Kung Pao Chicken & Zoodles (Whole30 & Low Carb)

Kung Pao Chicken is one of my all-time favorites. As a teenager, we’d go to this hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant and order big tubs of all the classic takeout dishes like Orange Chicken, General Tsos, with lots of fried rice and a big fountain soda, of course. And it was DELICIOUS. These days, even though I’m not really into eating a ton of rice and MSG, I still really love Kung Pao Chicken. But I want to eat it and feel good, so I thought I’d try my hand at a cleaned up, Whole30/Low Carb version of Kung Pao Chicken.

Whole30 compliant Kung Pao Chicken made family-friendly is a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!

One of the cool things about Asian cuisines in general is that they’re pretty easy to Paleo-fy. There are absolutely awesome substitutes for some of the most common but also most problematic ingredients — instead of soy sauce, you can swap coconut aminos, instead of white rice, use cauliflower rice, instead of peanuts, use cashews or almonds. Another awesome substitute is arrowroot powder. I didn’t discover arrowroot powder as a substitute for thickening agents (like cornstarch or flour) until recently, and I’m SO glad I did. It works like a charm, and it’s totally Paleo/Whole30 compliant!

Whole30 compliant Kung Pao Chicken made family-friendly is a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!

Now my version of Kung Pao Chicken isn’t exactly traditional… but then again, most of the Whole30 takes on classic dishes are going to be at least a little unconventional (like my take on Spaghetti & Meatballs). Kung Pao Chicken is normally pretty high on the heat scale, but I wanted to make it so my kids would actually eat it too, because I just don’t have the time/patience/energy/will to make a separate dinner for my kids… like, ever. And I don’t expect them to eat something as spicy as you’d get using a more traditional Kung Pao Chicken recipe that’s made with lots of chili peppers. I substituted red bell peppers to cut down on the spice factor, but to do my best to keep the classic flavors in line, I still used Sichuan peppercorns. 

Sichuan peppercorns are really important to giving Kung Pao Chicken its Kung Pao-ness. You know what I mean, right? Unlike other peppercorns, they’re not hot or spicy at all (read: kid-friendly)… they’re actually more lemony and aromatic and are known to actually numb your mouth a bit (it’s one of the spices in Chinese Five Spice blends, too). I’ve found they’re pretty easy to come by in most large grocery stores, but they’re available on Amazon, too. Some Kung Pao Chicken recipes will call for them to be added whole to the stir fry, but I toast and blend them to add into the sauce. The main reason I do that? It’s so a certain little kid won’t spend all of dinner picking them out. 

Whole30 compliant Kung Pao Chicken made family-friendly (and LOW CARB!) is a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!
Whole30 compliant Kung Pao Chicken made family-friendly (and LOW CARB!) is a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!

To toast Sichuan peppercorns, add them to a hot skillet. Stir and toast for about 1 minute, sometimes even a little less. Once you can smell them (it happens quickly), set them aside and let them cool completely, then grind them up with a mortar and pestle. *Side note: If see any black seeds mixed in with the peppercorns, just remove them and set them aside. 

Whole30 compliant Kung Pao Chicken made family-friendly (and LOW CARB!) is a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!
Whole30 compliant Kung Pao Chicken made family-friendly (and LOW CARB!) is a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!

I like to serve my Kung Pao Chicken over raw zucchini noodles. It has a nice texture to it that really holds up against the crunchy cashews and tender chicken. But if you prefer, feel free to sauté the zucchini noodles with the sauce (I included that option in the recipe instructions), or serve with cauliflower rice instead. You can never go wrong with cauliflower rice, #amiright?

Whole30 compliant Kung Pao Chicken made family-friendly is a delicious and easy weeknight dinner!

Kung Pao Chicken (Whole30)

This is a family friendly (not very spicy!) version of the classic takeout meal, made using only clean and whole ingredients. It’s Whole30, Paleo, Keto & Gluten Free! 

Course Dinner
Cuisine Chinese
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

Kung Pao Chicken

  • 2 lb chicken breasts
  • 2 tbsp olive or avocado oil
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup cashews, raw & unsalted
  • 2 green onions
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 small zucchini

Marinade

  • 2 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar or substitute apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp arrowroot powder

Sauce

  • 2 medjool dates
  • 1/4 cup coconut aminos
  • 1/2 – 2 1/2 tsp hot sauce, depending on how spicy you’d like it
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar or substitute apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp arrowroot powder
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp ginger minced
  • 2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns, toasted and ground into powder
  • 1 tsp tomato paste

Instructions

Marinate the Chicken

  1. Add all marinade ingredients together in a small bowl and whisk together. 

  2. Cut the chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. 

  3. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel and place in a bowl. 

  4. Pour the marinade over the chicken, gently mix, then cover and marinate for at least 30 minutes.

Make the Sauce

  1. Add all ingredients to a blender and pulse until incorporated. Start with less hot sauce, taste the sauce to test how spicy it is, and add more if desired. 

Prep the Veggies

  1. Cut the red pepper into bite-sized slices. Slice the green onions, separating the white parts from the green. 

  2. Spiralize the zucchini and set it aside. 

Cook the Dish

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. 

  2. Add the chicken to the hot skillet, stirring occasionally, and cook about 2-3 minutes.  

  3. Stir in the red pepper and whites of the green onion. Sauté, stirring occasionally, another 2-3 minutes. 

  4. Pour the sauce into the chicken, turning to coat. Bring it just to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat. 

  5. Stir in the cashews (and zucchini, if you prefer it cooked a bit), and season to taste with salt and pepper, if desired. 

  6. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and the green parts of the sliced onion. 

  7. Serve over zucchini noodles or with cauliflower rice. 

This is a delicious Whole30 take on Kung Pao Chicken, made with red bell peppers to ease the heat factor and make this dish something the whole family can enjoy!

If you liked this recipe, be sure to check out my Whole30 Orange Sesame Chicken and Broccoli recipe too! It’s one of my most popular recipes to date. It always gets rave reviews!