Spicy Ginger Cashew Chicken


If you are like me, you ate a fair bit of stir-fry in the first few years living on your own. Like pasta, stir-fry was a staple for me in university – it was quick, cheap and it made a lot of leftovers, so I could stretch it out for several meals. Unlike pasta, however, my stir-fries weren’t any good. I had no idea what I was doing or how to flavour them, and they were little more than a collection of soggy vegetables and stringy meat with a little bit of soy sauce. It seemed like it should be so easy to make, but good stir-fry eluded me and I stopped even trying. I eventually became a (much) better cook, but I avoided stir-fry, convinced that there was some secret trick or ingredient that I was missing.

It was only a few years ago that I tackled stir-fry again, with the help of one of my favourite cookbooks, “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman. Such an ambitious title for a cookbook, but really, the man does know how to cook a lot of things! Turns out that I wasn’t really missing any sort of trick or ingredient, except perhaps the inclusion of some cornstarch to make the sauce stick to the other ingredients. Other than that, I suppose it’s more a matter of knowing how to not overcook my vegetables and meat. Stir-fry is now everything I hoped it would be back in college…quick, easy, relatively inexpensive and, most importantly, delicious.

I don’t even really follow the recipe at all anymore, as I make endless variations on the basic theme. I use whatever vegetables I have on hand, sometimes I include tofu or chicken, sometimes I don’t. I’ve come to realize that I like a bit of a kick to my sauce, so I now include red pepper flakes. I don’t always have fresh ginger root around, so often it’s 1/2 a teaspoon of ground ginger in the sauce, which works pretty well. This go round, I decided to throw in some cashews for flavour and crunch, and I was really pleased with the result. They add to the overall carb count, but as I don’t eat my stir-fry with any rice anymore, it was worth it. I also did have fresh ginger, and the combination of ginger, red pepper flakes and cashews really made for an amazing meal. It’s a far cry from the bland, tasteless stir-fries of my university days!

A few quick notes. I highly recommend steaming the broccoli lightly before adding it to the pan. It should be bright green but still quite crisp. I do mine in the microwave for two minutes. Broccoli just doesn’t cook well in a stir-fry without a bit of a head start to break down the tough fibers. I also recommend toasting the cashews lightly. They aren’t in the pan for very long, and a bit of toasting beforehand really helps bring out their flavour. I also prefer chicken thigh meat over breasts, because it has better flavour and is much less likely to get dried out from over-cooking.

Spicy Ginger Cashew Chicken

2 tbsp soy sauce
1/3 cup water
1 tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot starch
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it hot)
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil (or another tbsp vegetable)
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts,
trimmed and cut into 1 inch chunks
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
1 medium red pepper, thinly sliced
3 cups broccoli florets, about 1 1/2 inches each
(I like mine lightly steamed first)
1/2 cup unsalted cashews, lightly toasted

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, water, cornstarch and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

Heat half the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat, until shimmering but not smoking. Add chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until no longer pink, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl.

Add remaining oil, and when hot, add onion and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Add red pepper and broccoli and continue to cook and stir until vegetables are tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add cashews and cook 1 minute more, then add chicken back to pan and toss to combine.

Give soy sauce mixture a quick stir and add to the pan. Cook, stirring to coat meat and vegetables, until sauce is thickened, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

Serves 6. Each serving has 10.6g of carbs and 2.5g of fiber.

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  1. Kate from Scratch says

    This looks so yummy! Cashews are a very nice addition. I love their richness and complexity. I can imagine that it gives this healthy dish a satisfying hearty afterthought without being decadant and still remaining healthy. I love that. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Angela@RecipesFromMyMom says

    Such great stir fry tips. Thanks for sharing those things that bring out the best flavors. Cashew chicken is my standard order when we get carry-out so if I can make it at home, I would be one very happy cook.

  3. The Café Sucré Farine says

    How good does this look! I can almost smell the delicious fragrance through the computer screen! It looks so healthy and fresh too. I have Mark's book also and it is really a great book. Thanks for a great recipe, Chris

  4. Pretend Chef says

    When my guy is out on the road I like to indulge in foods he doesn't care for. Stir fry is one of them. He doesn't care for Asian flavors. I need to make this in the next week before he returns. Haha! I also wanted to let you know I gave you a shoutout this morning on my blog. I always look forward to reading your blog. Have a great day!

  5. Emily says

    Stir-fry is one of my favorite at the last minute dinners. So good! I love your addition of cashews. Most of the time we add sirachi sauce. We like ours hot!

  6. Treat and Trick says

    What a yummy and healthy combo! These are colorful and that nutty flavor of cashew in them….

  7. The Mom Chef says

    wow, that's beautiful. I love the broccoli tip. I don't know why I haven't thought of that before (steaming it a little beforehand). Thanks for sharing the recipe. I'll use it as a base as well.

  8. Sandra says

    Stir-fry is always welcome in my house too, and I have to agree with you this is cheap, and fast lunch or dinner!:)
    Fantastic recipe, and wonderful pictures Carolyn, thank you so much for sharing..will have to try your version soon!

  9. Lauren at Keep It Sweet says

    You are totally right- I used to always make stir fry in college and don't think I've cooked it once since! This looks worth breaking that, though,

  10. Kristen says

    What a great combination for a stir fry. It just pops with color and flavor. I love how stir fry is so versatile.

