Preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Use an electric mixer to beat egg whites with cream of tartar, salt, and vanilla. When whites begin to hold stiff peaks, gradually add half the sugar. When peaks become glossy, gently fold in remaining sugar.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and use a pastry bag with a star tip or a resealable plastic bag with a corner cut out to form small mounds of meringue mixture, each about an inch wide and tall.
Bake meringues until hard, about 2 hours. Meringues are ready when they release from the parchment paper. Turn oven off, prop door open and allow meringues to sit in oven for another hour or so.
For pink vanilla meringues: After adding the first 1/4 cup sugar, add a drop or two of pink or red food coloring to mixture. Continue with Step 1.
For chocolate meringues: Omit vanilla and sift 1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder with half the sugar. Add to egg whites, cream of tartar and salt. Continue with Step 1.
Recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman