It’s shocking that we’ve had this blog for more than a month now, and this is the first Asian-inspired recipe we’ve posted. I am a huge fan of Asian food – Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, or really anything with soy sauce acting as a major ingredient. As a matter of fact, many of our first attempts at fumbling around in the kitchen came about as a result of me purchasing on-sale copies of Thai and wok-based cookbooks from Barnes & Noble on a whim. Some recipes can be extremely challenging, and most of them, if not all, call for strange ingredients that you won’t usually be able to find at your local grocer. I recall with little fondness my attempt at using Google to find “Asian supermarkets” when we first start cooking and lived in Southwest Miami. I did find one that was relatively close to my apartment, but we were both quite peeved when we got to the store and saw that nearly every item was labeled in another language with absolutely no English translations in sight. Thankfully, here in Atlanta, we live pretty close to a fantastic farmer’s market/Asian-Pakistani-Caribbean supermarket that has every single crazy ingredient we could hope for.
This recipe should be called “Super Fast and Ridiculously Easy Kung Pao Chicken” because it really and truly is. The other beautiful thing about this dish is that you should have all of the ingredients on hand at any given time, thereby not requiring you to rush out to the store for something. I can’t speak for everyone, but I always have green onions in my refrigerator and peanuts are pretty much a pantry staple. If you don’t have unsalted, dry roasted peanuts on hand, feel free to toss in whatever nuts you’ve got, or exclude them altogether if you’re not a fan or have an allergy. We’ve made the dish without the peanuts, and it’s still delicious, just less of a crunch in each bite. Also, because we generally cook for just the two of us, this recipe really makes only enough for two generous servings. It’s such a simple recipe, you can double, triple, or quadruple it without any hassle – we have in the past, and it’s still amazing. The heat level of this dish is what I would call “mild”, so you can tailor this to your specific tastes by altering the amount of crushed red pepper you put in. If you’re not big into spicy food, I would skip out on adding crushed red pepper flakes to the chicken before cooking. If you think it’s too spicy when it comes time to serve, add a little bit more soy sauce and Splenda/sugar while the food is still on the stove to tone down the kick.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1 lb. total weight) [400 calories]
¼ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons vegetable oil [80 calories]
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar [15 calories]
5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce [35 calories]
4 teaspoons Splenda/zero-calorie sweetener (or pure white sugar, if you’re a purist)
2 teaspoons cornstarch [30 calories]
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup green onions, finely sliced
¼ – ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (adjust for level of heat desired)
1 teaspoon ginger powder
¼ cup dry roasted, unsalted peanuts (optional) [180 calories]
1 teaspoon vegetable oil (substitute with peanut oil or toasted sesame oil for extra flavor) [40 calories]
Green onions, finely sliced (optional, for garnish)
Serves 2 (generous servings)
Calories per serving: 390
Rinse the chicken breasts thoroughly under cold water, and then pat dry with paper towels. Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces, then toss well with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes until evenly coated.
In a wok or large sauté pan, heat the oil until it starts to crackle and pop (no pun intended here). Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently so the chicken doesn’t stick to the wok/pan, until browned nicely on all sides (~ 15 minutes). Remove chicken from the wok/pan and set aside.
Lower the heat to medium, then add 1 teaspoon of vegetable oil. In a small bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar, then whisk in cornstarch to thicken the sauce. When oil is crackling in the wok/pan, add the green onions, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, and ginger to the pan. Allow dry ingredients to cook for ~ 15-30 seconds, stirring constantly and making sure the garlic doesn’t start to burn.
Pour in the liquid portion of the sauce. Cook until the sauce begins to bubble, 2-3 minutes.
Return the chicken to the pan, add the peanuts, and toss to coat well. Either serve immediately, or lower the heat to the minimum setting and allow dish to sit on the stove warming until ready to serve. This dish works well paired with plain brown rice…or even fried rice if you’re feeling adventurous.
This recipe is – gasp – nearly an original! A friend of a friend served this at a casual dinner party a few years ago, and upon request, scribbled down the recipe for me on my way out. She wasn’t sure where she’d found the original, but we’ve tweaked what she gave us many, many times due to the fact that this is a wonderful weeknight meal that’s always good and takes minimum effort…so we make it…a lot.