I've eaten the canned version of hearts of palm—the innermost core or growing bud of certain varieties of palm tree—in salads, pureed in soups, and straight from the can with a dollop of Russian dressing. I've liked their mild tang and creamy centers, but my familiarity with the ingredient wasn't complete until recently when, helping a friend on a cookbook project, I watched chef Harold Dieterle in his kitchen at New York's Perilla add fresh hearts of palm to a salad of baby red oak lettuce, Manchego cheese, and toasted macadamia nut dressing. Tasting a raw palm heart opened up a new world for me. Harvested from Hawaii's peach palm, a variety that sprouts up to 40 separate shoots that can be cut without killing the tree, the ivory-colored stalk was remarkably crisp, with a mild, woodsy flavor.
It turns out that Dieterle's not alone in his love for the ingredient; eaten in tropical and subtropical regions—in Philippine spring rolls, Argentine tarts, Brazilian empanadas—fresh palm hearts appear to be having a peak moment among chefs. I've found them roasted and pureed with sour cream to make a bed for foie gras at Adour in Manhattan; shaved over hog snapper carpaccio at Miami's AltaMare; and even mimicking pasta in a carbonara at Sao Paulo's celebrated D.O.M. restaurant. But my favorite way to eat fresh palm hearts is to swap them for the canned ones in a recipe I got from Julian Medina, of Manhattan's pan-Latin restaurant Yerba Buena. Medina breads the hearts in panko, deep-fries them, and serves them with a chipotle dipping sauce. I could eat baskets of them.