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Thai Basil Ground Beef Bowl


Thai Basil Ground Beef on a plate with rice and a skillet.

Ever since my trip to Thailand I have been head over heels for Thai food. Luckily in Los Angeles, I can find amazing and authentic dishes in Thai Town, but many times I want to create it at home and have more control of the ingredients. One of my favorite spicy dishes is Thai Holy Basil Beef, or Gai Pad Krapow, so I set out to create a quick and healthier version at home using ground beef since that is what I had on hand. Now, this version isn’t completely traditional, but it sure is delicious.

Since not everyone is lucky enough to have great Thai places nearby, let’s start with what this dish is. Thai Basil Beef Stir Fry (or chicken) is a traditional Thai dish made with meat, Thai holy basil, garlic, Thai chili peppers, soy sauce, and sugar. Some versions also use oyster sauce. It’s traditionally served as street food and is super popular. It can be made with chicken, beef, or pork and many times you will see versions with tofu as well. 

Now let’s talk about the basil. There are three types of basil used in Thai cooking  – Thai holy basil, Thai sweet basil, and Thai lemon basil. However, outside of Thailand, it is difficult to find these unique varieties and many times you will only see one type of basil labeled Thai basil. This is most likely Thai sweet basil. Any of them will work for this recipe and if you can’t find Thai basil, regular basil will work just fine. 

A few notes about the recipe. If you can’t find Thai basil, regular basil will work just fine. You can also mix up the veggies in the recipe and substitute for the asparagus with any quick cooking vegetable. Chinese broccoli or baby bok choy would be delicious, as would sugar snap peas, green beans, or broccoli. Lastly. traditionally this dish would have Oyster sauce and a bit of sugar. I left it out since I have been trying to cut back on refined sugars, but you could easily add it in. A couple teaspoons are more than enough.

Thai Beef Basil Stir Fry on a plate with cauliflower rice and chopsticks.

Can you make this with ground turkey or chicken instead?

Absolutely! This dish can be made with any type of ground meat you like. If you want to lighten things up, 99% lean ground chicken or turkey is a great option. For those on Weight Watchers, this will reduce to the points to just 2 for the dish.

And in case you are wondering, you can make this dish with sliced chicken breast, thinly sliced beef, or thinly sliced pork as well. You will need to add about one tablespoon of oil to cook the chicken, garlic, ginger, and asparagus so it doesn’t burn. Then just follow the directions as written.

How can I make a vegetarian version of this dish?

If you want to make a vegetarian Thai Basil dish, there are a few options. First, you could substitute vegetarian crumbles for the beef. Since this cooks like ground beef, you can make the recipe as written just using the vegetarian crumbles and a touch of oil. Thinly sliced tempeh is another option and you don’t have to make too many recipes adjustments. Just make sure to brown it with some oil before adding the garlic, ginger, and asparagus.

If you want to make a version with tofu, start by pressing the tofu so that it can get nice and crispy. Then dredge it very lightly in cornstarch and cook it over high heat with oil so that it gets crispy on all side. Remove the tofu and set aside. Cook the garlic, ginger, and vegetables and then add back the tofu with you add the soy sauce and chili. You may need to add a little extra soy sauce to flavor the tofu. 

Thai Basil Ground Beef in a bowl with fresh basil and a wooden background.

How can I make this dish Paleo or Whole30 friendly?

To make this dish work for Paleo, Whole30, or gluten-free diets, simply swap in coconut aminos for the soy sauce. Coconut aminos are allowed on all three of these diets and has a very similar flavor to soy sauce.

Can I use pre-made cauliflower rice?

Absolutely! Using cauliflower rice that is already riced is a great way to speed up the cooking process. You can use either fresh or frozen cauliflower rice for this recipe. If your cauliflower rice is frozen, it may take a couple extra minutes to cook.

This recipe was originally published in 2015 and has been a huge reader favorite! It has been updated with new photos, a video, and tips for cooking.

Calories 300, Total Fat 12g, Total Carbohydrate 14g, Protein 38g, Serving Size 2 cups

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