I have been eating water spinach for as long as I can remember chewing food. Few children love vegetables, but even as a toddler I loved these long stalks of water spinach that stayed crunchy even when wilted. Of course, it helped that my parents never called it spinach.
The Chinese for water spinach is 空心菜 (kong xin cai)，which literally means “empty-hearted vegetable.” Indeed, the long hollow stalks have the advantage of holding onto all flavorings they are cooked with. Unlike gai lan (Chinese kale) or plain old lettuce, it sops up sauce very well. Often cooks stir-fry it with fermented tofu. But I prefer what Chinese restaurants mean when they say “qing chao”, or “clear stir-fry.”
“Qing chao” is music to the ears whenever I’m in a Chinese restaurant and have just rattled off list of spicy and fried dishes to the waitress, which is more often than not. It adds a healthy dimension to your meal. Same goes for cooking at home. So if you’re ever looking for a side dish to go with my Red-Cooked Pork, General Tso’s Chicken, or Spicy Wok-Fried Chicken.
Other vegetable sides to try:
Chinese Stir-fried Water Spinach
1 bunch of fresh water spinach, washed
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
3-5 cloves smashed garlic
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
*Alternatively, you can add a few drops of soy sauce or hoisin sauce instead of chili flakes for flavor
Heat peanut oil in a wok or large skillet over high head. Toss in smashed garlic. When you smell the first hints of garlic, or when the garlic begins to brown, throw in water spinach. Watch as the large bunch wilts and shrinks. Pour in water and cover with lid for 1 minute for stalks to steam through. Add sesame oil, chili flakes if using, salt and pepper. Toss with a spatula or a flick of the wrist. Take water spinach off stove, serve hot with your other mains and sides.