Zoodle Chicken Chow Mein

Zoodle Chicken Chow Mein

I was having a really bad case of writers block for this post. I love the recipe, but wasn't sure how to put words to it. The post that follows is only slightly connected (Chow mein, Chinese food, Beijing... you'll get it in a few more sentences. I hope. 😬), but once I started writing it the words flowed. Despite being almost unrelated to Chow Mein, I hope you'll like it! And the recipe is below, of course. 

The Beijing Olympics opened the fall of my Senior year of high school. I was in the thick of my gymnastics obsession, and could name every competitor that was going to compete in the event on the women's side. Honestly I probably knew their age, floor music, and home town at the time too. 

My entire high school gymnastics team crowded into a single living room to watch the all-around event. As I remember it, the competition was no easy win--the Chinese team had a load of talented athletes. My own team, piled on the couch, yelled at the TV as if the athletes in China could hear us. "Stick it!!!!!" and we'd cross our fingers as if we had as much riding on this competition as the athletes themselves.

Zoodle Chicken Chow Mein

Even though I don't keep track of the US National team anymore, I cherish those memories because they mark a time in my life where I had truly found my passion. It wasn't until I started gymnastics that I had any desire to participate in sports at all, so when I think back on the sport I see it as transformative. 

I had no interest in athletics at a younger age--I remember my dad lecturing me in fourth grade that I had to do something. But I disliked most of the sports that were available, and found that when I ran track in gym class I usually wound up coughing until my lungs bled. Soccer and running were the two big sports at my school, and I didn't want a slice of either of them, not even in gym class. 

When I took up gymnastics (late for a gymnast--at the age of 9 or 10), I don't think I even thought of it as a sport. It felt like play time. Being upside down became my favorite thing in the world. Our living room became my jungle gym, much to my mother's chagrin. I was sold. 

Zoodle Chicken Chow Mein

The 2008 Olympics felt especially important because they happened to take place during my last year as a competitive gymnast. I had no plans to go on to NCAA. While I wasn't in the Games (or even close to them,) it felt like this was it. And what a competition it was! Team USA took Silver (women's) and my favorite two athletes went 1 and 2 in the all-around (Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin). 

When I stopped competing, I found that gymnastics had given me a launching point (a trampoline, if you will 😉) to actual enjoy other sports. I took up running--something I had despised previously, and eventually trained for a marathon. I was never going to be an Olympic athlete but that's not what I was meant to get out of gymnastics. Instead I learned that if you simply do the things you enjoy, exercise doesn't feel like a chore. Sometimes I hear people refer to it like this, and I hope that they will just find the one thing they are passionate about, because that is life changing. Do what you love

Zoodle Chicken Chow Mein

Three years after the Beijing Olympics, watching gymnastics competitions was far from my mind. I had shoved it in a corner, along with other things I "used to do." Some how the headline made it to me--perhaps on Facebook, or maybe a magazine: Nastia Liukin announces retirement. I think I broke out into tears. While I did very little gymnastics any more, this was a sort of final page on the gymnastics chapter in my life. It was silly. The emotional piece of it is almost impossible to explain. It felt like good bye, but a good bye I couldn't articulate. I started reading gymnastics articles again for a short stint, and then I remembered: just do what you love. 

Following that passion led me to Acro Yoga, climbing, and biking--while I probably wouldn't have loved them years ago, gymnastics had taught me how to make exercise feel like playtime. And that's still how I think of it. 

Zoodle Chicken Chow Mein

P.S., I just learned that crossing chop sticks and leaving chopsticks in a bowl are both big no-nos. Of course I would learn this after shooting these images 🙄 Will have to remember for next time! 

Zoodle Chicken Chow Mein

Paleo, Primal, Grain-Free    |       |    Print This Recipe

Chicken and veggies are sautéd with a savory sauce and tossed with zucchini noodles for a lighter, more nutritious take on the classic take out dish. And while this recipe does call for chicken, you could mix things up by swapping in shrimp or pork instead.

