“Sweet” and “sour” are not the only adjectives often used to describe the meals that sport the famed tasty sauces. “Heavy” sometimes comes to mind, as does “sugary.”
That’s because, as often prepared by cooks in many American Chinese restaurants, the popular sauce coats breaded pork or chicken and is flavored with quite a bit of sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
There are alternatives, on all fronts, though, which means you easily can serve your family lots of flavor without the pitfalls.
Nava Atlas, acclaimed author of vegan and vegetarian cookbooks, serves up a delicious example in Plant Power: Transform Your Kitchen, Plate and Life with More Than 150 Fresh and Flavorful Vegan Recipes.
Her sweet ‘n’ sour sauce is sweetened with pineapple or mango juice and a small amount of agave nectar. The sour is from tasty rice vinegar. The sauce is excellent stir-fried with meat alternatives, like seitan and tempeh, along with vegetables.
The chicken recipe from Cooking Light magazine also relies on fruit juice, as well as a small amount of brown sugar. The protein, too, is lighter than in many comparable dishes, since the chicken breast is skinless and sans breading.
Fruit Juice Based Sweet 'n' Sour Sauce
Yields 1½ cups
½ cup Fruit juice (pineapple juice works best; mango is good, too)
2½ Tbsps Arrowroot or cornstarch
½ cup Vegetable broth or water
¼ cup Rice vinegar
2 Tbsps Reduced-sodium natural soy sauce or tamari, or to taste
2 Tbsps Agave nectar (see Note)
1 to 2 tsps Fresh or jarred ginger, grated
Combine fruit juice with arrowroot in a mixing bowl and stir until dissolved.
Add the remaining ingredients and whisk together. Add to stir-fried sweet-and-sour dishes (such as seitan, tempeh or vegetables) toward the end of their cooking time and cook until thickened.
Note: Agave nectar is in the sweetener or health food section of many supermarkets. It is somewhat like honey. Vegans don’t eat honey. Those who are not vegans, who prepare this recipe could substitute using honey. -“Plant Power” by Nava Atlas
Sweet 'n' Sour Skinless Chicken
Yields 4 servings.
1 Tbsp Olive oil
1 Tbsp Bottled minced garlic
1 tsp Bottled ground fresh ginger
¼ tsp Crushed red pepper
1½ lbs Skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into ½-inch pieces
¾ cup Onion, chopped
½ cup Celery, chopped
½ cup Red bell pepper, chopped
1 (15¼-ounce) can Pineapple chunks in juice, undrained
⅓ cup Reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 Tbsps Dry sherry
1½ Tbsps Cornstarch
2 tsps Brown sugar
¼ cup Dry-roasted cashews, chopped
Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, red pepper and chicken to pan. Sauté 5 minutes or until chicken is done. Remove chicken mixture from pan; set aside.
Add onion, celery and bell pepper to pan; saute 4 minutes or until crisp-tender.
Drain pineapple, reserving ½ cup juice. Add 1 cup pineapple chunks to pan; cook 30 seconds. Reserve remaining pineapple to serve on the side or for another use.
Combine the reserved ½ cup juice, soy sauce, sherry, cornstarch and brown sugar in a bowl, stirring with a whisk until smooth.
Return chicken mixture to pan. Stir in juice mixture; bring to boil. Cook 1 minute; sprinkle with cashews.
Note: Add your favorite veggies to customize the recipe!
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including Mrs. Cubbison’s Best Stuffing Cookbook and The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook. She also writes the Creators News Service “Cooks’ Books” column.