A follow-up recipe to my famous General Tso’s chickpeas has been a long time coming. I thought I would tackle another popular flavor found in Americanized Chinese food and these Kung Pao chickpeas hit the spot.
My research tells me that the takeout-style Kung Pao is a little sweeter, more thickly sauced, with celery added, and most importantly, does not feature Sichuan peppercorns, which are an ingredient in the more traditional version. Sichuan peppercorns are fragrant, slightly floral peppercorns that have a mouth-numbing sort of spiciness to them. It’s hard to explain, but if you can find them at the store I recommend giving them a try. I bought a small package and toasted and ground a bunch of them, storing the ground pepper in an airtight container to portion out as needed when making batches of Kung Pao chickpeas. (For grinding spices, I continue to use a designated cheap coffee grinder).
My take on Kung Pao chickpeas falls somewhere in between the takeout and the authentic version, as I do call for the Sichuan peppercorns here. (You can use black pepper if you can’t find the peppercorns.) I did, however, take some liberties with a few of the other ingredients like Chinese black vinegar and rice wine, which I don’t normally keep in stock and didn’t want to invest in. Balsamic vinegar, which is always in my pantry, made a good stand-in, lending a sweet, musty, tangy flavor to the sauce.
Red pepper flakes (always in my cupboard) were swapped in for whole dried chiles too, and while I absolutely love to put bok choy or broccoli into my stir fries as a green component, my CSA had other plans for me. So this time around I tossed in some ribbons of collard greens, and I was surprised at how much we liked them in the dish. It’s easy to mix and match whatever vegetables you like and have on hand.
These Kung Pao chickpeas are really good with a steaming hot bowl of white rice. I also previously served them on tacos with some fresh cabbage slaw, toasted cashews, and a little vegan mayo. After a few times of making the stir-fry and tinkering with the sauce and accompaniments, I’m ready to share the recipe with you, but please remember that, as with all dishes that hinge on an important sauce element, I highly recommend taking the time to read through the list of sauce ingredients, making any needed adjustments based on your taste both before and after mixing it together.
Kung Pao Chickpeas
For the Kung Pao chickpeas stir fry
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 inch of ginger peeled and minced
- 3 large cloves of garlic minced
- 1 rib of celery thinly sliced
- 5 scallions diced (both green and white parts) (divided)
- 2/3 tsp ground Sichuan peppercorn (or use regular ground black pepper to taste)
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes plus more to taste
- 1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts plus more for garnish if desired
- 1 large red bell pepper (or 2 medium), cut into halved strips
- 3 cups cooked chickpeas drained (equal to 2 standard cans)
- 2 cups sliced collard greens or other greens of choice
- Kung Pao sauce (below)
- cooked rice or cauliflower rice for serving
For the Kung Pao sauce:
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce (or tamari for gluten-free)
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar (don't use the seasoned type or your dish will be too salty)
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tbsp agave nectar
- 1/2 tbsp sriracha or other chili sauce
- 1/2 cup of water
- 2 tsp cornstarch
To prepare the Kung Pao sauce:
- In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, vinegars, agave nectar, and chili sauce. Taste the mixture and adjust quantities as desired.
- Whisk in the water and cornstarch, taking special care to dissolve any lumps of cornstarch. Set the sauce aside.
For the Kung Pao chickpeas:
- Heat the toasted sesame oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add the celery and half of the scallions, and cook, continuing to stir, for another 60 seconds until the celery is softened.
- Add the Sichuan pepper, red pepper flakes, and peanuts, stir, and cook for another 30 to 60 seconds until the pepper is roasted and fragrant.
- Continuing to stir, add the bell pepper and cook for about 2 minutes until the bell pepper is crisp-tender.
- Stir in the chickpeas, collard greens, and prepared Kung Pao sauce. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the collard greens are bright green and tender; and the sauce has thickened to coat the chickpeas and vegetables. At this point, the dish is ready. The longer you cook it, the thicker the sauce will get, so this is a matter of your preference.
- Serve over rice or accompaniment of choice, garnished with the other half of the scallions, and more peanuts if desired.
It's very important for this (and my other stir-fry recipes) to have all of your ingredients and seasonings prepped and ready to go. The cooking steps go in quick succession.
MAKE AHEAD: In advance you can whisk together the sauce ingredients except for the water and cornstarch. You can also slice the bell pepper and scallions in advance. Rice can be pre-cooked and reheated.
VARIATIONS: Add different vegetables of choice. Hearty greens should be added when the recipe says to add the collard greens. Other vegetables (e.g. broccoli, onion strips, snap peas, etc.) should be added when the recipe says to add the bell peppers. Quick cooking greens like spinach should be wilted in right at the end.
Try some of my other stir-fry dishes!