While it may sound like the King Kong’s twin brother, kangkung is actually an Asian semi-aquatic vegetable that’s widely used in the cuisines of Southeast Asia. While the spear shaped leaves may look foreign, one look at the white flowers adorned with a purple star and you’d guess correctly that kangkung is related to morning glories and sweet potatoes.
It has a marvelously crisp, fibrous texture that reminds me a bit of snow pea shoots. Loaded with Vitamin A, and with nearly double the vitamin C of regular spinach, it’s no slacker in the nutrient department either. This preparation which literally translates to “fried kangkung” is made by sauteing it with a pungent paste made from shallots, garlic, chili, dried shrimp and belacan.
While all the ingredient in the paste contribute a ton of flavor, it’s the last ingredient that gives this dish its characteristic flavor and intense umami. Made by fermenting krill for months before frying, belacan comes in chocolate colored blocks that are a bit like bouillon cubes in saltiness and concentration. If you’re not a big fan of fishy things, the aroma can be overwhelming, but if you can get past the smell, it’s so incredibly flavorful it makes fish sauce and even anchovies taste bland by comparison.
- 250 grams (8.8 ounces) water spinach
- 35 grams shallot (1 large) peeled and trimmed
- 11 grams garlic (2 cloves) peeled and trimmed
- 2 or 3 red chili peppers (to taste)
- 20 grams (0.7 ounces) dried shrimp
- 10 grams (0.35 ounces) belacan (loosely packed tablespoon)
- 4 grams (0.15 ounces) gula melaka (palm sugar)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Wash, trim and cut the kangkung into 4 segments.
- Put the shallot, garlic, chili peppers, dried shrimp, belacan, and gula melaka in a mortar and pound with a pestle until it forms a chunky paste. You can also pulse them in a food processor.
- Heat the oil in a large saute pan or wok until hot. Add the shrimp mixture and saute until fragrant and dark brown. Add the kangkung and 2 tablespoons of water and cover the pan with a lid.
- Steam for 1 minute and then remove the lid. Toss the vegetables and shrimp together until they're evenly distributed.
- Serve immediately.
Yield: 2 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.