  11. Charlie @ SweetSaltySpicy says

    I often make stir-fry during midterms & finals for the quick and easy factor ;). 4 weeks/year I don't have time to be in the kitchen!
    I'd definitely make yours with tofu! I love the addition of crunchy cashew! YUM

  12. Island Vittles says

    Cashew chicken was my staple in university! perhaps it's time I made it again. Love the ginger…Theresa

  13. RavieNomNoms says

    This is one of my favorites of all time. I just love your recipe, it looks absolutely stunning!

  14. Stephanie says

    Yum, this looks so good Carolyn! I love the cashews and broccoli. Sounds perfect for the rainy days we've been having here in MI. Blah!

  15. Cookin' Canuck says

    We just went to a local Chinese restaurant on the weekend and had a so-so version of Cashew Chicken. I am definitely motivated to try your version!

  16. sara @ CaffeIna says

    I still make stir fries pretty often to have something ready for dinner those nights when I have classes and don't want to cook at 930pm! The cashew chicken combo is something I discovered while living in India and it's still one of my favorite. Thanks for this wonderful recipe. perfect for my busy weeks!

  17. Kim - Liv Life says

    Oh my goodness…. you described my early stir-fries to a "T"!! Soggy veggies and stringy meat doused in soy. Blech! I too have come a long way in stir fries and yours is looking mighty good. Luckily my whole family enjoys this type of meal, and it's one that I can be sure everyone will be happy with. I think the addition of the sesame oil really makes a difference!

  18. Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having says

    I love How to Cook Everything! It really is the cookbook I refer to the most.
    Your stir fry looks amazing. I've only been able to make successful stir fries a couple of times, so I tend to avoid them too. I think I'll give them another shot soon!

  19. Danielle says

    I totally did the stir-fry business in college too! It's definitely an easy dish, but I agree with you — hard to master if you aren't sure what you're doing! Yours looks like a great version, love the cashews!

  20. Kari says

    Thanks for the brocolli tip! I love stir fry as an easy mid-week meal, but have never mastered the brocolli cooking (normally it is too hard). I'll be adopting your hint :)

  21. The Harried Cook says

    That is a perfectly gorgeous stir-fry! Congrats on a job well done :) I love the combination of chicken & cashews, and throw in those gorgeous veggies, and I am floored! Thanks for sharing :)

  22. kitchenmisfit says

    I did the whole stir fry thing as well. I've not made stir fry in a while though, I'll have to throw something together to see if I've gotten any better at it!

  23. Audra says

    I love Cashew Chicken! Definitely my go-to Chinese food order. This recipe looks way better! Thanks for sharing!

  24. Jeanette says

    Love stir-fries – they're such an easy and delicious way to incorporate protein and vegetables in one dish…and I love the addition of some crunch like your cashews!

  25. Claudie says

    Last week, I got some cashews as part of a baby shower gift. They were delicious, and I was left with the desire to get some more and cook with them — your recipe is the perfect occasion! 😉

  26. Kate@Diethood says

    I love this stuff! But I haven't had it in years. :/
    That plate looks real – like I can actually start poking at it with my fork!

  27. Elle says

    Want! I love a good stir fry. Easy and versatile. Mark Bittman's recipes are such great starting points to coming up with your own versions. Very nice!

  28. kita says

    I was at the market today looking for cashews so I could make this! As soon as I get my hands on some, I know what Im making. 😀

  29. Erin says

    This looks wonderful! Cashews is one of my favorite nuts. Love the gingers and all the other flavors – great job!

  30. MegSmith @ Cooking.In.College says

    Oh how I love stir-fries…they are the best. Adding nuts is one of my absolute favorites!

  31. MikeVFMK says

    Carolyn, this dish looks great! My wife loves cashew chicken and I've always wanted to make it for her so I just might have to try this recipe. Looks so good!

  32. Katrina {In Katrina's Kitchen} says

    Aw Boo. How did I miss this? It looks amazing. I love ginger in stir fry. And you are so right- pasta ans stir fry were among my first culinary endeavors.

  33. Susan says

    Hi Carolyn! I, too, love stir fry dishes. This plate looks wonderful! One thing that I've learned to do is to toss the cut up meat in a bowl with some cornstarch (just a tsp. or so, sesame oil (only a little), plum wine or semi-dry white, and a just a bit of white pepper. Let the meat sit for fifteen or twenty minutes while you prep everything else and when you stir fry it, it will have a soft velvety covering that is lightly flavoured … so good!

    I'm saving your recipe, as I do love cashew chicken and your has a nice kick to it!

  34. laura says

    yum! will bookmark this with my cookmarked.com account until i get all the ingredients rounded up! going to try this with seitan to make it vegan.

  35. Shirley says

    It was the same way for me in college! I just couldn't figure out why my stir-fries weren't good like my mom's. I like your broccoli tip. Broccoli and Chinese broccoli take so much longer to cook, and anything that's still in the wok then gets overcooked.

  36. Kelly says

    Hello! Tried your recipe today. I read it 6 times and couldn’t figure out where to put in the sesame oil when reading the directions. I knew I wasn’t going to cook the meat in it so I put it in with the soy sauce mixture. I used chicken tenderloins cut up and dried ginger. Also, to get more flavor I added more sesame oil, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. Next time I’m going to just use 1/4 cup water and 4 tbsp soy sauce. I also used 1/2 tbls cornstarch. It’s very yummy and I will make again and add water chestnuts.

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