You’d be surprised by how much food bloggers complain about having to make dinner. Yup. I’m guilty as well. After a day of cooking, styling and shooting recipes, sometimes it’s like, “Hey, doesn’t Irish soda bread sound great for dinner?” OK, so that is totally…well, sort of…an exaggeration, but I will say, the stack of takeout menus call my name. The problem is…and, for me, it’s a huge problem…healthy takeout food does not exist. Well, not within a car ride’s radius of me.
Asian food is a favorite in my house and this is a recipe I’ve been playing around with for a while. I’m always hesitant to publish recipes that are not true to their roots. Chinese food, as you can imagine, has many interpretations. Americanized takeout versions are far from their originals. Authentic Kung Pao, a Szechuan dish, differs from what most of us know as Kung Pao in that it doesn’t use bell peppers or celery. Szechuan peppercorns are also a key ingredient as well as Shaoxing wine and Chinese black vinegar.
This recipe is certainly a twist. This isn’t even authentically the typical takeout version. It’s a spin off of a fantastic recipe by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Kenji admits to loving the takeout version as a kid and wanted to recreate that. And I, wanted to recreate his into a vegetarian dish that would make even vegans and anyone sensitive to gluten happy!
It was also important to me to prepare this with as many easy-to-find ingredients as I could. The only ingredient you may not have on hand is the Chinese or Arbol chilies. Look for them in either the spice section or ethnic sections of your grocery store. They are very spicy and just a few thrown into the dish will add flavor throughout. I don’t recommend eating them! They are super hot!
So, toss those takeout menus to the wind, my friends. This deliciousness can be dinner in thirty minutes or less.
Kung Pao Eggplant
- 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons natural rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger root
- 1 teaspoon arrowroot flour or cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon coconut oil divided
- 2 medium 2 pounds total eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 large red bell pepper cut into 1 inch dice
- 1 large green bell pepper cut into 1 inch dice
- 2 stalks celery cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 3 to 4 medium dried red Chinese or Arbol chilies
- 2 scallions sliced thinly diagonally
- Mix the sauce in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Heat a wok over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil. When it just begins to smoke, add the eggplant cubes. Cook while stirring and tossing frequently until a bit golden, or for about 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of your cubes.
- Remove the eggplant onto a platter.
- Add 1 teaspoon of the coconut oil along with the bell peppers and celery. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the peanuts and toss to coat. Add the garlic, chilies and scallions. Add the eggplant back to the pan. Give the sauce a quick stir and add that as well. Toss to coat and cook for just 45 seconds to a minute.
This recipe has become a standard in our household.
Thank you very much for sharing..
Jean! That put a big smile on my face! Thank you! I haven’t made this in a while…thanks for the reminder. I love Kung Pao!
Hello-for some reason, son my computer and tablet, the first and ninth ingredients say “Sauce” and “Stir-fry”, respectively. Can anyone tell me what those ingredients are? I’d love to try this.
Hi Rebecca! Those are the headings for the ingredients in the recipe. You’ll make the sauce first, then start the stir fry. Hope that helps.
Ha, the weeknight dinner struggle is for real! I am totally with you! This looks wonderful, Caroline. I genuinely appreciate Chinese take-out in addition to more authentic Chinese food. :) The eggplant is such a nice alternative to the meat!
Right? Some nights are worse than others, but easy is always a good idea! Thanks so much, Emily!
Your intro cracked me up: how many times have I tried to get out of cooking dinner? And without any decent takeout, there aren’t a lot of options except for go-to recipes like this one with ingredients readily on hand. I’m pinning this to my Dinner Ideas board for future reference. Thanks.
Mary Ann | The Beach House Kitchen
This dish sounds so delicious Caroline. Eggplant is a favorite of mine, so I cannot wait to try. Your photos are absolutely lovely! Thanks so much for sharing.
Oh, you are so kind, Mary Ann! Thanks so much!
Tessa | Salted Plains
Ahh, Caroline, this looks wonderful! I am definitely guilty of ordering takeout often. It’s either that or I tell my husband we can have baked sweet potatoes. You know which one wins. ;) I cannot wait to make this. And, yay eggplant!
Hahahaha…yes, that scenario sounds so familiar! Thanks, Tessa!
Kung pao tofu is always my go-to Chinese food order even though I know it is SO bad for me…but that sweet spiciness is just too good! Love this healthier veg version! Totally making it at home next time a craving hits.
Yes…me too, Joanne…I love the combination of spicy and sweet. This hits those flavors without the overload of sugar! Thanks, friend! xo