Ensalada de Palmitos (Hearts of Palm Salad)
This is one of many good dishes made in Veracruz where there are several palm varieties (Sabal spp.) that resemble the Florida "swamp cabbage," with a tender, delicious artichoke-like core at the center of the young trunks. Because the whole tree must be cut down to obtain a small yield of palm heart, it remains a highly limited crop in ecologically fragile areas like Florida, and I have never seen it sold fresh in this country. Suitable palm trees are much more abundant in Veracruz and are used for many purposes like building materials, so harvesting the fresh hearts of palm is not such a wasteful practice. Even in Veracruz, however, cooks are also known to resort to canned hearts of palm. Zarela Martinez visited a factory in Pánuco where they are put up, though she doubts that brand is available in the United States. Most of the ones sold here come from Brazil or Costa Rica. Can or jar sizes vary confusingly from brand to brand; don't worry as long as you end up with roughly 26 to 30 ounces in all. This simple but universally popular mixture is equally good as a side dish or an appetizer spread.