There’s a variation of this easy stir fry in just about every South East Asian country and this is my interpretation of each brought together. Also, look how well used my wok is. I am protective of it like a mother is of her child and a person like me is of cats. It would probably be in my top seventy things I would take along in the stranded on a desert island scenario (which, by the way, WHY DO PEOPLE ASK THAT QUESTION).
Water spinach is a hollow stemmed versatile leafy green that grows in, you guessed it, water. The leafy tops are tender when cooked, while the stems maintain a crisp bite if prepared well. Well known and used throughout East Asia, it’s increasingly easy to find this vegetable in UK based Asian grocery shops as well. In London, you will find it just about anywhere in Chinatown (or, if you’re East, in one of the many Vietnamese supermarkets along Mare and Well Streets).
Sometimes shops label water spinach differently, so just in case you’re looking and can’t find it then here’s what it’s called in a million other languages. It tends to come in massive 500 gram bags, but pak boong cooks down to about 25% of its picked volume (so don’t fret about purchasing what looks like such a large quantity).
English: water spinach, water morning glory, Chinese spinach, swamp cabbage, water convolvulus
Vietnamese: rau muống
Thai: pak boong
Cantonese: ong choy
Burmese: gazun ywet
Lao: phak bong
To retain the bold green colour of morning glory, first blanch it in boiling water for just a few seconds before draining and plunging in cold water until you’re ready to cook with the vegetable. If you must, substitute spinach or bok choi for the water spinach, but it won’t be the same and so just don’t do it. Forget I said anything. Try adding a cube of fermented bean curd to enhance the flavour (but cut out some of the soy sauce if you do). Some stock might also be added at the final stage, but I prefer a less soupy dish that gets its salt and flavour from soy condiments alone.
Jasmine rice or steamed sticky rice are really all you need alongside this dish, should you want an accompaniment.
Stir Fried Water Spinach
- Heat the oil in a wok over medium-high heat. When the wok is hot, add the oil.
- Add the garlic and shallot and stir fry until they begin to brown lightly. You can add chilli in this step if you want a spicier dish.
- Turn the heat up to high and add the water spinach to the wok, stir frying for a minute or two until the leaves are wilted. Tip the salted soy beans and palm sugar into the wok and continue stir frying for a further 30 seconds or so, just until the palm sugar is melted and the liquid is mixed through.
- Serve immediately with a healthy squeeze or ten of fresh lime juice.