There is just something disgustingly delicious about sweet-and-sour chicken, that deep-fried, sugar-slathered staple of Asian take-out. That cloying sauce, that crispy-fried breading, those sweet morsels of warm pineapple... No matter how bad I know it is for me — and how badly executed the dish usually is — I still manage to crave it regularly.
So I decided to see whether I could do better by creating a similar dish that would satisfy my sweet-and-sour urges without leaving me feeling guilty.
The sauce was easy. Rather than red food coloring and corn syrup, I went with a simple blend of red wine vinegar, soy sauce, hot sauce and just enough sugar to strike a pleasant sweet-savory balance. And of course there was pineapple, which adds plenty of natural sugars, too. This sauce cooks up on the stovetop in minutes.
But then I flipped things around a bit. Rather than trying to come up with a heathier battered chicken, I decided to make a vegetarian version. I could have gone with tofu, but... Meh. It’s hard to get excited about tofu.
Instead, I came up with a flavorful and crunchy almond coating for roasted cauliflower. The florets get dunked in egg whites, then the almond mixture, then are roasted. When the florets come out of the oven, you can either toss them in the sauce, or just drizzle it over them. Add some cashews and you won’t miss your take-out.
SWEET-AND-SOUR CASHEW CAULIFLOWER
Almond meal is available at most grocers. It’s usually sold along with the natural foods or gluten-free products.
Start to finish: 35 minutes
1 cup almond meal (finely ground almonds)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry ground ginger
2 egg whites
2 heads cauliflower, cut into florets
20-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained (reserve 1/2 cup of the juice)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons hot sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
1 cup cashews
Heat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, mix together the almond meal, garlic powder, salt, pepper and ginger. In a second, larger bowl, lightly whisk the egg whites with a fork until frothy. Add the cauliflower florets to the egg whites, then toss until evenly coated. Pour off and discard any excess egg white in the bowl.
A little at a time, sprinkle the almond mixture over the cauliflower, tossing the cauliflower to coat. Continue sprinkling and tossing until the florets are well coated with the almond mixture. Arrange the florets on the prepared baking sheet, then lightly mist them with cooking spray. Roast for 20 minutes, or until tender and lightly browned.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium-high, combine the pineapple, reserved pineapple juice, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce and hot sauce. Simmer, stirring often, until reduced by about a third, about 5 minutes. In a small glass, stir together the cornstarch and water, then add to the pan. Stir and simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.
When the cauliflower is done, divide it between 4 serving plates, then spoon the sauce over it. Sprinkle each serving with cashews.
Nutrition information per serving: 620 calories; 270 calories from fat (44 percent of total calories); 30 g fat (4 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 81 g carbohydrate; 12 g fiber; 53 g sugar; 20 g protein; 1120 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press.