When I was about sixteen I was in a dance company and we performed at some sort of gala or season opening, I can't remember precisely. I do remember they decided it would be nice to feed the dancers after we performed with some of the fancy dinner food the guests paid for with their hundred-dollar tickets. One of the girls in the company was, to put it frankly, a bit of a spoiled snob. I think her parents had underwritten part of the gala. We sat down to our first course, a salad with hearts of palm. "Have you ever had hearts of palm," she asked me, and I admitted I hadn't. When I asked what they were, she scoffed, "oh, they're very fancy, I don't know if you'll like them." Even at that age I was known to be a bit of a gourmand and a good cook, and I was mortified at my own ignorance.
I actually did enjoy the hearts of palm, but I've stayed away from them ever since. Eating them seemed like embodying the food snob I did not want to be, one of those people who goes on about truffle oil. I only ever prepared them once, on Valentine's Day as part of a "three hearts" salad (hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, and hearts of romaine). The salad wasn't as good as it was gimmicky, and so I pretty much wrote them off. Plus, there's the added issue of how they're harvested.
This was all before I met the grilled heart of palm, my new best friend. Many vegetables do well on the grill, but hearts of palm provide a wonderfully neutral palate for the smokey taste of the grill. All you have to do is get some hearts of palm (surprisingly inexpensive for a "luxury" item), toss them with some olive oil and balsamic vingar, and put them on a grill. You'll want a nice smokey charcoal grill, to give them lots of flavor. The balsamic caramelizes, the hearts of palm are tender; do this at your next barbeque, and I promise you they'll be the star of the show.
Oh, and that girl? She's a lawyer and married now. But my hearts of palm are still pretty tasty.
Grilled Hearts of Palm
Where I come from hearts of palm always come in cans, but if you have access to fresh, use them.
2 cans hearts of palm, drained and rinsed
3 tbl olive oil, plus more for the grill
4 tbl balsamic vinegar
1. Prepare your grill, you'll want it very hot. Combine the oil and vinegar in a bowl, then add the hearts of palm and toss to coat. Rub the grill with a little oil, then grill the hearts of palm, about 3 minutes on each side, so that they get nice char marks. Serve.