"I grew up with two brothers who played sports; I was the one who always volunteered to make the Rice Krispies treats for the bake sale," says Lauren Resler, pastry chef of Empellón Cocina and Empellón Taqueria in New York City. "I knew from a young age that this is what I wanted to do."
These days, she's traded Rice Krispies treats for fanciful creations that draw on unconventional Mexican flavors. A chocolate flan might be topped with a streusel made from masa, the alkalized corn dough used in tamales, and passion fruit and mezcal come together in a tart.
This dessert needs all of its components to truly sing: The unsweetened gelatin brings lemongrass to the fore, but relies on nutty meringues and apple to provide a sugary edge. The resulting combination is surprising, understated and absolutely delicious.
Lemongrass Gelatin with Yogurt, Green Apple and Pistachio Meringues
Recipe adapted from Lauren Resler, Empellón Cocina, New York City
Yield: 6 servings (plus extra meringues)
Cook Time: 1 hour 50 minutes (plus 3 hours chilling)
14 stalks fresh lemongrass (about ½ pound), tough outer layer removed and interior chopped into 1-inch pieces
5½ cups water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon granulated gelatin
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup raw pistachios
¼ cup confectioners' sugar
2 large egg whites
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons plain Greek-style yogurt
1 Granny Smith apple--halved, cored and thinly sliced
1. Make the gelatin: In a medium saucepan, add the lemongrass and the water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the lemongrass-water mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse at first to release some steam, then blend until the lemongrass is roughly chopped (it is too fibrous to make a smooth mixture). Strain the mixture into a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl (discard the lemongrass). Refrigerate the lemongrass water until chilled, at least 2 hours.
2. To a medium bowl, add 1 cup of chilled lemongrass water. Sprinkle the gelatin on top and let stand for 1 minute. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the remaining lemongrass water to a simmer. Pour the hot lemongrass water over the gelatin mixture and whisk until the gelatin is completely dissolved, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and divide the lemongrass gelatin among six 4-ounce cups or small bowls. Refrigerate until set, at least 1 hour or up to several days.
3. Make the meringues: Preheat the oven to 200°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. To the bowl of a food processor, add the pistachios and the confectioners' sugar and process until finely chopped (but not powder-fine), about 10 seconds. Transfer the pistachio-sugar mixture to a large bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer), add the egg whites and whip on medium-high speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and whip while sprinkling in the granulated sugar, until the whites hold and form glossy, stiff peaks. Sprinkle the pistachio-confectioners' sugar mixture over the whipped egg whites and use a rubber spatula to carefully fold in the nut-sugar mixture.
4. Transfer the pistachio meringue to a piping bag fitted with a small round tip (we used a ⅜-inch #804 round tip). Onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, work quickly to pipe the meringue into nickel-size meringue "kisses." Bake the kisses for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and let the meringues continue to dry in the oven until they can easily be removed from the baking sheet, about 30 minutes. Transfer the meringues to an airtight container.
5. Serve the lemongrass gelatins with 1 tablespoon of yogurt, an apple slice and the pistachio meringues on top.