Recipe Box: Lagarta Lodge Ensalada de Palmito

A former roommate of mine, Lisa, first introduced me to hearts of palm years ago. Picking my way through eating all during childhood, I missed a lot. When I first caught sight of the heart of palm in one of her salads (Lisa has the gift of salad-making), I was skeptical. Perhaps downright dubious. I didn’t know what the white flecks were and bet I wouldn’t like them. But that night, she made me a believer in the beloved palmito. I might even want to name a son after it. Then again, I’m not sure how Beck might feel about a son named “Heart of Palm” (though it sure sounds cute in Spanish). Palmito. Maybe it could be the name of a bird instead…

 

While celebrating the arrival of the new year with family at the Lagarta Lodge in Nosara, Costa Rica, I spotted Ensalada de Palmito on the menu. Beck and I split this salad and wiped the dressing bowl that accompanied it, clean. I have given it my own spin by adding in the avocado, though now I can’t imagine the salad without it. Did I mention that all of us who ate salad at Lagarta Lodge practically licked the bowl of dressing clean. Think cat to the milk bowl. This dressing is so good, you might find it becomes your new secret sauce.

The recipe makes a lot of dressing and I have a hunch it would be a fantastic twist to any of the typical prepared salads: tuna, chicken, potato or egg salad. Heck, go crazy and combine them.

A word on Palmito, compliments of my scavenging at all places, the Fancy Food show. From a piece of collateral picked up at the La Cima booth:

“In Costa Rica, it was consumed by indigenous people before Columbus even reached the continent… The heart of palm is in itself the new leaf of the palm in its formation.”

Already the indigenous people knew what it would take the rest of us so much longer to figure out: palmitos are good for you! The fiber, protein, potassium and calcium are reasons to add palmito to any salad.

One word of caution though, you might find you want to somehow add it to every salad. I would suggest moderation, if not for this reason alone, from La Cima: “The cultivated culture of Hearts of Palm diminished the exploitation of wild Hearts of Palm which year after year has devastated the forests of the tropical lands. This indiscriminate exploitation led to the extinction of some species of palms.”

That is no bueno. So as you’re shopping for palmito,  perhaps check the source. We are in an age of wanting to know, again, where our food comes from.  And maybe this salad below will have you envisioning yourself frolicking in the tropics.

Lagarta Lodge Ensalada de Palmito

DRESSING

  • ½ cup white onion, minced
  • 5 T mayonnaise
  • 6 T white vinegar
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 T fresh parsley, minced

SALAD

  • 1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • 12 grape tomatoes, chopped
  • 4 hearts of palm, halved and then sliced
  • 1 avocado, halved and then sliced

Mix dressing ingredients together. Set aside. Chop the lettuce and put about 1 cup on each salad plate. Add the equivalent of 3 chopped grape tomatoes per plate along with a quarter of avocado per plate. One heart of palm, halved and sliced is sufficient to add onto the salad per plate. Sprinkle about 2 T of dressing on each salad and serve.

~ Serves 4

Recipe Box: Casados

Casados.

It’s what someone might say of a couple replete with smooches and rings on the left hand. They’re casado. Married. Beck and I said our vows in a rustic church filled to the hilt with family and friends from all over the globe. When planning the wedding, it was important that it feel like us. I jokingly said multiple times, if the wedding had a theme, it was “it takes a village.” We wanted it imbued with as many of our closest people doing what they do best: singing, playing piano, baking cake, hand-making caramels… the list could go on.

We wanted it to feel like us. Nothing too gussied up, but full of texture, language, color and flavor. Yes!

The morning started quietly. In the silence of a new apartment, I padded around barefoot, drinking it in, contemplating the weight of the day ahead, excited with a pep in my step. And then breakfast, photos and ceremony threaded together to find me at the pivotal moment.

Will I promise to love Beck in sickness and in health? I will.
Will I promise to love him until death do us part? I will.

 

So much leading up to this moment of transition: casados.


We had the happy occasion to travel on a family holiday trip to Costa Rica right after Christmas. We rang out New Year’s Eve and walked into the New Year trolling our local beach with sand dusting our toes.

A few people at work asked upon my return, “How was your honeymoon?” This tickles me as I try to imagine inviting anyone other than Beck to a honeymoon, but I’m polite, and say, “Fantastic!” Come to think of it, the woman seated next to us on the HOU – SJO leg of our trip asked if we were newlyweds. It must be something impermeable. Perhaps it’s the starry eyed look or our need to tuck our heads into each other’s neck nooks like ostriches. We are that couple.

