Oh, I do love a challenge. An upcoming pop up was going to require a vegetarian option as a main to go alongside my Octopus Aguachile and Asian Shrimp with Spicy Ponzu and I was really hitting a wall. I wanted something just as fresh and summery and light but how in the hell do you make a dish that is synonymous with raw seafood without seafood in it?
I set out to make a vegan ceviche because it should really be a thing but it felt like I was fighting a losing battle for a while because nothing was going to be able to replace the shrimp/fish component. It just sounds impossible, right?
I tried a lot of different ingredients to sub in for the shrimp or fish and nothing was working. All of the bean alternatives tasted too beany. Tofu's texture was all wrong and I thought of doing jackfruit but that really works well for pulled pork and pulled pork ceviche is not something anyone wants to eat so I didn't even bother with that one.
I was about to throw in the towel, but I kept seeing that people were using hearts of palm so, after trying three grocery grocery stores without any luck and about to give up, I found can of them. I know, I know, the jarred hearts of palm are probably better but that is what I found so that is what I used. On my first try, I sliced them into thin slices because I thought they looked liked squid rings and were pretty but my tester said the texture felt wrong so, for the next batch, I chopped them up to replicate chopped shrimp or fish and that time, he could barely tell the difference. I did end up keeping about 1/4 of the hearts of palm in rings to pretty the place up a bit but I had to agree that once I diced it up and it had sat for a while, there was little difference between a fish ceviche and this one. There was no need to do anything different from my normal, Peruvianish ceviche although, if you don't have aji amarillo, you can skip it but if you do, add some finely diced jalapeños or something to add a bit of heat. I do urge to find some Aji Amarillo though because it's soooo good and I put it in everything.
You may be asking yourself, "self, what in the hell is a heart of palm?"
Well, I am glad you asked. It's a vegetable that is harvested from the inner core of specific varieties of palm trees, coming mainly from Costa Rica. It's kind of bland and full of fiber, potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorus, copper, B2, B6 and C so it's great because you can kind of make it taste like tons of things and it's quite nutritious. The texture was perfect for ceviche, minds were blown and I discovered that ceviche might be more about the limes, tomatoes, cilantro and garlic than it is about the seafood.
The next day, I made guacamole, spread that on a tostada and piled on some day old ceviche and it was even tastier - I almost never keep seafood ceviche in the fridge for more than a day but this stuff just kind of kept getting better and better, which is awesome.
No more worries about making it to take to a friends or leave it out on a buffet table because this dish is vegan and there is no worry about raw seafood spoiling and killing all of my guests! Winning!
Hearts of Palm Ceviche
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, small dice (i like to use different coloured tomatoes but you don't have to)
1/2 tsp kosher salt
handful cilantro, chopped
juice of 3 or 4 limes
1 tsp aji amarillo or to taste
1 or 2 cloves garlic, grated on a rasp
1 tbls olive oil
Add the tomatoes, the onion and the cilantro, salt and toss well. In a smaller bowl, mix the lime juice, the aji amarillo paste, garlic and olive oil and then scrape that over the hearts of palm mixture and toss well, mixing thoroughly.
Put it in the fridge and let it sit for at least one hour.
Serve with tortilla chips or plantain chips and more cilantro. It's also nice with a few slices of avocado. It's also nice heaped on a guacamole smeared tostada.
This keeps quite well in the fridge and we will eat it for up to four or five days, if it lasts that long.