Any ideas what those two strange things above are? If you like asparagus and artichoke hearts, this is something you need to try. These are palmitos, known to us English speakers as palm hearts (or ‘heart of palm’ if you prefer). These are the central growing stems from a variety of different palm trees and are very popular in Brazil.
Probably the most common way to see palmito served is in salads. The long white cylinders are preserved in a light brine, then cut into smaller circular sections and served with olive oil. As I mentioned above, the end result is reminiscent of mildly flavoured artichoke hearts. But there is a far more exciting way to prepare and serve palmito.
Last week I found whole, fresh palm hearts in the local street market. At R$10 (around $5 US) they weren’t cheap, but I wanted to try a recipe I had tasted only in restaurants – Palmito Assado (roasted palm hearts). Turns out to be a very simple dish. The palm heart I bought was too long to fit in my oven, so I reached for my biggest kitchen knife and gave it the chop!
After cutting it in half, I wrapped it in foil with a little butter (oil would also work well), sea salt and pepper.
The foil parcels then went to a hot oven (200°C) for around 45 minutes. The delicious smells started to fill the kitchen at the half hour mark and when I finally unwrapped my cylindrical parcels I found the central sections were soft and tender.
I sliced the hearts down the centre and added salt, pepper, plenty of butter and some fresh thyme. The end result was utterly delicious and sadly, as no one else was in the house at the time, I had to eat them all myself! Mrs Eat Rio did not appreciate hearing about my culinary exploits when she got home a few hours later, but that’s another story…
If you’re in Rio you should keep an eye out for these long ‘sticks’ in the markets – they’re simple to cook and make a really tasty starter. If you don’t see them, or you prefer someone else to do the cooking, several restaurants have this dish on the menu.