Once again, I was faced with wanting Chinese food and not having the luxury of picking up the phone and having access to delicious takeout. Strangely, I wanted Gu Lao Ròu, AKA sweet and sour pork, not normally one of my favorites.
Then came the whole process of realizing that I did not have pork in the freezer, but that I did have ground beef, remembering that I had my parents Chinese cookbook (written by the Franciscan nuns' order in Hong King where my parents took cooking classes back in the early 60s), locating it in the appropriate box in the basement while thinking of happy memories of eating the sweet and sour meatballs whose recipes it contained, reading the recipe and being shocked by the amount of sugar and the fact that the recipe contained pineapple juice, which I did not have on hand either.
I then threw caution to the wind and decided to make sweet and sour meatballs "à ma façon". The sauce was delicious, the vegetables perfectly cooked -- tender with just a tiny bit of give under the tooth -- and the meatballs were succulent, but unfortunately absolutely disgusting in this dish as -- in my rush to eat -- I had defrosted lamb, rather than beef.
Here is the recipe that I should have made.
1/4 lb ground beef
1/3 cup carrots, peeled and cut into triangular shapes as above
1/3 cup red pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup yellow squash, cut into triangular pieces as above (optional, I just happened to have some in my fridge)
1 Tbsp chopped spring onion
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger root
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp Shaoxing wine, Sake or Vermouth
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp ketchup
2 tsps balsamic vinegar
1 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp vegetable oil
Generous pinch white pepper
Place the ground beef in a small bowl, along with one teaspoon each of the Sake and the soy sauce, the ginger root and the white pepper. Add two teaspoons of ice cold water and mix with your hands. Once the ginger and soy are visibly mixed into the meat, form gently into two or three meatballs depending on the size that you prefer. Be very gentle when forming the meatballs as you want them to be light not compacted from over handling and pressing.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the meatballs to the pan and cook until browned on all sides, about four to five minutes. I turn the meatballs over after the first ninety seconds to allow a char to form and, after that, give the other side ninety seconds as well before beginning to roll the meatballs around in the pan to allow them to cook evenly.
Add the vegetables to the pan and cook, shaking the handle of the pan often to redistribute both the vegetables and the meatballs, for a couple of minutes.
Lower the heat and add the remaining Sake and soy sauce, the ketchup, both vinegars and a quarter cup of water. Cook until the vegetables are to your taste and the beef cooked through, an additional four or five minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. You may prefer the dish sweeter, in which case add some brown sugar to the sauce.
Mix the cornstarch with a tablespoon of water and add it to the pan, stirring constantly until the liquid thickens and becomes a glossy sauce.
Serve at once over rice.