When I was a kid, as soon as saw the words ‘sweet and sour’ on any Chinese restaurant takeout menu, I simply had to have it. I didn’t care if there was a cup of icky red food colouring in that chicken ball sauce, or if it took a tub of MSG to make those tiny spareribs taste so good – I wanted all the sweet and sour things. Chinese food was a holiday treat for my family so I didn’t get to enjoy it as often as I’d liked, but I’ve never forgotten those flavours. Well, times have changed and so have lots of people’s tastebuds. While my kids love sweet and sour anything just as much as I did, I wanted them to enjoy a healthier version. This dish strikes a perfect balance of flavour, offering a little salt, a little sweet, a little sour and a little spice. It’s got some nice contrasting colours and textures, too, thanks to the vegetables (and the sauce is so yummy I find the kids eat more veggies as a result). Serving it on brown rice also makes the dish more filling and nutritious – here are some tips for cooking brown rice so it stays nice and fluffy. But the star of the show is definitely the shrimp. Coating them in cornstarch before flash frying them gives them a nice crispy coating, makes the insides stay tender and also keeps them from drying out. One more tip: sub cubed boneless chicken breasts for a change, or skip the protein altogether for a fantastic vegetarian / vegan meal! You can also do much of the prep work for this dish ahead of time, making it fast to assemble at dinnertime.
For the sauce:
- 3/4 cup (175 mL) pineapple juice (fresh or canned)
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) grated fresh ginger root
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) honey
- 3 tablespoons (45 mL) rice wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons (30 mL) sesame oil
- 1 – 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 mL) Sriracha or Sambol Oelek (Asian hot sauce) or to taste
- 1 tablespoon (15 mL) cornstarch
For the shrimp and vegetables:
- 1 lb (454 g) medium or large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1/3 cup (90 mL) cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 mL) freshly ground pepper
- 2 – 4 tablespoons (30 – 60 mL) canola oil
- 1 large carrot, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 1 large red pepper, in 3/4 inch (2 cm) pieces
- 1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
- 1/2 fresh pineapple, peeled and cored, in 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) minced green onion tops
- 1/2 cup (125 mL) salted cashews
- cooked brown rice, to serve
- Prepare sauce by combining all ingredients in a jar with a tight lid and shaking well to blend.
- Chop all ingredients before beginning to cook.
- Put cornstarch and pepper in a small bag and shake to blend.
- Pat shrimp dry then dredge, a handful at a time, in the cornstarch mixture. Place them on a clean plate, in a single layer. This can be done up to an hour before cooking time; refrigerate shrimp until needed.
- When ready to assemble the dish, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat.
- Add shrimp to the pan in batches so they are not too crowded and cook, flipping once, until shrimp has turned pink and coating is crispy, about 2 – 3 minutes. Remove cooked shrimp to a clean plate and add more oil as needed. The shrimp can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated for up to an hour.
- When shrimp has been cooked, add a tiny bit more oil to the pan and cook carrots, stirring often, for 2 minutes. Add peppers and cook for 2 minutes more. Add zucchini and cook for 2 minutes.
- Return cooked shrimp to the pan and drizzle sauce over top and cook, stirring gently, for 3 – 5 minutes until sauce is thickened.
- Serve chicken mixture and sauce over cooked brown rice and garnish with minced green onion and cashews.