When you see something on a menu that’s sweet and sour, it’s usually chicken or ribs or some kind of meat. And in fact, in the Henan province of China where sweet and sour sauce likely originated, it’s typically used as a dipping sauce for beef or fish. The sweet and sour that we know today has changed a lot on its journey to the Western world through the centuries, but you still often see it at Chinese food restaurants as a sauce for meat. However, we recently found this recipe in the New York Times that subs in eggplant instead, which is a great vegan way to enjoy this sauce. Eggplant is one of the vegetables that fills in nicely for meat when you want to make a recipe vegetarian or vegan – it’s why eggplant parm is so popular and common in Italian-American cuisine. So if you were worried that sweet and sour sauce won’t taste quite right without meat, rest assured that this eggplant is delicious.
To make this, you’ll need:
First, slice 4 garlic cloves thinly and then place them in a pan with 1/4 cup of oil over medium-low heat. Watch the pan carefully, and after about 3 minutes or so the garlic should begin to turn golden – at that point, set a mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the garlic and oil into the strainer, so that the garlic remains behind and the oil drips into the bowl.
Set the garlic aside on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt. Now pour the oil back into the pan, then cut your eggplant into 2-inch planks. Over medium-high heat, cook the eggplant for 6-8 minutes until they shrivel and then brown.
Add 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of vinegar and a generous sprinkling of red pepper flakes into the pan. Turn the heat down a little and let the eggplant cook in this sauce for a few minutes more, until the sauce thickens.
Now you can serve the eggplant topped with the garlic and some cilantro leaves.
We liked that this recipe was both simple and light: it only took around 15 minutes from start to finish to make this, and we needed just a few ingredients to make a really flavorful sauce. Plus, since this dish is centered around a vegetable and doesn’t rely on heavy ingredients, it’s a pretty healthy meal. You can eat the whole thing by yourself, or you can serve it as a side or with rice if you want to feed several people. This isn’t something you’ll usually see on a restaurant menu, so it was great to be able to try out some homemade sweet and sour sauce in a tasty meatless and vegan meal.