Kangkung Belacan is a well-loved “homey” dish in Malaysia. This simple but tasty dish hits all the right notes. It is spicy and crunchy with lots of umami flavor. Homesick Malaysians living overseas often list it in the Top 10 cravings from the home country.
Kangkung is the Malay word for water spinach or water convolvulus, a tropical semi-aquatic plant grown as a leaf vegetable found in parts of Asia and Southeast Asia. Back in the old days, it was a very inexpensive and ubiquitous vegetable. It can be used in stir fries and soups.
Kangkung grows and spreads very easily, especially in moist soil. In the past years, this vegetable was banned in Minnesota because it was considered to be a regulated invasive species. The ban has since been lifted (about 2 years back) but prices remain high due to the restricted availability.
Belacan (shrimp paste) is a common ingredient used in Southeast Asian cooking. It is made of fermented ground krill mixed with salt and is an essential ingredient in many sambals and curries. For the uninitiated, the flavor and scent can be quite challenging, to say the least. Always make sure your kitchen is well ventilated when cooking belacan or the scent will stay in the house for days.
For a well rounded flavor, toast the belacan before using. This is to remove the “raw” and “fishy” taste. Toasted belacan has a salty umami flavor. A little belacan goes a long way, so buy the best grade you can afford.
Kangkung can be gritty and should be washed in copious amount of water. Always make sure they are well drained before stir frying. Use a salad spinner if necessary to get rid of excess water.
- 1 lb (450g) kangkung/ong choy/ water spinach /convolvulus, cut into 3-inch lengths
- 3 red chilies, seeded and cut into chunks
- 1 small onion or 5 shallots, peeled and cut into chunks
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tbsp (15g) dried shrimps, soaked for 10 minutes to soften
- ¾ inch cube belacan (shrimp paste), toasted
- 2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
Be sure to rinse water spinach well as it can be gritty. Allow vegetables to drain in colander for at least an hour or use a salad spinner to get rid of excessive water.
Blend red chilies, onion or shallots, garlic, dried shrimps, and belacan with 2 to 3 tablespoons of water into a paste.
In a large pan or wok, heat oil. Saute blended mixture for 4 to 5 minutes until it is fragrant.
Add kangkung and fry on high heat for 2 to 3 minutes until vegetables are wilted.
Remove and serve immediately with steamed rice.
A well cooked Kangkung Belacan should be relatively dry and bright in color. The vegetables should still crunchy and not soggy. Only a bowl of steaming white rice is needed to complete the meal. Kangkung Belacan is the “real McCoy” but this Stir Fry Spicy Water Spinach is a close second.
Update (October 8th, 2014): Another vegetable that is often cooked in the same style is kacang botol (winged beans). I was pleasantly surprised to find them at the Asian market last weekend. That was the first time I have ever seen them here in the United States. I had to bring some home.
I cooked them for dinner and it was such a treat!
Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day!