Ordering sweet and sour in a Chinese restaurant reminds me of my first Chinese food experience as a child. Now my own kids love the deep-fried pieces of pork or chicken coated in a sweet sticky sauce just as much as I do, which is great, but only as an occasional treat.
That’s where this recipe comes in. I wanted to make something we could enjoy just as much but doesn’t have any guilt attached to it, and luckily it gets a huge thumbs up from us all.
For the meatballs
500g/1 lb 2 oz minced (ground) pork
60g/2 oz fresh white breadcrumbs
4 spring onions (scallions),
2 cloves garlic, grated or crushed
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp Chinese 5-spice seasoning
1 egg, lightly beaten
flaked sea salt and freshly ground
2 tbsp sunflower or rapeseed
For the sauce
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 red, green, yellow or orange peppers,
or 3 if they are small, cut into
500ml/17 fl oz passata
250ml/9 fl oz/1 cup fresh pineapple juice
4 tbsp rice or cider vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
250g/9 oz pineapple, cut into chunks
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/400°F/gas 6.
2. Mix together the minced pork, breadcrumbs, spring onions, garlic, ginger, Chinese 5-spice, egg and season with salt and pepper. Shape into walnut-sized balls.
3. Heat a heavy-based roasting tray over a high heat and add the oil. Fry the meatballs for a few minutes, turning occasionally for an even colour. They don’t need to be fully cooked through at this stage, just golden on the outside. Remove from the pan.
4. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and peppers to the roasting tray, along with a drop more oil if necessary. Fry for a few minutes until they start to take on some colour around the edges.
5. Stir in the passata, pineapple juice, vinegar and soy sauce and bring to a simmer. Return the meatballs to the sauce and add the pineapple.
6. Gently stir into the sauce and put the tray in the oven. Cook for 35 minutes until the sauce is rich in colour and the vegetables are tender.
Vegetarian/vegan: Tofu and Shiitake ‘Meatballs’ are a perfect alternative to the pork meatballs. Put 250g/9 oz extra-firm tofu,
100g/3½ oz shiitake mushrooms, 2 tablespoons milk (dairy or plant-based) and 2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (as an egg replacement) in a food processor with the above quantity of breadcrumbs, spring onions (scallions), ginger, garlic, Chinese 5-spice and seasoning. Blitz well and firmly shape into walnut size balls. Fry until golden and add to the sauce for just the last 10 minutes of the oven cooking time.
Flavour swap: minced (ground) chicken, turkey or beef can be used instead of pork.
Get ahead: the raw meatballs can be prepared ahead of time and kept in the fridge for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge before cooking.