The Pacaya Palm or The palm tree grows in tropical and subtropical regions, in moist forests and in mountainous areas. It is found in southern Mexico, Central America and Colombia. The Pacaya, the edible part of the Palm tree, is in fact the flowers of the plant. The texture is awfully squid-like, and it has a slight bitter taste. You can find the tentacle vegetable in a jar pickled in a briny liquid, or fresh at most supermarkets. Pacayas con huevo (fried) bathed in a tomato sauce yummy, but you can eat them steamed, charbroiled, baked or boiled. If you prefer it fresh you have to blanch the flowers in boiling water for a few minutes which is said to reduce their bitterness and kill any bugs lurking amongst the stamens.
Usually solitary trunked but a rarer clumping variety is also found. C. tepejilote has one of the fattest and tallest trunks of all the Chamaedoreas at about 3 inches/8 cm in diameter reaching heights of 20 feet/6 m or more. Green ringed trunk with white leaf base scars have visual affinities to bamboo culms, especially when planted en masse. The long, wide, tapering “S” shaped (aka falcate) leaflets fall from the rachis (or droop a bit) in a relaxed manner that just screams tropical rain forest palm. The leaflets of this species are thinner than most,with prominent striations. Though many ‘bamboo-like’ Chamaedoreas have a pale line along the ventral surface of the petiole, it is the most pronounced in this species, and is a characteristic that can help identify it. The flower is protected by a shell covered with hair-like spines. The skin can be cut with a knife, then peeled by hand. The white flower inside is all edible raw.
While France is still the largest importer, hearts of palm are becoming popular in the US for salads and appetizers. Most imported into the US are from Peach Palms grown in Costa Rica. Pacaya is an excellent crop for small farmers who would benefit from its development through an increase in export markets. This is a traditional dish from my hometown. My mother used to call it the “veggie calamari” because they look like a baby calamari with little tentacles that are going to reach out and grab you (that’s what I thought when I was a kid). Indeed, it can be another good source of food for the veggie-minded diners, though. Looking for something that will cook quickly, taste great and inexpensive as well, pacayas are just the thing. For this recipe, you will need the following ingredients.
Salt and pepper (optional)
1/4 cup of maize flour (optional)
If you bought them fresh, cook the flowers in boiling salted water for a few minutes to a nice ‘al dente’ bite.Then, beat egg whites until stiff; add maize flour along with pepper until you create a luscious batter. The palm flowers are then draped in the batter and shallow fried until crisp and golden. You can serve it with your favorite rice or spring salad, making a simple, but very satisfying meal.
6 large plum tomatoes
1/2 seville orange
2 fresh stems of peppermint
1 medium white onion, peeled and sliced in half
3 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, deveined and minced
1 cup chopped cilantro (Chinese parsley)
Place tomatoes, onion and garlic cloves in a dry cast-iron skillet or griddle pan over medium-high heat. Roast until all sides are well done, turning occasionally for 7 to 9 minutes. Remove tomatoes and onion; place in food processor. Peel garlic cloves; add to tomato mixture. Pulse until roughly chopped. Transfer to a bowl; add diced jalapeno peppers, cilantro, seville orange, salt and pepper. Refrigerate, covered, up to 2 weeks. Makes 3 cups, enough for 6 portions. Do you think you would like it? Just get over there and try them for yourself. It’s really, really good. Buen apetito a todos!