When we started eating vegetarian (almost 20 years ago!) one of the foods we missed were the sweet and sour chicken balls at our favourite Chinese restaurant. You know the kind I mean, those small lumps of batter-fried chicken served with bright red sweet and sour sauce. Not the healthiest choice but we liked it. The fun of eating at the restaurant was gone and we seldom ate there anymore.
But then I discovered tofu and its versatility in cooking. Did you know if you freeze and thaw tofu the texture changes and becomes more "meaty"? And if you marinate or simmer chunks of tofu in a tasty broth they soak up the flavour of the broth. There's not much flavour to tofu so it's almost imperative that it does soak up some flavour for your taste buds to savour.
One of the first times I made these tofu "chicken" balls was for a group of school children. I can't remember why I would have been doing that but, nevertheless I was. One of the boys was a very picky eater and was inclined not to try anything new or strange, which tofu would have been both. When he ventured into the kitchen he thought I had made sweet and sour chicken balls and was happy enough to pile his plate with one of his favourite foods. I didn't make any comment. Sometimes a smile is enough. I think he ate three servings, licking his lips in happy bliss. (Isn't ignorance bliss?) I eventually broke the bad news to him but by that time he had been won over.
Since then, I have made these many times and most people gobble them up, regardless their dietary preferences. Of course, Don and I are the biggest gobblers when it comes to these sweet and sour "chicken" balls. I'm including a nice sweet and sour sauce recipe but unless I'm making these for a crowd, we just use the store bought cherry sauce which is most like what we would have eaten in the restaurant.
Battered Tofu with Sweet & Sour Sauce
Sweet and sour sauce
1 pound firm or very firm tofu (454 gram package), frozen, thawed and pressed
2 or 3 vegetarian "chicken" bouillon cubes
Freeze the tofu in the container it comes in and then thaw and drain. You can gently squeeze some of the excess water and then let the block of tofu drain on paper towelling. When drained cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes and simmer in a vegetarian "chicken" broth for 20 minutes. Use bouillon cubes or the powdered broth made according to package directions. The broth should cover the tofu. Let the tofu cool in the broth and then strain. The tofu is now ready to be batter fried.
¾ cup milk
1 tablespoon melted butter or oil
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
In a medium-sized bowl, beat all ingredients together until smooth.
Heat at least 2 inches of oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or even better use a deep fryer. Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Dip the tofu cubes in the batter. Let excess batter drip off. Carefully lower the battered tofu into the hot oil. Fry the tofu balls until golden brown on both sides.
Serve with your favourite sweet and sour sauce.
Pineapple Sweet and Sour Sauce
⅔ cup pineapple juice and water
⅓ cup rice vinegar or use white vinegar
⅓ cup brown sugar, packed or can use white sugar
3 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 8-ounce can pineapple tidbits, drained
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
Drain pineapple and pour juice into a measuring cup. Add enough water to make ⅔ cup.
In a medium saucepan, combine pineapple juice, vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and soy sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat. Dissolve the cornstarch in the tablespoon of water and stir into the hot liquid and cook until thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Add the pineapple tidbits. Use with the battered tofu. Store any left over sauce in the refrigerator. Makes about 2 cups.
Use a good quality vegetarian bouillon. McCormik is my favourite brand but use whatever you have in your area.
Simmer the cubed tofu in the "chicken" broth for 20 minutes.
Let the tofu cool in the broth.
To make the batter mix all the batter ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl.
Dip tofu cubes in the batter. Let excess batter drip off before frying.
Make sure the oil has heated to 375 degrees.
As you can see, I'd better that tofu in the oil before it gets too hot!
Carefully add the batter-dipped tofu into the hot oil. Add as many as you can without crowding or overflowing the saucepan. When you deep-fry stay with the pan. Never leave the room. If you must leave the room, turn off the burner and remove the pan from the hot burner.
Grab your chopsticks and favourite sweet and sour sauce and dig in. Plain or fried rice makes a tasty side-dish.
Battered Tofu with cherry sauce.
As good as any restaurant special!