I believe, in theory, that guilty pleasures should be a judgment-free zone—unless you are married to me, in which case, could you pretty please rethink the General Tso’s chicken and give these General Tso’s Chickpeas a try?
I realize that I could be convicted for the decibels at which I sing Mariah Carey alone in my car, and I have been known to shoot Reddi-wip directly from the can into my mouth, but Ben’s penchant for bad (and I mean bad) Chinese food has serious consequences.
One, our car smells like old fry oil and stale fortune cookies for 48 hours after he brings it home.
Two, the moment we move to a new place and order Chinese take out, it triggers a silent-but-deadly alert that prompts the 15 other competing area Chinese restaurants to flood our mailbox with flyers.
Three, approximately four minutes after finishing his last bite of General Tso’s chicken, Ben sprawls onto the living floor and issues the following sound: “noooooowhyyyyyyyuggggggggg.”
While light on the fork (or between the chopsticks if you are fancy and coordinated), General Tso’s chicken is heavy on regret. Breaded, deep fried, and coated in a goupy, sugary sauce, it is notorious for being one of the least healthy dishes on a Chinese restaurant menu—at least according to every Self magazine I ever leafed through at the dentist’s office. It’s also delicious.
About This General Tso’s Chickpeas Recipe
I decided to see if I could replicate the same addictive flavor of classic General Tso’s, but in a way that would be both reasonably healthy and attainable for a weeknight meal (like with this Homemade Fried Rice and Crockpot Sweet and Soup Chicken). Even the homemade versions of that I read were still fairly heavy, and most called for more ingredients than I’m in the mood to measure on a weeknight.
I found my answer in the America’s Test Kitchen Comfort Food Makeovers cookbook. The fine folks at ATK created a lighter version that had a considerably shorter ingredient list, thanks to secret ingredient apricot jam. Brilliant! The best part about General Tso’s is that sweet, sticky sauce, an effect the jam achieves instantly. Forget waiting for the sauce to simmer and the gobs of brown sugar. This sauce is sweet, sassy, a little spicy, and obsessively tasty, just as it should be.
Now, that I’ve tempted you with an easy-to-make, hopelessly addictive General Tso’s sauce, let’s address the key ingredient (or lack their of) that makes this particular General Tso’s recipe unique: there’s no chicken.
Chickpeas – The Perfect Easy Healthy Swap
Instead of fussing over cutting the chicken (dirty cutting board + knife), breading it (which requires three separate bowls), and then finally baking or deep frying it (more dishes), I opted to sauté canned chickpeas instead. This easy swap was one of the best recipe decisions I’ve made.
Because chickpeas have a sturdy texture, they hold up well in the sauce, and they are also mild enough to allow the General Tso’s flavors to shine. Even Ben, the General Tso’s chicken connoisseur gave this vegetarian twist full marks, and he even requested it be a regular on our meal rotation.
It’s General Tso’s with all of the pleasure and none of the guilt. I’m so happy about it, I could burst into a rousing rendition of “Always Be My Baby,” but maybe you’d prefer I shoot my mouth full of Reddi-wip instead?
Tools Used to Make This Recipe
General Tso's Chickpeas
For the Chickpeas and Vegetables:
- 1 can chickpeas (15 ounces)
- 1 tablespoon canola oil or grapeseed oil, or other neutral cooking oil good for high heat
- 1 large crown broccoli cut into florets
- 2 small red bell peppers cored and sliced
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- 2 green onions thinly sliced, white and green parts divided
- Toasted sesame seeds optional for serving
- Prepared brown rice quinoa, sorghum, or other whole grain, for serving
- If serving the stir fry with rice, quinoa, or other grain, prepare as needed. Drain and rinse the chickpeas, then spread on a paper or dishtowel and lightly pat dry. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk all of the sauce ingredients together: water, soy sauce, hoisin, jam, rice vinegar, ginger, cornstarch, and 1 tablespoon chili garlic sauce. Taste and add additional garlic chili sauce if you prefer more heat.
- Heat oil in a large, non-stick skillet or wok over medium high. Add the broccoli and bell peppers. Cook 2 minutes, then stir in the garlic, white parts of the green onions, and chickpeas. Cook for 3 additional minutes, until the vegetables are crisp tender, then pour in the sauce. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce thickens, about 2 additional minutes. Sprinkle with the green portion of the green onions and sesame seeds. Serve hot with prepared rice or quinoa.
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