Meringues with Longans

Dragon’s Eye “Lychees”

Longans (Dimocarpus longan) aren’t lychees at all, but they have a place in my heart, nonetheless. The opening day ceremony for the Peak Café in Hong Kong in 1990 was under a dragon eye tree, a site chosen by the Shinto priest because my company was called Freedragon and the site of the restaurant is the birthplace of Hong Kong’s dragons. That this fruit’s local name is “dragon’s eye” and that it is said to promote a healthy sexual appetite certainly did nothing to deter our enthusiasm for the site.

The longan looks like a fresh lychee, but the taste is perfumed beyond any lychee. Pop a whole one in your mouth, as I did every morning in Hong Kong, and you might believe that the old Chinese saying is true!

I find the big meringues—like the superb pavlovas from Australia (filled with tropical fruits and cream), or the vacherins of France (filled with ice creams)—a bit difficult to make, so I make free-form round meringue shells and hollow them out. It helps to draw a circle on the parchment paper on which you will cook the meringues, turn the paper over, and spoon the meringue into the outline of the circle.

Southeast Asia has many dishes that use the flesh of half-ripe green coconuts, which are filled with coconut water and in which the white flesh is still gelatinous. One of my favorite things in the world is the fresh coconut milk made by pureeing the flesh together with the water from these young coconuts.

On a steamy hot day, a bowl of the fresh coconut milk mixed with the unripe coconut flesh, dark palm sugar, tapioca, and shaved ice is perfectly soothing and settles everyone down.

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Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1 cup fine sugar
  • pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 6 cups water
  • ½ cup large pearl tapioca
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk (canned)
  • 1 cup green coconut water
  • 1 cup fresh young green coconut meat
  • 16 fresh longans, peeled, seeded, cut in half
  • ½ cup dark palm sugar, dissolved in ½ cup water

Method

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees.

Draw 4-inch rounds on parchment paper and turn the paper over onto a baking sheet.

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks with half the sugar and a pinch of salt in a clean bowl. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar and the cardamom, and continue to beat until the whites are glossy and stand in stiff peaks, about 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes with an electric mixer.

Spoon, or form with a pastry bag, the meringue into the circles making 3-inch high peaks. Bake for 3 to 4 hours or more until the meringue is crusty on the outside but still soft on the inside. Do not let the meringues take on any color. When they are done, leave the oven door open for another hour before taking them out to cool in a place with no drafts. Better still, let them cool in the turned-off oven overnight.

Boil the water in a pan, add the tapioca, and cook over low heat for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour. Then put the tapioca in a bowl filled with ice water, stir for 1 minute, and drain well.

Simmer the coconut milk until reduced by half, and then chill. Puree the coconut water with the green coconut meat, and mix the puree into the chilled, reduced coconut milk. Add a pinch of salt, then add the tapioca, and mix the whole thing well.

Mix the peeled fruit with the palm sugar syrup. Hold the meringues upside-down, hollow out their centers from the bottom with a teaspoon, and fill the cavities with the coconut-tapioca puree. Put the meringues on individual plates, place the longans around the meringues, and spoon the palm sugar syrup over the meringues.

Variations

Instead of the tropical fruit, I love to use stewed rhubarb. Simmer 1 cup dark brown sugar, 1 pound rhubarb cut in ½-inch lengths, and ¼ cup water gently in a nonreactive pan for 10 minutes. Strain, reduce the liquid by half (5 to 10 minutes), chill, and pour back over the rhubarb. Or use stewed fresh Morello cherries, cooked the same way as the rhubarb. Or stuff the meringues with star anise–flavored mascarpone, and use a passion fruit sauce.

Grapes, Apples, and Pears

December 2, 1997. Tar, oil, and spackle on tile over masonite, 48" x 48". Collection of Lynch Bages, France.

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