part of the dish is the salted cod and it comes with all different vegetables. If you like fish this is an absolute must have.
47. Torta de palmito Hearts of palm pie.
48. Empada (empadinha) A cupcake sized pie; this is a common snack in Brazil. Come with various fillings: cheese, chicken, hearts of palm are the most common. The pastry is light and crumbly and has the tendency to fall apart when eating…so be careful!
49. Suco de abacaxi com hortelã Pineapple juice with mint, yum!
50. Pão de batata com catupiry Potato bread filled with catupiry, similar to a very runny cream-cheese. Commonly eaten as a snack and can be found almost anywhere!

To Print a PDF for Your Travels CLICK HERE!

Minhas Crônicas do Brasil “100 Brazilian Dishes – Part 1
Brazil Phenomenon “100 Brazilian food items and dishes you have to try
O Onívoro “100 pratos brasileiros para experimentar

Hearts of Palm Pie

Torta de PalmitoThe sweets of Brazil are all absolutely mouth watering and there is always something new to try. But the savory dishes also all have the tendency to keep you coming back for more. This is exactly what happened to me with the heart of palm pie, or, as it is called in Brazil Torta de Palmito.

The first time I ate hearts of palm was in Brazil. Coming from England and the northeast of the United States my exposure to hearts of palm was, well, zero. To me they were an exotic food and at first rather strange. Seeing this white-cylinder-like food was not a normal site and I was a little apprehensive at first to try it. But, after my first bite I was hooked and quickly started ordering anything I could find that came with hearts of palm, and in Brazil that isn’t hard as hearts of palm are used in many dishes! 

My introduction to heart of palm pie was my mother-in-laws homemade pie and it goes without saying that I found my favorite pie. After eating my mother-in-laws pie I knew I had to learn how to make it and once I had the recipe I set to work in the kitchen. Not a difficult pie to make, I soon was making this pie for all different occasions, dinners, lunches, and just because I wanted it in the fridge so that I could grab a piece at any time. This pie is wonderful because it is simple, you can add other ingredients if you like, such as peas or green olives, and you can eat it in many different ways: for lunch, as a snack, for a light dinner, or as a side with a big dinner. My favorite is to have it for lunch or a light dinner with a big side of salad.

Torta de PalmitoAfter having made this pie many times there are a couple of things I always like to keep in mind when making it:
= Add the water, a little at a time, when making the pastry
= Don’t work the pastry too much; once it forms a ball, don’t work it anymore
= Leave the pastry for at least 1 hour; this has usually given me the best results
= The ketchup is not a MUST. I usually do a little bit less than what the recipe asks for; GO BY TASTE!
= When adding the milk: I dissolve the cornstarch in one cup of milk, then pour this into the pan, I only add the remaining 1/2 cup of milk a little at a time. The mixture needs to remain thick, and I never like to cook it too long because otherwise everything turns to mush!
= Adding the peas or olives gives more flavor and color, but are not absolutely necessary!
= I like to eat this pie a little above room temperature; let it cool for at least 15-20 minutes before eating.

Where to buy Heart of Palm: You can usually find canned heart of palm in most supermarkets. Take a look in the international foods section and it is likely to be there. Otherwise, take a look at some links that I have here to order online!

For the Crust

500g (2½ cups) All-purpose white flour
200g unsalted butter
1/3 tablespoon salt
½ cup cold water

For the Filling
40g (3 tbsp) butter
1 large onion, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
600g (21oz) hearts of palm (about 2 jars), thinly sliced
2 tbsp ketchup
1 vegetable bouillon cube
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbsp parsley leaves (or cheiro verde), finely chopped
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
1 cup pitted green olives, finely sliced (optional)
olive oil
salt and black pepper

For the crust, combine the flour, salt, and butter in a large bowl, rub with your finger tips until the mixture resembles bread crumbs, and then add cold water, little by little, as needed, working the dough until it is smooth and does not stick to your hands (you can use a food processor).
Wrap the dough with plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days.

For the filling, heat butter and a drizzle of olive oil in a medium pot, add onion and, when it begins to brown, add garlic, and fry until fragrant.
Mix in sliced hearts of palm, ketchup, vegetable bouillon cube, and cornstarch – previously dissolved in 1 ½ cups milk – and, stirring constantly, cook until it boils and thickens.
Adjust salt and pepper and, if necessary, correct acidity by adding a pinch of sugar; fold in chopped parsley (or cheiro verde), frozen peas, and sliced olives and let cool.

To assemble the pie, use a 30cm (12inch) spring form pan, or an ovenproof dish, if you’re not considering removing the pie from the dish.
Dust a work surface with flour and, using a rolling pin, roll out a large portion of the dough into a circle about 45cm (18inch) in diameter.
Line bottom and sides of one pan with this circle and spoon the filling into it. Roll out the remaining dough into a circle about the diameter of the pan and cover the pie, pressing the two crusts together gently to seal.
Cut out decorative shapes and press them onto the top crust, brush with egg yolk, and refrigerate for about 15 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 180C (350F/moderate/Gas 4).

Bake pie for about 45 minutes, until the crust and tip are deep golden brown. Remove from heat, wait 10 minutes, and remove from pans onto serving platters (or refrigerate and heat thoroughly in the oven before serving).

For a PDF of this Recipe CLICK HERE!

Torta de Palmito