Kung Pao Chicken! Well, sort of...

A while ago, I found myself with a jar of apricot preserves and a jar of sunbutter in place of my usual berry jam and peanut butter. I didn't even hesitate in reaching for them when I needed a quick, transportable lunchtime meal for one of my busier days. I was expecting a pretty innocuous sandwich, with maybe a tangier note from the apricot and more sunflower-y note from the sunbutter - but what I got was a combination of flavors that melded in my mouth and left a vague sense of deja vu, in the best kind of way. I had tasted these two flavors together before, and I found myself making this sandwich on a regular basis to try to place it.

I was tasting Kung Pao Chicken.

Well, sort of.

Clearly, Kung Pao Chicken is not made with sunbutter and apricot preserves. Therefore, I will warn you right now that this recipe I am about to share with you is not actually, really, traditionally Kung Pao Chicken. But, if I'm not absolutely bananas, it has a flavor very reminiscent of the Chinese dish, and what it lacks in conventionality, it makes up for in downright awesomeness. You see, I took the flavors from the sandwich and turned them into a chicken and rice dish, and am very happy with the result. I have in my notes that it may be more akin to "Kung Pad Chicken," or some Chinese-Thai food hybrid of creamy, nutty marinades, sweet citrus glazes, and the chicken, vegetables and rice to serve as a delectable vehicle for it all.

I include this as part of National Nutrition Month with a disclaimer. There is nothing really unhealthy about this dish, aside from, perhaps, the sugar in the preserves. However, despite its healthy ingredients, I would imagine that this is fairly high calorie - I mean, anytime you take chicken, rice, and vegetables and saute them in a nut butter, you're going to get calories. Good calories, good fat, but calories and fat nonetheless. When I eat a high-fat meal like something containing a nut butter, I generally just keep an eye on the oil and fat eaten the rest of the day (ie I don't munch on almonds in the afternoon if I already ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch, and I certainly wouldn't eat this chicken dish in the same day as said peanut butter and jelly sandwich). You could also just go easy on the marinade or portion sizes if it works out to be higher calorie than you'd like to consume in one sitting. Just don't let the unsaturated fat scare you away from trying this, because modest amounts of the stuff are fantastic for the body, and generous amounts of this dish are fantastic for your taste buds.*

"Chicken Kung Floptimism"
Yield: 4-6 servings
(printable recipe)

The Ingredients
1 pound chicken breasts, sliced or cubed
1/4 cup sunflower butter
1/4-1/3 cup apricot preserves
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup broccoli (I used frozen)
1 1/2 cup green beans
1/4-1/2 bell pepper (red would be nice for color)
1/4-1/3 cup sliced onion
2-3 teaspoons canola oil, for sauteeing
rice, for serving

The Method
Combine the sunbutter, preserves, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and lemon juice in a small bowl. You may want to heat (microwave) the sunbutter for a little bit to thin it out.** Add the chicken and about half of the marinade to a shallow dish, like a pie plate, and toss to combine. Cover and place in the fridge to hang out for a little bit - anywhere from 20 minutes to a couple of hours should be fine.

Meanwhile, start the rice to cook. With about ten minutes remaining in the cooking time, heat the canola oil in a saute pan and add the chicken and vegetables. Saute over medium heat for about five minutes, then add the rest of the sauce and cook another five minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve atop or alongside rice.

*Because I was a little hesitant about the nutrition information about this dish, I ran it through a program I have and came out with this set of data, assuming that you get an average of 5 servings out of this and used the high end of each ingredient range I gave. These facts do not include rice, as portion sizes and types of rice used can change the analysis considerably. I was surprised by how modest it really turned out to be; up the fiber even more and counterbalance the higher glycemic sugar from the preserves by choosing brown rice instead of white:

Calories: 274
Fat, total: 12.4g
Fat, unsaturated: 11g
Carbohydrates, total: 20g
Carbohydrates, fiber: 2g
Carbohydrates, Sugar: 11.8g (a little high)
Protein: 22.6g

**I actually added some water to help this process along, so feel free to try that.

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