This past weekend as we approached the Lunar New Year, I prepared a few of my favorite Chinese dishes using recipes inspired by the Whole 30. What does that mean? Delicious food that avoids a few ingredients commonly used in Asian cooking such as soy, cornstarch and sugar. Thanks to some very clever people, we really enjoyed Kung Pao Chicken and Dan Dan Noodles because noodles must be eaten for longevity!
I am sharing the recipe for Kung Pao Chicken because it was definitely a winner and I will make it again and again! Hopefully you will give it a try too.
Kung Pao Chicken is one of my favorite dishes at any Chinese restaurant. One thing I do not love about ordering it out, however is that often the nut to chicken ratio is too high. More spicy chicken and fewer nuts for me, please! And as my preferences have changed so too has the allure of the traditional dark sauce that tends to be thick and gummy, rather than light and just enough to coat the tender morsels of chicken. Making it at home is always a good solution. And there were some intriguing things about this particular recipe that made me want to try it, especially knowing the Molly Yeh’s version is also very tasty (I love her recipes).
So if you enjoy Kung Pao Chicken with a twist, read on!
The characteristic heat comes from three different ingredients in this recipe. First are Szechuan peppercorns which are pretty easy to find nowadays. They impart a floral note and create a unique mouth tingle but you can use just a little or a lot depending on your preference. Second are dried red chilis which are a little more difficult to find but will always be available in Asian markets. I actually did not find them in time to prepare the recipe so I used some fresh red chilis instead. And the third surprising ingredient that is used in the Kung Pao finishing sauce is Harissa. Harissa is a chili paste more commonly found in Moroccan and some Middle Eastern dishes. It comes in mild and spicy versions. I used this brand and happened to have the mild version, but will use the spicy version next time because we love the heat!
The combination of the 3 heat elements create a well spiced dish.
In addition to the heat elements, there are a few different ingredients used to keep the dish Whole 30 friendly or compliant if you are avoiding soy and legumes. Coconut aminos take the place of soy, but you can use low-sodium soy sauce or tamari will also work. Also the recipe calls for arrowroot starch (easily found – Bob’s Red Mill) but you could use cornstarch. And most surprisingly but really quite nice is the option to use either pine nuts or raw cashews in the dish. Peanuts are traditional but pine nuts or cashews are equally delicious in my book. The recipe did not give an amount so I just eye balled it and used 1/3 cup of pine nuts. I think you could use 1/4 cup and it would be just fine. Probably 1/3 cup of cashews.
The recipe has a few steps. First is to marinate the chicken for just a bit in a mixture of the coconut aminos, garlic and onion powder, salt and arrowroot starch. The starch acts as a coating for the chicken and will allow it to brown nicely and protect it from drying out.
Second, saute the chicken until brown and remove to a plate. Saute all of your aromatics, add back in the chicken, the nuts and the Kung Pao Sauce. Stir until everything is coated and serve with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil. Really easy and comes together fast.
You can absolutely throw in some diced red bell pepper and blanched green beans to add some color and vegetables to the dish. If you do that, I might suggest increasing the amount of Kung Pao Sauce just a bit to make sure you have enough sauce to coat everything.
The original recipe which I’ve reworded comes from i❤️umami blog and her photos are way more enticing than mine (and will encourage you to make the dish) so click here to see them! She also has some great facts about the origin of Kung Pao Chicken and how it got its name. Enjoy!
Until next time (scroll to the bottom for the recipe)…
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