These Sweet Basil Chicken bowls are inspired by Thai favorite Pad Krapow, but with quick-cooking ground chicken, a sweeter sauce, less chili heat, and fewer specialty ingredients. Kid-friendly and quick enough for a weeknight, these bowls are a recurring favorite here.

Bowl of Thai sweet basil chicken served over brown rice.

Full disclaimer right from the start: this is, clearly, not an authentic Thai dish. It is inspired, loosely, by a very authentic Thai favorite, Pad Krapow Gai, a traditional chicken preparation with holy basil and plenty of heat.

Believe me, left to my own devices, I could enjoy some street food-style, knock-your-socks-off Pad Krapow any day of the week. As a Mom of two, though, I am literally never left to my own devices, so here we are: an admittedly Americanized, more sweet than spicy, still utterly delicious variation. It works for my family, and may just work for yours, too. 🙂

Why You’ll Love It

  • Adds variety to the week. This is a relatively unique meal, nice to have in the line-up between the usual chicken breast, pasta, taco stand-by routine.
  • Done in 25 minutes. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s all cooked in one pan.
  • Accessible ingredients. The hardest thing to track down will be the Thai basil. I can usually find small, affordable packages of it at Whole Foods, but plan to grow my own this spring. And, yes, you can use regular Italian-style basil in a pinch. See more below.
  • Build-your-own bowls are fun. It’s undeniable: any dinner that lets people choose toppings is fun. This tastes great as-is, but also lends itself to fun add-ons.

Ingredients & Common Substitutions

Labeled photo showing ground chicken, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, red pepper, brown sugar, and Thai basil leaves arranged in prep bowls and plates.

Here are a few notes and shopping tips about the ingredients you’ll need to make this, as well as possible substitutions. Full ingredients & amounts are in the recipe card below.

  • Ground chicken. You can use a package that’s all light meat, all dark meat, or mixed. And yes, you can make this with chicken breasts or chicken thighs, as well–just slice them into thin bite-sized pieces and add to the skillet as called for, after the garlic and ginger. Add the peppers and sauce ingredients when the chicken pieces are just browned on the outside, but not quite fully cooked through.
  • Red bell pepper. This is one of the more significant changes made from Pad Krapow, which would include a red Thai chili pepper. Of course you can substitute in the Thai chili if you prefer more heat or that flavor. You can also use any other color of bell pepper you like or happen to have on hand.
  • Sauce ingredients: chicken broth, soy sauce (preferably low-sodium), fish sauce, and brown sugar. Though I haven’t personally tested it, I suspect honey would make a good substitute for the brown sugar.
  • Shallots, garlic, and ginger. Shallots add a nice mild flavor with a twinge of tang; substitute red onions if needed. Garlic is key. For the ginger, you can use a nub of fresh ginger, of course, but my go-to is frozen crushed ginger cubes, which pack terrific flavor and are so easy.
  • Thai basil: see below!
  • Vegetable oil, for cooking.

What is Thai basil? Do I really need it?

As Bon Appetit conveys better than I can, Thai basil has no excellent substitute. “A type of basil native to Southeast Asia and its cuisines, Thai basil is savory, spicy, and anise-like, adding a distinct pungency to dishes. It’s a vibrant, irreplaceable addition in many dishes, providing … herbaceous and savory notes.”

To complicate matters, there is another herb known as “holy basil,” sometimes called “Thai holy basil” because it, too, is used in Thai cooking. The main difference between Thai basil and holy basil is their flavor. As written in the Culinary Compass: “Thai basil has a sweet, anise quality whereas holy basil is found to be spicy and peppery.”

Use “regular” Thai basil for this recipe as written, or substitute holy basil if you prefer that peppery kick.

I usually do wait to make this dish (and my Thai green curry) until I have Thai basil in hand. However, if you’re desperate, go ahead and even use “regular” Italian basil. No judgment here, and I bet you’ll still enjoy dinner, which is what really matters. 🙂

How To Make Sweet Thai Basil Chicken

This is an overview. Full instructions with timing & temperatures are in the recipe card below.

Step One: Sauté shallots and aromatics in a bit of oil. This tenderizes the shallots and brings out the aroma and flavor of garlic and ginger. You can do this in a wok or in a regular high-sided skillet.

