I didn’t think they actually served Thai Cashew Chicken in Thailand.
When we tumbled out of our hotel room in Chiang Mai at 10:45 p.m. in fervent search of dinner after a delayed flight, my stomach’s resolve to eat the first food we could find was outmatched only by my relentless determination to not, under any circumstances, waste a single meal in Thailand.
I forced Ben to bypass several restaurants that I deemed “too touristy,” and after we had been walking 10 minutes, he stopped firmly in front of what was one of the first open restaurants we’d seen in a while, pointed to the menu, and asked me, a look of animal-like desperation in his eyes, “Can we PLEASE eat here?” I glanced at the menu and spotted cashew chicken. I was immediately suspicious. Wasn’t cashew chicken just something they served at Westernized “Thai” restaurants in America? Surely this place could not be legit.
It was nearly 11 p.m., and even I had to admit that our prospects of finding other open options were dwindling. I reluctantly agreed.
Then, as if he could read my thoughts and were looking to spite me for making us walk so far, Ben ordered the cashew chicken. It was delicious.
I’m still not sure how authentic cashew chicken is (we didn’t make it in any of our cooking classes or have it at our homestays), but it became Ben’s go-to restaurant dish of the trip. He ordered it at every available opportunity. Thus, great food moocher that I am, I had the pleasure of sampling it from his plate at every available opportunity too.
About This Easy Thai Cashew Chicken
Today’s recipe is my adaptation of the Thai Cashew Chicken we had at nearly every restaurant north of Bangkok. Authentic or not, it’s a dynamite stir-fry dish that has weeknight dinner wrapped.
Stir-fries are a faithful companion on busy weeknights. They’re fast, hit every food group from veggies to lean proteins in a single pan, and are perfect for using up odd bits of leftover produce lurking in the fridge. Start to finish, this simple chicken and cashew nut stir-fry is ready in 20 minutes flat, even fewer if your veggies and chicken are already prepped.
If you’ve had cashew chicken at take-out restaurants, you’ll be familiar with the rich, savory flavors of the sauce and the warm crunch of the cashews. This particular cashew chicken recipe, however, is much lighter and healthier than what you’ll find in a restaurant. I packed it with veggies, sweetened the sauce naturally with honey, then served it over whole-grain brown rice (quinoa would be tasty too). Honestly, I didn’t miss the extra oil and sugar one bit, and I don’t think that you will either.
Thai Cashew Chicken certainly saved our dinner that late night in Chiang Mai, so I feel it’s only fitting that it’s destined to be a weeknight dinner hero for us in Wisconsin. I hope it saves a manic Monday (or Tuesday or Wednesday) wherever you try it too.
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Thai Cashew Chicken
For the Cashew Chicken:
- 1 1/4 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 2 large), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch or substitute arrowroot powder
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 3 medium red bell peppers seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 large head of broccoli cut into florets (about 4 cups)
- 1 bunch green onions about 6 medium, thinly sliced
- 2/3 cup dry roasted unsalted cashews
- Cooked brown rice or quinoa for serving
For the Sauce:
- 1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey plus additional to taste
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 2 cloves garlic minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes plus additional to taste
- In a small bowl, toss the chicken pieces with the cornstarch, salt, and pepper.
- Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium high. Once the oil is hot and shiny, add the chicken mixture and sauté for 4 minutes, just until lightly browned. Add the bell pepper, broccoli, and green onions. Continue sautéing until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are crisp-tender, about 5 additional minutes. Stir in the cashews and cook for 30 additional seconds.
- While the chicken and vegetables are cooking, prepare the sauce. In a small bowl or large measuring cup, stir together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey, ginger, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Taste and add additional honey and/or red pepper flakes as desired (I added an additional 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes). Pour the sauce over the skillet and toss to coat. Enjoy immediately with brown rice.
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