Spicy Water Spinach (Sambal Kangkong): The aromatic spicy sambal sauce used to fry this vegetable is made from chilli, dried shrimp and shallots, and packs a punch when it comes to flavour! A definite MUST-TRY if you love spicy Chinese food!
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Water Spinach or Water Morning Glory is a semiaquatic, tropical plant that flourishes in water and moist soil. In Southeast Asia, this vegetable is known as Kangkong or Kangkung (空心菜 kong xin cai). Kangkong is inexpensive and easily available in the wet markets and supermarkets. And it is used in variety of Malaysian, Singaporean, Indonesian and Thai foods, including the popular Indonesian dish known as ‘Gado Gado’.
Stir-fried Sambal Kangkong (Kangkung Belacan in Malay, 马来风光 Ma Lai Feng Guang in Mandarin) is a very popular dish in Singapore and Malaysia. And it is a definitely a MUST-ORDER dish if you are eating at one of the ubiquitious Chinese food stalls selling ‘cooked-to-order’ homestyle dishes (also known as ‘Zi Char’ stalls) situated in most neighbourhood eateries.
While the cost price of the dish is low, the margins charged on this dish is sky high. To give you a sense, a bundle of water spinach costs less than S$1 per bundle, but a small serving of Stir-fried Kangkung Belacan at one of these humble eateries can easily cost more than S$10. Despite this, most people still like to order this dish to accompany other ‘Zi Char’ items like Sweet and Sour Pork, Shrimp Paste Chicken, Coffee Pork Ribs (咖啡排骨), Crispy Cereal Prawns (麦片虾) and many more Singaporean favourites!
Or course, a more economical option is to cook your own Sambal Kangkong at home. Some people love that unmistakable Sambal Belacan aroma that emerges when frying Sambal Kangkong, while others may find it too over-powering. But whatever the case, this aromatic spicy sauce, made from chilli, dried shrimp, shallots and oil, packs a punch when it cames to flavour! And if you have ever tasted Sambal Kangkong in its full ‘glory’ (excuse the pun!), I’m sure you will agree with me that a mouth-watering plate of freshly cooked Sambal Kangkong is worth holding your breath for!
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Hope you enjoy this recipe, and please leave me a comment below if you have any questions, suggestions or feedback for me!
Suggested Modifications for Special Diets
- Egg-Free: No modifications needed.
- Fish-Free: No modifications needed.
- Nut-Free: No modifications needed.
Spicy Water Spinach (Sambal Kangkong)
- 500 gm Kang Kong (Water Spinach)
- 70 gm Dried shrimps 'Hay Bee'
- 8 Dried Chillies
- 2 Chilli Padi
- 3 Big Red Chilli
- 8-10 Shallots
- 3 cloves Garlic
- 10 gm Belachan
- 4-5 TBsp Oil
- 1/4 tsp Corn flour
- 1/2 tsp Water
- 150 ml Water (including water from soakinng dried shrimp)
PREPARATION METHOD FOR SPICY WATER SPINACH (SAMBAL KANG KONG) (15 min)
- Toast the dried shrimp paste (belachan) in a toaster, or pan fry it without oil until it becomes aromatic.
- Remove the seeds from the dried chillies, fresh chillies and chilli padi.
- Soak the dried chilli in hot water for about 10 mins. Then wash and pat dry.
- Blend all the chillies and the toasted belachan together, then set aside.
- Wash the dried shrimps and soak them in hot water for about 10 mins. Remove the heads, legs and shells from the dried shrimps if any. Then chop them up coarsely and set it aside.
- Remove the skin from the shallots and garlic. Then wash and pat dry.
- Chop the garlic coarsely and set aside. Next, slice the shallots thinly and set aside.
- Holding the bundle of kang kong, measure and cut off 6-7cm from the roots. Discard the bottom half. Then wash the kang kong to get rid of any sandy particles.
- Break off the kang kong into 6cm lengths, separating the stems from the leafy sections into different colanders to drain dry.
- Mix the 1/4 tsp of cornflour with 1/2 tsp of water and set aside.
COOKING METHOD FOR SPICY WATER SPINACH (SAMBAL KANG KONG) (10 min)
- In a wok, heat up 4-5 TBsp of oil over medium heat.
- Add in the shallots and fry until limp. Then add in the dried shrimp and garlic and fry till aromatic.
- Lower the heat and add in the blended chilli-belachan mixture. Continue to fry the ingredients, stirring constantly for about 1-2 mins.
- Turn heat to high and add in the kang kong stems, stirring until the stems are well coated with the sambal chilli. Continue to fry the stems until they turn soft. (The 'Spatula Test': Use the metal spatula to cut the stem. If it cuts through easily, the stems are soft enough.)
- Next add in the kang kong leaves and mix well with the stems. Pour in 150ml of water and continue to cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until the leaves wither while the stems remain green.
- Give the cornflour mixture a stir before adding it to the kang kong, stirring quickly for a few seconds.
- Transfer to the sambal kang kong to a serving plate, and serve hot.
- Fresh Kang Kong should be firm and green. Avoid buying water spinach that is already limp and/or yellow.
- Wash the Kang Kong properly to get rid of any sandy particles, which are quite unpleasant to ingest.
- Discard stems which are too 'old', especially the end closest to the roots.
- It is best the wash the Kang Kong BEFORE before breaking off the sections, because the stems are hollow and they may take in a lot of water. The retained water will be released during the cooking process, and end up 'flooding' the wok.
- For the very same reason, its not advisable to soak the Kang Kong in water.
- Do not overcook the Kang Kong. It should have a soft yet slightly crunchy texture.
- The heat must be turned up to high when frying the Kang Kong, to give off that 'burnt wok' aroma ('Wok Hei' in Cantonese).
- Turn the heat to down to low when frying the sambal spices, as it tends to get burnt easily and the dried chopped shrimp will splatter all over.
- If you prefer sambal fried with a different vegetable, there are plenty you can choose from. The most popular ones are Sambal Okra (ladies' fingers), Sambal Brinjal (egg plant/aubergines), and Sambal Long Beans just to name a few. If you are using an alternative, please adjust the quantity of the ingredients accordingly.