Meat is not needed to make a meal, particularly if enough of the other ingredients are on hand and are bathed in complex layers of flavor. Making sweet and sour vegetables can entail an easy or difficult blend of components, with a medley of chopped vegetables and rice coated with a distinctively Asian sauce that is tart, sweet and salty. This coating can be a simple blend of ketchup, vinegar, sugar and soy or a complex blend that adds other ingredients like ginger, fruit juice, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, nuts, mustard and wine.
Since sweet and sour vegetables is a vegetarian meal, it should consist of heartier styles of vegetables. These include carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes and eggplant. Each component is then chopped into bite-size portions and often blanched in cold water for at least a few minutes before boiling or pan-frying. Often, the final cooking of the vegetables takes place in a vegetable stock that will serve as the base of the sweet and sour sauce.
A simple sauce for sweet and sour vegetables, available from the Help With Cooking Web site, involves cooking the vegetables while making a sauce that can be poured over the vegetables later. The sauce is a quick mixture of basic pantry ingredients: 4 tbsp. (about 60 g) of brown sugar, 1 tsp. (about 5 ml) of soy sauce, 1 tbsp. (about 15 ml) of ketchup and 0.33 cup (about 80 ml) of rice vinegar. These ingredients are brought to a boil, and then a mixture of 2 tsp. (about 10 g) of cornstarch with 4 tsp. (about 60 ml) of water is added as a thickener.
Others prefer to imbue sweet and sour vegetables with complementary flavors all throughout the cooking process. This more-complex process is illustrated at the Cook UK recipe Web site, which involves simmering the vegetables in vegetable stock, while simultaneously whipping up a sauce in a separate pan. The sauce starts with with chopped onion, minced garlic and oil, and is then built further with soy sauce, vinegar, wine, chopped nuts, tomato paste, brown sugar, salt, pepper, and, finally, arrowroot as the thickener. Once the sauce is sufficiently thickened, it is added to the simmering vegetables and allowed to meld for another 10 minutes or more before service.
The traditional way to serve sweet and sour vegetables is with rice, either white or fried. Another possibility includes serving the dish with noodles. Some might just use the vegetables and sauce, however, as a chunky dipping sauce for flatbread.