This light, elegant-looking dessert is much easier to make than you would think. The heart of the dessert, an Asian jelly, is basically almond milk boiled with agar-agar, a type of seaweed that acts as a vegetarian gelatin. If you can boil water, you can make this dish!
Asian jelly is similar to Western gelled desserts, except that it’s firmer; in other words, it doesn’t jiggle like Jello. The amount of agar used controls the firmness, so for a softer texture, simply use a little less agar.
Almond Jelly with Grilled Pineapple and Mango Puree
3 cups almond milk
1/3 cup dark sugar (palm sugar, demerara, or brown sugar)
2 tsp. agar-agar powder (or 2 tablespoons agar flakes)
1/2 tsp. almond extract (may use coconut or other extracts for different flavor)
Put one cup of almond milk in a saucepan, and stir the sugar into it until dissolved. Sprinkle the agar powder over the surface of the almond milk and stir. Bring the mixture to a slow boil and cook, stirring constantly, until the agar is completely dissolved. Add the remaining two cups of almond milk, stir well, and pour into 6 lightly-oiled molds or a single large mold about 4 cups in size. Cover and refrigerate until set, about an hour.
Simply puree one ripe mango in a food processor until smooth. If the mango is not sweet, you may add a few drops of agave nectar or other liquid sweetener, but with a truly ripe mango, this shouldn’t be necessary.
Remove the top and bottom of a pineapple. Stand it upright, and slice off the peel. Cut it into quarters lengthwise (down through the center) and remove the center core from each quarter. Cut each quarter into two, lengthwise, so that you have 8 spears.
Thread each spear onto a skewer (bamboo skewers should be soaked in water for 15 minutes first) or simply place directly onto a hot barbecue grill. Cook until each side is beginning to brown, turning regularly to prevent burning.
Invert almond jelly onto a plate. Top with (or serve alongside) mango puree, with spears of pineapple on the side. Mint garnish is optional.
One of the useful things about agar is that it will gel and stay gelled at room temperature, so it works much more quickly than animal-based gelatin and won’t melt outside the refrigerator. Once you’ve used it one time, you’ll want to experiment will all kinds of liquids. You can make fruit gels for your or your child’s lunchbox or get really creative and make a gel of your morning coffee, smoothie, or chai. Anything gelled makes a great summertime treat!
Using low-fat, packaged almond milk will make this dessert light in calories as well as taste. But, to get the full antioxidant benefits of the almonds, you may want to make your own almond milk. Simply blanch one cup of almonds briefly, but don’t remove the skins (where most of the antioxidants are). In a blender, puree the almonds well with 2 cups of water, and set aside for a few minutes. Then strain the milk from the pulp through a fine sieve, pressing to remove as much milk as possible. Proceed with the Almond Jelly recipe, using one cup of water for the initial cup of almond milk (add a little more sugar since your almond milk is unsweetened) and adding your homemade almond milk at the end.