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Healthier Kung Pao Chicken

 March 11, 2024

For the days where a classic Chinese-inspired takeout dish is calling your name, there is nothing that satisfies quite like a hearty Kung Pao Chicken. Made from tender chicken breast, crunchy bell peppers, zucchini slices, and crushed peanuts, this dish is packed with flavor, color, texture, and heat, making it satisfying to every palate. This is my Healthier Kung Pao Chicken, made with better-for-you ingredients. It comes together in just 20 minutes, and is the perfect restaurant-quality meal made in a pinch!

A plate of the healthier kung pao chicken, sitting on a countertop with chopsticks resting on the edge of the plate

If you’ve ever found yourself staring at the fridge for hours, wondering, “what should I make for dinner tonight?” then friends, this is the recipe for you. I don’t know about you, but Chinese takeout has a special place in my heart. It’s delicious, it’s flavorful, it’s filling, and it’s something that my whole family enjoys, which makes it a win in my book! However, with food prices at an all-time high, ordering takeout everyday simple isn’t an option. Which means, I love finding ways to make our favorite dishes, at home, for cheaper, and with better-for-you ingredients. I mean truly, is there anything better than that?!

On my Instagram this past month, I’ve been sharing so many fun new recipes for my new series, “Dinner in Twenty.” In this series, I’ve shared a variety of restaurant-quality dinners that come together with minimal effort, in just 20 minutes. That’s faster than you can order takeout! From my Lemon Garlic Teriyaki Chicken to my Cashew Chicken and Broccoli, all of these recipes are perfect for throwing together on those nights where you just can’t figure out what to make for dinner. And as a bonus? They’ll be so good, you’ll want to make them again and again!

What You Need to Make This Spicy, Saucy Chicken Dish

  • Chicken Breast: Boneless, skinless chicken breast works best, in this recipe.
  • Olive Oil: To cook the chicken and vegetables, I like to choose a better-for-you oil such as olive oil.
  • Red Bell Peppers: Red bell peppers are essential to Kung Pao Chicken, and make this dish bright and flavorful.
  • Zucchini: Roasted zucchini is an underrated vegetable, in my opinion. Once it’s roasted, it gets nice and tender, which pairs perfectly with the chicken.
  • Garlic: I always recommend using fresh garlic, whenever possible. The flavor is truly unbeatable!
  • Peanuts: Roasted and salted peanuts add a delicious nutty flavor to this dish that truly makes it shine.
  • Dried Chilis: Personally, I love the heat that dried chilis add to this dish. However, if you can’t deal with spice, or prefer to make a milder version of this recipe, you can either swap out the chilis for crushed red pepper flakes, or omit them altogether.
  • Green Onions: Green onions are an essential part of any Chinese takeout-inspired dish, and this recipe is no exception.
A bowl, filled with all of the ingredients needed to make this healthier kung pao chicken sauce, laid out on a countertop
Next, prepare the sauce by adding all of the sauce ingredients to a medium-sized bowl or large measuring cup and whisk until they’re fully combined.
  • Chicken Broth: Instead of using water as the base for this sauce, I love using chicken broth. Not only does it add much more flavor, but you can also use chicken bone broth for some extra protein. 
  • Low Sodium Soy Sauce: If you want to keep this recipe gluten-free, you can use coconut aminos. Otherwise, low sodium soy sauce works great, in this recipe.
  • Hoisin Sauce: Hoisin sauce adds a slightly sweet-and-salty taste to this sauce. If you’re gluten-free, make sure to use gluten-free hoisin sauce.
  • Maple Syrup: A touch of maple syrup adds just the right amount of sweetness to the sauce, without the refined sugars.
  • Rice Vinegar: Rice vinegar adds tang, but just know – a little goes a long way!
  • Arrowroot Starch or Cornstarch or Tapioca Starch: A thick sauce is key to any restaurant-style recipe, so a thickening agent is necessary here to achieve that perfect texture. This recipe has been tested with all three of the above ingredients, and they all work just as well!
  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: To give this sauce just a little bit of heat, I love adding in crushed red pepper flakes.
A pan, filled with the vegetables and chicken, with the kung pao chicken sauce actively being poured on top of it
Add the chicken back to the pan and pour the sauce on top. Then, reduce the heat to low, place the cover on the pan, and allow it to cook for 5-6 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked through.

