As we approach Thanksgiving, I’m always looking for cultural mash-ups. That’s because they’re what the holiday means to me — the diversity of the nation coming together at the table. This cranberry sweet and sour sauce recipe fits the bill. It comes from Double Awesome Chinese Food, a cookbook by Andrew, Irene, and Margaret Li — siblings who own and operate the Mei Mei Group, a restaurant, food truck, and catering company in Boston.
The Li family offers up Chinese-American food that blends their Taiwanese, Chinese, and New England experiences. Their grandmother ran one of the best Chinese restaurants in the Northeast in the 1950s till the 1970s. The siblings pour all their culinary DNA into their endeavors and the results are creative and tasty.
The recipes in Double Awesome Chinese Food are not pure, classic Chinese dishes but refreshing iterations from a new generation of the Li family. Farm-fresh produce, whole grains and old-fashioned white rice are all appreciated. For example, beef and broccoli gets a makeover with oven-roasted broccoli which adds deeper flavor. The daikon radish cakes have bacon instead of Chinese sweet sausage. That said, the biang biang noodle recipe includes instructions for making your own hand-pulled noodles! The Li family keeps one foot in tradition.
Double Awesome Chinese Food released earlier this year, but I wanted to make this recipe around Thanksgiving when fresh cranberries are plentiful. It’s emblematic of the spirit of the holiday and the Li family’s contribution to the American table.
A Cranberry Ketchup?
The ingredients are not exotic. The tomato paste thickens and adds cheery color. However, partway through the cooking process, I wondered if the ingredients would yield a ketchup like condiment.
In one application — a sweet and sour pork recipe, there’s mention of how Chinese cooking employs ketchup. I was feeling skeptical but once the mixture cooled, it had a tang that differed from ketchup.
Celery Salt and Clove
I typically use celery salt for Bloody Marys but here, it evoked Chinese celery, which is stronger in celery flavor than its western counterpart. The spice lent complexity to the cranberry sweet and sour sauce. Ground clove injected a warm, sweet note.
After resting, the sauce tasted good, but I wanted an extra Asian edge so I grated some fresh ginger into the pot, warmed it to allow the ginger to express itself and then let it cool again so flavors may meld.
Smooth or Chunky?
The sauce is so pretty with jewel tone lumps of cranberries and I didn’t want to blend it. If you serve it with roast turkey, chicken or pork, leave it chunky. If you plan to toss chicken wings in the sauce or coat stir-fried pork with it, blend the sauce to a velvety smoothness so it may better distribute during your cooking. I split the difference, as seen in the top photo of this post!
Tonight, as I was cooking some Brussels sprouts with bitter greens, I threw a tablespoon of the sauce into the pan. It got absorbed and glazed the vegetables a bit. The tangy sauce brightened the vegetables to create a nice side dish.
So you don’t have to only use the sauce as a dip, you can season with it! I started out making the sauce as a Thanksgiving quickie (I’m working on a recipe assignment with a tight deadline) but this sweet and sour cranberry sauce recipe has many uses beyond the holidays.
P.S. Supermarkets carry frozen cranberries.
More condiment recipes to check out
Cranberry Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1 ⅓ cups (5 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup minced onion
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- Pinch of ground cloves
- Chubby 1-inch section ginger peeled and grated (use a microplane; optional)
In a small or medium saucepan, combine all the ingredients. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat to simmer for 10 minutes. Expect to hear the cranberries pop as they cook.
Remove the pan from the heat and let cool completely. Transfer to a blender (or use an immersion blender) to whirl until smooth. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate for up to 1 month. Enjoy at room temperature.