Serves: 2   |    Total Time:



Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken cutlets (about a 1/2 pound), chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 cups zucchini noodles (I use this Spiralizer)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 cup mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup green beans, stems removed
  • 1/4 head napa cabbage, sliced thin
  • For serving: Sliced green onions, Sriracha or red pepper flakes

  • For the Sauce:
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon tapioca starch (or corn starch)

Directions:

  1. Heat coconut oil in a skillet or wok over medium heat until it glistens. Add diced chicken to skillet, and brown on each side.
  2. Add onion, garlic, mushrooms, and green beans to the skillet. Sauté until the onions are translucent and the green beans are bright green. Add cabbage, and stir.
  3. Make the sauce: in a small bowl, whisk all of the sauce ingredients together. Pour sauce into pan, and toss with vegetables to coat. Allow to simmer for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add zucchini noodles last, cooking just until tender.
  5. Serve in bowls and top with slices green onion and Sriracha or red pepper flakes as desired.

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Paleo Cashew Chicken Cabbage Cups

There's a small Asian grocer not far from where I work. It's a landmark for me--it's been in that same spot for as long as I can remember. Even before I cared enough to read the street signs, I knew where I was when I saw the Asian market. It family owned shop, with over-stuffed aisles and at least ten different types of coconut milk, more than seven colors of curry paste, and a case of vegetables that can't be found anywhere else in town. (Edit: when my Dad read this post, he reminded me that there's a whole wall of different types of rice noodles, and buckets of live crabs). When I was young, the shop owners ran a restaurant next door. It was cheap, saucy, full of umami, and felt like the real-deal. I didn't recognize half of the things on the menu (that added to the effect) and ordered the same thing every week for the first decade of my life: Cashew Chicken. 

Then one day, when I was still in elementary school, I asked for my usual, and the shop owner refused to take my order. He threw down his pen. "Look kid," he said in a thick accent, "you order the same thing every time! This time, you must try something different". My dad looked at me, and nodded in agreement. I was instantly stressed. How could I choose anything other than Cashew Chicken?! I looked at the rest of the menu for the first time in my life. That was the day a new era began. (That new era was the era of the Spring Roll, and for the next decade of my life, I only ordered Spring Rolls from that little restaurant). (They were really good Spring Rolls). (And that was really good Cashew Chicken). 

In recent years, the little shop and restaurant have changed hands. I don't visit it regularly anymore, unless I need something special, and that familiar man who made my Cashew Chicken from scratch for years is just a memory now. This recipe brings that memory to life in full swing: the vegetables are crisp and lightly blanched, the cashews are toasted and crunchy, and it's all smothered in a nutty savory sauce. Instead of serving this over rice, I serve it in cabbage cups, making it a grain-free meal. In place of store-bought hoisin sauce, I make my own paleo version. This recipe only uses 1 skillet, and goes from chopping board to fork in no more than 30 minutes. 

Paleo Cashew Chicken Cabbage Cups

Paleo, Primal, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free    |       |    Print Friendly and PDF

Serves: 5-7   |    Total Time:



Ingredients:

    Filling:
  • 1 pound chicken breast, cubed (Tip: ask your butcher to do this for you!)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 small white onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • 2 cups snow peas
  • 1 cup carrots, julienned
  • 1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 8-ounce can bamboo shoots, strained
  • 1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, strained
  • 2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce OR Worcestershire Sauce
  • Paleo Hoisin Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce OR coconut aminos
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower seed butter
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar OR rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce
  • To serve:
  • 1/3 cup whole unsalted cashews
  • 1 small head savory cabbage

Directions:

  1. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, garlic, and ginger.
  2. When the ginger is fragrant and starting to brown, add the chicken. Allow the chicken to brown on each side, stirring only occasionally. While the chicken cooks, stir together the the ingredients for the hoisin sauce.
  3. Sprinkle the arrowroot powder into the skillet and stir so that is coats the chicken. Add the vegetables, bamboo shoots, and water chestnuts to the skillet, along with the fish sauce/Worcestershire Sauce and Paleo Hoisin Sauce, and cover. Stir well, so sauce is well distributed. Cook for 3-5 minutes, just until the vegetables are tender.
  4. Sprinkle in the cashews, and red chili flakes. Carefully peal individual leaves from the head of cabbage. Wash and pat dry. Arrange the cabbage cups on serving plates and fill with a scoop of cashew chicken. Serve with a drizzle of Sriracha and chopsticks.

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