When I was a child, we frequented a particular Italian restaurant in town at least twice a week. Most of the time, it was after a Spurs game where the team, coaches and top dogs would gather together to celebrate another win or just eat to console a loss. This place was definitely our go-to spot. There was a great ambiance and we knew most everyone in the restaurant. It was the 70’s and things were different here.
San Antonio was still a small city back then. The owners of this “red sauce” restaurant, one of whom was the chef, brought new flavors to our attention and we gobbled them up. The place was packed with the who’s who and what’s what in town.
The crusty garlic bread they served was a staple and I liked mine burnt. The waiters knew and they always brought me my very own basket of burnt garlic bread. In fact, we were there so often, I rarely even ordered–they knew me that well.
We would also get at least one hearts of palm salad, if not two–one for me and one for my mom. Harvested from the inside of a palm tree, this slender and tender vegetable was completely novel in the 1970’s. Several pieces of hearts of palm were sliced horizontally and served over a lettuce leaf and then drizzled with a tangy, creamy dressing. Of course, the burnt garlic bread was used to sop up any remaining dressing on the plate.
Years later, they changed the hearts of palm salad to a “surprise salad” which included chopped hearts of palm, chunks of avocado and tomatoes all tossed with lettuce and that very same tangy and creamy dressing. You may recall the grilled corn salad I featured here in June of 2010 that included hearts of palm. The terrific combination of hearts of palm, avocado and tomatoes has long been a favorite of mine and when Grace Parisi shared this holy trinity recipe in the May issue of Food & Wine, I gasped with delight!
Parisi says that every time she makes this salad, it reminds her of an au pair she hosted from Brazil. Naturally, she made the salad to help the young lady feel at home since hearts of palm is a staple in Brazil. For me, this salad takes me back to my childhood when I had no idea that I was already busy making food memories to last a lifetime.
Hearts of Palm, Avocado and Tomato Salad
- 1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes halved
- 1/2 small sweet onion cut into thick slivers
- 2 14 oz. cans hearts of palm drained and sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 1 Haas avocado cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lb. shrimp deveined, peeled, boiled and chopped, optional
- Spring mix greens or butter lettuce optional
In a large bowl, add the tomato halves, sliced onion, sliced hearts of palm, chopped avocado and parsley.
In a small bowl, add the lime zest, lime juice, mayonnaise and oil. Stir well to combine and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.
If making the salad as an entree, add the shrimp and lettuce to the big bowl. Pour the dressing over the top and toss until everything is coated.
Plate the salad, sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper and serve immediately.