Throughout my childhood, my Dad was very active in the Chinese community in Rhode Island. He was one of the founders of the Rhode Island Association of Chinese Americans, at the time a small but close-knit community group that worked to promote local Chinese businesses and the integration of Chinese immigrants newly arriving in the state. Since he was a social worker, he had knowledge of available resources to them and often traveled with them to appointments to serve as a translator. Many of them were restaurant owners and had little extra money to give him, so they usually repaid him with food.
Dad would often arrive home with large sacks bulging with egg rolls, spare ribs, fried rice, chicken fingers…all the greasiest items on the menu! But of course as a child I didn’t know any better and gobbled them all down. One of my favorites was sweet and sour chicken on fried rice. You know, the chicken that’s covered with mountains of batter and deep-fried, then smothered in a tart-sweet bright red sauce. Sometimes there was pineapple or maraschino cherries to make it even sweeter. Served on top of salty savory fried rice, the flavor combination would make all the pleasure centers in my brain light up!
Now that I’m a dietitian and hear the weight loss struggles of my clients, I see clearly that meals like this spell trouble. Every taste sensation is hit, as I recognized as a child. Just look at the photo above: crispy, oily, salty, chewy from the rice, sweet from the sauce, umami from the MSG. When something tastes so pleasurable, it’s easy to keep filling your mouth even if your body is repeatedly blinking warning signs that your belly is
completely beyond full. And then when you do stop eating, the initial pleasure may change to feeling bloated and pretty gross.
Now picture a different meal experience where you could enjoy the delicious flavors of this meal, be able to stop when satisfied, and feel great after eating it!
Well here it is: a new version of Sweet and Sour Chicken. I have to admit that I relied on a frozen vegan product, Gardein’s Mandarin Crispy Chick’n. Yes it’s quick to heat on the stovetop but mostly I love it because the sauce tastes exactly like classic Sweet and Sour Chicken sauce. There’s plenty of it too, so I was also able to throw in diced red bell peppers and coat it all in the delicious sauce. Chopped pineapple finishes it off 💛
To further lighten the meal and add extra nutrients, I replaced the rice with riced cauliflower. You can make this by placing chopped raw cauliflower florets into a food processor or blender and pulse into small bits, or purchase it already made at certain markets like Wegman’s. In order to get a rice-y texture, you do have to heat the cauliflower to soften it. In a pan, I heated a teaspoon of oil on high heat, added the cauliflower, and stirred for about 5 minutes. Then I added a teaspoon of soy sauce and stirred well.
I promise you, this dish tasted and smelled like the rich Chinese classic. Yet there wasn’t the bloat and heavy feeling afterwards. Just simple satisfaction. If you have leftovers, they reheat wonderfully. Give it a try!