Tangy Hearts Of Palms Are The Vegetarian Alternative To Sardines You Need To Try

While they may sound like an obscure ingredient that might not necessitate a vegetarian alternative, sardines are often the secret weapon behind the flavor and texture of many iconic recipes. And an easy, widely available plant-based alternative to sardines is canned or jarred hearts of palm. Like the popular and diverse array of canned sardines, hearts of palm are preserved in a tangy, salty brine, bringing them that much closer to the saltiness of sardines. 

With their packed, multi-layered stalks, hearts of palm easily assume the flaky chewiness of sardines with a few simple alterations. The first step is draining and cutting the stalks into bite-sized chunks to expose their coiled layers. Then, sauté, grill, or steam them to soften their raw crunch. Hearts of palm have a savory, earthy, and vegetal flavor to accompany the tart saltiness from their preservation brine. They're frequently compared to artichokes and are often used to substitute them in dips and pastas.

As a fish substitute, they've been incorporated into faux lobster rolls, tuna salads, and ceviche. Therefore, hearts of palm will make a seamless transition as a sardine substitute for a wide range of dishes requiring their meaty texture and briny flavor. If you want to further elaborate on their flavor profile with the oceanic umaminess inherent in sardines, you can season or marinate them with ingredients like soy or tamari, diced nori, miso paste, lemon juice, kelp, and nutritional yeast.

The best dishes for a hearts of palm and sardine swap

Since cooked hearts of palm are great textural imitators of the flaky, meaty chew you get from canned sardines, the best dishes for a sardine swap are those that highlight the fish's texture. They'd make the perfect swap for pasta dishes, toasts, and dips where sardines remain at least partially intact. For example, you could sauté hearts of palm with fennel seeds, olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, and onion before finishing them with lemon juice and nutritional yeast to serve over pasta. 

You could also mash hearts of palm into a jarred marinara sauce and simmer them until they're tender before pairing them with umami-rich olives and floral capers for another faux-sardine pasta idea. To transform them into a fishy topping for toasts, bagels, or crostini, marinate them in a mixture of lemon juice, Old Bay seasoning, mustard seed, and celery salt with a splash of soy or tamari before sautéing them. Once cooled, spoon them over bread with cream cheese or crème fraîche, sliced red onions, cucumbers, and capers.

You could also use a lime, garlic, and miso marinade for hearts of palm and serve them mashed over rice with a fried egg for a more Japanese approach. Their flaky, chewy texture would also be the perfect addition to vegan fishcakes, using Veganaise, garlic, onion, Old Bay seasoning, Dijon mustard, and breadcrumbs. Serve them with a briny tartar sauce or a sweet and spicy cocktail sauce to further enhance the fishy flavors.