The first and only time I had non-vegan ceviche was on Catalina Island. I was there for my job working as an actress in a touring children’s theatre group. We performed plays for kids on the island on an outdoor stage with the ocean as our backdrop. Our evenings were spent telling stories and singing songs by the campfire at a Catalina campground. And during the day, we rehearsed, broken up only by trips to the cabana for snacks.
One of the items on the cabana menu was ceviche. Since I’d grown up in a landlocked state, ceviche was new to me. Non-vegan ceviche is made with raw fish, cured in lime or lemon juice. It’s then tossed with onions, salt, and cilantro. The idea of consuming raw fish that was “cooked” only by citrus juices while we sat in the sun seemed to defy reason. But I tried it anyway. (This was before I was vegan, of course.) The flavors that stood out were bold notes of lime, salty chips for scooping, and of course, a Mexican beer to wash it down.
Not long after I’d gone vegan, I was popping open a jar of hearts of palm, and the texture and briny flavor took me back to those sunny Catalina days. It was clear that hearts of palm would make the perfect vegan ceviche without the food poisoning concerns of the traditional version. And of course, no fish were harmed in the process.
My vegan ceviche is a who’s who of vitamin C with hearts of palm, onion, avocado, cilantro, and lime juice. It’s finished with a pinch of cayenne pepper for spice and diced jalapeño peppers to taste. The brininess of the dip works particularly well with a bit of heat for balance. This cool and satisfying appetizer is great for weekend gatherings by the pool or to enjoy with a margarita on a warm spring day.
New to hearts of palm?
Hearts of palm is harvested from the inner core of certain palm trees. It’s similar in taste and texture to artichoke hearts. The shape is long and cylindrical, and it’s delicious in salads.
Hearts of palm is available fresh, canned, jarred, or packaged in sealed bags. Canned is my least favorite option, because the delicate flavor of the palm can pick up a metallic taste in cans.
Hearts of palm controversy
It’s important to note that there is some controversy around hearts of palm, because of deforestation concerns in the Amazon. It’s good to check the sustainability of your hearts of palm before purchasing. It is grown in several places including Costa Rica, Brazil, Ecuador, and Hawaii. Some producers harvest only the new shoots of the palm that come up at the base of the plant and don’t destroy the tree.
I wrote Trader Joe’s about the sustainability of their hearts of palm. Here’s what they had to say:
“Our Trader Joe’s Hearts of Palm product comes from small scale family farms in South America. These farmers are certified by ProForest, which ensures that they meet strict social, environmental and technical criteria. With regard to environmental criteria, the assessments are carried out at the landscape and operational level at both the farms and processing facilities. These assessments cover environmental impact on the soil, water, air, biodiversity and local communities. The lands the farmers use are not lands that were deforested. The lands used to grow the palm fruit are lands previously used for agricultural purposes (cattle, rice, banana).”