How to Make This Better-For-You Meal in 20 Minutes

To make this Kung Pao Chicken, start by preparing the sauce. Add all of the sauce ingredients to a medium-sized bowl or large measuring cup and whisk until they’re fully combined. Then, set it aside.

Prepare the chicken by patting it dry with a paper towel and slicing it into bite-sized cubes. Then, wash and chop the bell peppers and and zucchini and chop them into small pieces. Be sure to remove the seeds from the bell peppers.

Next, heat a large skillet, on the stove, over medium-high heat, and add in two tablespoons of the oil. Once the oil is hot, add in the chicken and sauté it for about 4 minutes, until it is just cooked on the outside. It might still be pink on the inside, but that is okay – it will continue to cook later on.
Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside to rest. Then, add the remaining two tablespoons of oil to the same pan.

Add the chopped bell peppers and zucchini to the pan, alongside the garlic, peanuts, and chili peppers, if using. Sauté them for about 3 minutes. Then, pour in the sauce, and stir to coat well. Add the chicken back into the pan and stir to coat it in the sauce.

Then, reduce the heat to low, place the cover on the pan, and allow it to cook for 5-6 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked through. Once it’s done, remove it from the heat, serve over rice, and enjoy!

If you make this recipe, please be sure to leave a review and rating below! To see more recipes and behind the scenes, follow along on InstagramTikTok, and Youtube! I’m also now on Pinterest, so stop by and take a look at what’s new.

** Photography by Tanya Pilgrim
A plate of the healthier kung pao chicken, sitting on a countertop with chopsticks resting on the edge of the plate
Dairy Free/gluten-free/Refined Sugar Free

Healthier Kung Pao Chicken

No ratings yet
Nicole Modic
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 12 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
SERVES 6 Servings
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For the days where a classic Chinese-inspired takeout dish is calling your name, there is nothing that satisfies quite like a hearty Kung Pao Chicken. Made from tender chicken breast, crunchy bell peppers, zucchini slices, and crushed peanuts, this dish is packed with flavor, color, texture, and heat, making it satisfying to every palate. This is my Healthier Kung Pao Chicken, made with better-for-you ingredients. It comes together in just 20 minutes, and is the perfect restaurant-quality meal made in a pinch!

Ingredients

For the Stir-Fry:

  • 1 1/2 Pounds Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast cut into bite-sized cubes
  • 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil or Avocado Oil divided
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers seeds removed and cut into pieces
  • 2 Zucchini sliced – this is about 1 cup
  • 2 Cloves Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Roasted & Salted Peanuts
  • 4 Dried Chilis chopped; For a milder version, I recommend either dumping out the seeds from the dried chilis or omitting them all together. Alternatively, you can use 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes instead.⁣
  • 3 Green Onions chopped

For the Sauce:

  • 1/2 Cup Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 Cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Hoisin Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Maple Syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
  • 2 Tablespoons Arrowroot Starch or Cornstarch or Tapioca Starch
  • 3 Cloves Garlic mashed
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Instructions

  • To make this Kung Pao Chicken, start by preparing the sauce. Add all of the sauce ingredients to a medium-sized bowl or large measuring cup and whisk until they're fully combined. Then, set it aside.
  • Prepare the chicken by patting it dry with a paper towel and slicing it into bite-sized cubes.
  • Then, wash and chop the bell peppers and and zucchini and chop them into small pieces. Be sure to remove the seeds from the bell peppers.
  • Next, heat a large skillet, on the stove, over medium-high heat, and add in two tablespoons of the oil.
  • Once the oil is hot, add in the chicken and sauté it for about 4 minutes, until it is just cooked on the outside. It might still be pink on the inside, but that is okay – it will continue to cook later on.
  • Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside to rest. Then, add the remaining two tablespoons of oil to the same pan.
  • Add the chopped bell peppers and zucchini to the pan, alongside the garlic, peanuts, and chili peppers, if using. Sauté them for about 3 minutes.
  • Then, pour in the sauce, and stir to coat well.
  • Add the chicken back into the pan and stir to coat it in the sauce.
  • Then, reduce the heat to low, place the cover on the pan, and allow it to cook for 5-6 minutes, until the chicken is fully cooked through.
  • Once it's done, remove it from the heat, serve over rice, and enjoy!

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  1. Wow! This kung pao chicken did NOT disappoint! 10/10 would make again! Great job, Nicole! I can’t even tell it’s not take out!