Old school sweet-and-sour has never been so good

Editor's note: In the print addition of this blog, several sauce ingredients were omitted. The have been added in bold below:


I started my illustrious journalism career as an obituary clerk at my hometown newspaper. Once the city editor saw that I could spell, mostly, and wasn’t paralyzed by the deadlines, he asked whether I wouldn’t also like to try my hand at the food pages.

It’s an odd combination, for sure, not one you’ll come across in many other newsrooms, but it worked for me. It gave me a chance to explore feature writing and page design and it set me on a path of food writing that pretty much has continued to this day, regardless of what other journalism endeavor is really paying the rent.

This recipe for Sweet and Sour Turkey Balls is one of the very first I found on the Associated Press wire that looked good enough to me to take home and try. On my original copy, the recipe is printed in one-column newspaper width and it’s stuck to the recipe card with wax. That’s how we used to make the paper back in the Dark Ages. We’d send the copy through a typesetting machine that would spool out the stories in long strips. The folks in the composing room would run the strips through a cutter, trimming them exactly to one-column width. Then they’d run those ribbons of news through a waxer, basically a hot trough that melted paraffin and, with a set of rollers, applied a thin coating to the back of the strips.

They’d build the pages by sticking the strips onto page-size pieces of paper, photographing them to produce a negative, then turning the negative into a metal plate that you’d clamp onto the press.

It was very handcrafted back then. Nowadays it’s all about pixels.

But despite all those years and all that change, this recipe has remained one of my favorites, a stained and heavily annotated staple in my recipe box. It has none of that cloyingly sticky sweetness that comes with so many sweet and sour dishes. The fresh ginger in the balls and sauce, the crunch of the water chestnuts and the subtle flavor of the scallions really make for a delicious meal.

It’s particularly good served over brown or white rice with a bold, green vegetable, anything from broccoli to Brussels sprouts. I love it with my favorite broccoli rabe, sautéed with garlic and currants and garnished with toasted pecans. Yum.

I’ve made the recipe so many times that I’ve tested all kinds of substitutions in the face of missing ingredients. It doesn’t matter what color peppers you use or whether your carrots are large. It doesn’t matter whether your bread crumbs are fresh or dried. If you don’t have chicken broth you can use beef or vegetable broth or even water. Just stick with the fresh ginger, the water chestnuts and the scallions and it’ll work out just fine.



Sweet and Sour Turkey Balls

For the turkey balls:

1 pound ground turkey

1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, diced

½ cup minced scallions, about one bunch

½ cup fine, dry bread crumbs

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

¾ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

½ cup red pepper, chopped

½ cup green pepper, chopped

1 16-ounce can whole berry cranberry sauce

½ cup chicken broth

¼ cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/3 cup water

To prepare the turkey balls, add the ground turkey, water chestnuts, scallions, bread crumbs, egg, soy sauce, ginger and salt to a mixing bowl and with your clean hands, mix gently to combine well.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of cornstarch onto a plate or into a wide bowl. Form the meat mixture into small to medium-size balls, dropping them one at a time into the cornstarch, rolling them to coat, then placing them in the hot oil. Don’t crowd the pan. Work in batches if necessary. Brown the turkey balls well. Turn them to brown as much of the surface as you can. This process should take 20-30 minutes. When the balls are thoroughly brown, remove them from the pan and set aside.

To prepare the sauce, in a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the carrots and peppers and sauté for 3 minutes or until they’re becoming tender. Lower the heat if needed and add the cranberry sauce, broth, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar and ginger. Stir to combine.

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water; stir the mixture into the sauce. Bring the sauce to a boil, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and becomes clear. Add the turkey balls to the sauce, stirring gently to coat. Lower the heat and let them simmer gently, 20 to 30 minutes.

Serve over rice.

Original recipe from the Associated Press. Share comments or recipes at j.blanchette@theday.com

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