By Carolyn Doyle
Once deemed an exotic treat, today some consider it downright tacky.
But sweet-and-sour doesn’t have to be topped with maraschino cherries. It doesn’t have to feature batter-dipped chunks of pork. Heck, it doesn’t need to have meat at all.
And if you order it when you think no one’s looking, you owe it to yourself to try this from-scratch version. It boasts more veggies and flavor than what you’ve probably smuggled home in a cardboard carton. While it may never qualify as health food, this is significantly better for you than the takeaway versions.
This recipe was inspired by a mock meat recipe in Gary Lee’s “The Chinese Vegetarian Cookbook,” one of the first cookbooks I ever received. It’s still one of my husband’s favorite dishes.
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Homemade Sweet & Sour Your Way
For the sauce:
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons pineapple juice
6 tablespoons each: ketchup, sugar, vinegar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons soy sauce
For the stir-fry:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2/3 cup onion, medium dice
1 cup bell pepper strips
¼ cup grated carrot
1 cup tomato, cut in 1-inch chunks
¼ cup cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced ¼-inch thick
¼ cup grapes, halved
1 cup pineapple chunks
1 cup walnut halves, toasted (or other protein; see Variations)
To serve: cooked rice
For the sauce, in a 1-quart saucepan combine the water, pineapple juice, ketchup, sugar and vinegar (I like a combination of rice vinegar and either white distilled or apple cider vinegar). Stir and bring to a boil.
Combine cornstarch and soy sauce. Stir into boiling mixture; return to a boil and cook, stirring, one minute. Remove from heat, strain and set aside.
To assemble the dish, heat the oil in a large nonstick frying pan or a wok over high heat. Add the onion, stir-fry 1-2 minutes. Add the bell pepper and carrot; cook 1-2 minutes, stirring. Add the tomatoes and cucumber; cook 1 minute.
Stir in grapes and pineapple; cook 30 seconds. Pour in sweet-sour sauce and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, just until the sauce comes to a simmer (1-2 minutes). Stir in the toasted walnuts and serve over rice.
Variations on a sweet-and-sour theme:
- Swap out the grated carrot for wafer-thin carrot slices.
- Increase cornstarch for sauce to 3 teaspoons if you prefer a thicker sauce.
- Substitute cooked chicken breast, shrimp or pork tenderloin for the walnuts.
- You can batter and deep-fry your protein of choice to cook it if you want that authentic takeout vibe. A simple batter: Mix 1 egg, ¼ cup cornstarch, ¼ cup whole-wheat flour, and water as needed. Add a pinch of baking powder for more puff.