Step Two: Brown the chicken. Use a flat spatula to break it up into small pieces as it cooks.

Browned ground chicken in a skillet.

Step Three: Add peppers and sauce. Mix these in during the last minute or two of the chicken’s cook time: the peppers will become crisp-tender, and the sauce will reduce slightly will absorbing into the chicken and veggies for balanced flavor in every bite.

Browned chicken with sauce ingredients and sliced red bell pepper mixed in.

Choose your Sweet: Begin by adding just 1 Tablespoon of brown sugar, then taste the sauce, and add more if you prefer. For us, 1 slightly heaping Tablespoon is just right.

Step Four: Wilt basil and serve.

Close up of a Thai-inspired sweet basil chicken dish just cooked in a pan.

Serving Suggestions

Spoon generous portions of the chicken mixture over cooked rice for a cozy bowl everyone can enjoy. Brown rice is my favorite, my husband and kids prefer white, and of course cauliflower or another plant-based rice is also an option if you like.

This is delicious as-is, with just an extra leaf or two of Thai basil for a finishing touch. However, it’s also fun to serve with cashews and sliced mango. The salty crunchy cashews and sweet juicy mango complement each other and the flavors of the chicken perfectly. Plus everyone loves a build-your-own component. The choices are yours!

Bowl of Thai-inspired sweet basil chicken served over rice and with cashews and mango on top.

Storage & Reheating

This chicken reheats very well. I’m always happy to have it leftover because I know I’ll look forward to eating it for lunch another day!

  • Storage: Leftovers last very well for 3-4 days. Store in your favorite prep boxes in the refrigerator.
  • Reheating: Warm portions in the microwave for 1-2 minutes. I normally recommend heating chicken at 50% power, but in my experience it’s not necessary with this recipe because the ground chicken is so tender thanks to the sauce that it is not particularly susceptible to drying out. Of course you can also reheat portions on the stovetop–add a splash of extra broth if it starts sticking to the bottom of your pan.

I haven’t tried freezing this yet–if you do, let us know how it goes in the comments below.

More Asian-Inspired Recipes

Try this Thai-inspired green curry with shrimp and veggies, a chicken and asparagus stir fry, Korean ground beef bowls, or teriyaki chicken for your next quick and easy dinner. All repeat winners here!

If you try these Sweet Thai Basil Chicken Bowls, don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.

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Close up of a Thai-inspired sweet basil chicken dish just cooked in a pan.
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Thai-Inspired Sweet Basil Chicken Bowls

Inspired by Pad Krapow, but with a sweeter sauce, less chili heat, and fewer specialty ingredients. Kid-friendly and quick enough for a weeknight.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 shallots thinly-sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger can use fresh or frozen
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 red bell pepper or red Thai chili pepper, for more heat and traditional flavor, sliced
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 3 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar
  • big handful of Thai basil leaves
  • rice
  • cashews and mango optional for serving

Instructions

  • Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the shallots and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger. Cook for just 30-60 seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the ground chicken.
  • Cook the chicken for 4-5 minutes, breaking it up into small bits. When it is mostly browned, add the sliced pepper, followed by the chicken broth, soy sauce, fish sauce, and brown sugar. Start with 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, then taste the sauce and add more if you prefer it to be even more sweet.
  • Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid is mostly absorbed. Add a big handful of fresh Thai basil leaves, allow them to wilt lightly, and remove skillet from the heat. Serve over rice, and top with more Thai basil, or cashews and sliced mango, as desired. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Make it with Chicken Breasts: Slice about 1 pound of chicken breasts into thin bite-sized pieces. Add the pieces to the skillet as called for, after the garlic and ginger. Add the peppers and sauce ingredients when the chicken pieces are just browned on the outside, but not quite fully cooked through.
  • Nutrition Info: is an estimate based on the chicken, veggies, and sauce alone; it does not include toppings or rice, because that will vary considerably whether you use white, brown, cauliflower, etc. 

Nutrition Estimate

Calories: 207kcal, Carbohydrates: 9g, Protein: 22g, Fat: 9g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g, Monounsaturated Fat: 4g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 98mg, Sodium: 1216mg, Potassium: 795mg, Fiber: 1g, Sugar: 6g, Vitamin A: 933IU, Vitamin C: 40mg, Calcium: 28mg, Iron: 2mg
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