See, we’ve decided to stay on honeymoon permanently. One of the best pieces of marital advice we’ve gotten is from his parents to “plan adventures with each other!”

Trust me, if they’d seen:

  • the commuter airplane that hoisted us cross-country to the coastal town of Nosara chug noseward up-
  • the canopy tour with its pully system and the directive to “Jump!” off the mountains-
  • us staring into and separating darkness from darkness, craning our ears and eyes for Olive Ridley Turtles come to shore to lay their eggs and then set off again-
  • the two hour pitch black trek from one beach to a mini mart “cross beaches” rather than “cross-town” in search of lotion, shampoo and a green vegetable-
  • hand-to-hand combat with the warrior locust to usher it back outside

We are living up to that bit of advice.

Food is always a bit of an adventure. (At least in my kitchen it is). If another culture doesn’t first enter through my ear, then it sure does through my stomach. The food section on my last blog was even called puerta de la panza (doorway to the stomach). Much to my delight, the Costa Rican’ national dish* happens to bear the name of my newly cemented status, casado. When in Costa Rica, you will see this as a menu item in most soda ticas, bars and restaurants.

I spoke with new friend Isabel to get a better idea of what a casado actually is.

casado consists of rice, black beans, salad and a choice of protein including chicken, fish or bistek en salsa, meat in sauce. Some casados include plantains and some don’t. Further inquiry (on wikipedia) revealed a possible reason for the name: businessmen said they wanted to be served like those who are married because the implication is married men eat this kind of meal in the home for lunch or dinner. I’m taking it with a grain of salt, though maybe that is its origin.

Casado- Rosi's Soda Tica

While we were in Costa Rica, each of us had casados at different restaurants and each gives it their own flare. One evening in San Jose, my mom ordered the Casado and it came not only with plantains and the usual fare, but also included Fajita chicken and a picadillo of squash and carrots. Yummy. When we were in coastal Nosara, the casado at a local popular soda tica did not include plantains.

Casado- Soda Vanessa

I think the casado is aptly named. It brings a smattering of individual parts onto a plate and from the many ingredients comes a hearty dish with variety that can be personalized by venue or person. And it appeals to my personal sense of order: each ingredient has its own quadrant of plate. Beans over here. Rice to the right of the beans. Plantains nestled up against the rice. Chicken nudging the plantains. Salad in its own corner. Unlike, Beck who prefers all things mixed together, I like to build the perfect bite. See, casado: something for everyone!

We returned from Costa Rica in early January and find ourselves hankering a bit for the simplicity and beauty of those environs, not to mention the warm temperatures and sun in place of the living room heater cranking for a short burst to cut through the old building cold. Then again, we are casado…

Heater turned off, oven turned on, we get started.

Casados

CHICKEN

  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 T ground roasted coriander
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground sea salt
  • Cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 1 T olive oil1 Mexican lime, quartered

Place chicken breasts in milk bath and refrigerate for an hour. Blend spices together in a small side bowl. Set aside. Once ready to cook chicken, place olive oil in pan over medium high heat. Remove one chicken breast and sprinkle both sides with spice blend. Cook on each side for 4 minutes or until cooked through.

RICE

  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water

Rinse rice two times. Then add 1 1/2 cup water and bring to slow boil. Once boiling, set to simmer and cover for 20 minutes or until cooked.

PICADILLO

  • 1 medium carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium parsnip, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup peeled and diced celery root
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 T chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. Oregano
  • Salt to taste

Steam the diced veggies for 5 minutes. Remove from water. Combine oregano, salt, chicken stock and oil. Add to pan and turn heat onto medium high. Sauté veggies for 2 minutes.

BLACK BEANS

  • 1 can black beans, drained

Heat up black beans on stovetop until warm.

PLANTAINS

  • 2 plantains
  • 1 cup canola oil

Peel plantain and discard peel. Cut plantain into 1/4 inch chunks. Coat bottom of pan about 1 inch deep with oil. Heat oil over high heat but take care to not let it begin bubbling. Place plantain sections in oil and turn every 2-3 minutes or until golden brown.

SALAD

  • ½ head of iceberg lettuce, shredded
  • ½ cup grape tomatoes, diced

This can be the final step for your casado to keep salad cool and ingredients in fridge until everything else has cooked.

Plating
Think of your plate by quadrant, when plating a casado: every ingredient gets its own home. Our casado will have a part of the plate dedicated to the beans, another to the rice, the plantains immediately next to the rice, then chicken and lastly salad.


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