One of our favorite ways to prepare leafy greens is the Malaysian and Indonesian meal kangkung belacan, which consists of water spinach stir-fried with fermented shrimp paste (belacan).
A Malaysian restaurant in New Jersey was the first place we tried it, though it’s available throughout Southeast Asia. There was a plethora of savory, fragrant umami sensations. When dining out, we always eat Malaysian cuisine.
Several commentators on our recent post for Belacan Sauce requested this kangkung belacan recipe.
WHAT IS KANGKUNG?
Water spinach, known as kangkung in Malay and Indonesian, is a popular item in most Chinese supermarkets. It is a long, leafy green vegetable with hollow stems.
The literal translation of its Mandarin name, “hollow heart vegetable,” is kōng xīn cài (空心菜). It’s called ong choy in Cantonese households.
The Filipino pronunciation is kangkong, however you might also see it spelled with a k. Filipinos use bagoong, a fermented shrimp/seafood paste, to make a dish called kangkong.
WHAT IS BELACAN?
The term “belacan” is most often associated with a Malay style of fermented shrimp paste, however, variations of this paste can be found all around Southeast Asia and even Southern China. If you’re familiar with fish sauce, you’ll like this. Despite its unpleasant aroma, it is a great source of flavor and umami when added to food.
While “paste” suggests a liquid condiment, belacan is typically offered in dry, solid blocks. For starters, tiny shrimp are fermented in salt till dried. To make the blocks, the shrimp are first dried, then mashed into a paste.
The salt fermentation process is responsible for belacan’s characteristically strong aroma, flavor, and umami. Most of the time, belacan is roasted to enhance its distinctive smoky flavor.
Making use of our Belacan Sauce in the creation of this recipe
We’ve adapted our recipe for Belacan Sauce, a Malaysian sambal made with dried belacan, together with dried shrimp, chilies, shallots, and garlic, to create this kangkung belacan.
There are instructions in the recipe for creating a simplified version of it from scratch, in case you haven’t tried it yet. Having a jar of ready-made Belacan sauce in the fridge will make this dish go together much more quickly.
Enjoy this traditional Malaysian and Indonesian leafy green stir-fry, whichever you like it!
- 1 1/2 pounds of water spinach
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup of belacan sauce
- 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon of julienned fresh ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon of sugar
- 1/8 teaspoon of MSG
- 1/8 teaspoon of white pepper
- salt to taste
QUICK BELACAN SAUCE:
- 2 chopped and de-seeded dried red chili peppers
- 1 fresh holland chili, chopped
- 1 thinly sliced medium shallot
- 1 clove of garlic, sliced
- 2 tablespoons of rinsed dried shrimp
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons of belacan
FOR THE BELACAN:
- Please use these instructions to whip up a speedy batch of our belacan sauce if you haven’t already done so.
- The dried shrimp should be soaked in a quarter cup of water before being chopped and added to a mortar and pestle. Incorporate the belacan, shallot slices, garlic, dry chili, and holland chili, as well. The ingredients must be thoroughly blended. It’s important that the belacan blends in completely with everything else. Make room in your schedule for 15 minutes and chill.
- Put the sauce mixture in a wok or a skillet with 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil and cook it over medium heat. Fry for 5–8 minutes, stirring regularly, until aromatic, watching carefully to ensure it doesn’t burn. Put aside for the time being.
SPINACH FROM WATER (KANGKUNG), TRIM AND WASH:
- Take off and throw away the water spinach’s rough, unappetizing tips, which can be between 1 and 2 inches long. Toss any unfresh or browning leaves out.
- You should slice the remaining water spinach into pieces that are between 2 and 3 inches (5-8 cm) long. Place them in a big basin filled with ice water. To ensure thorough cleaning, they need to be soaked completely. It’s best to use your hands to jiggle the water and the vegetables together to get rid of any dirt. Allowing the water to soak for 5-10 minutes will let any sand or dirt settle out.
- The water spinach can be transferred to a colander with a gentle lift. Throw out the dirty water and rinse the vegetables again and again until they are spotless.
- Then, drain the water entirely by shaking the colander. Spinach washed in filtered water can be further dried in a salad spinner.
GET YOUR OTHER INGREDIENTS READY AHEAD OF TIME:
- Julienne the ginger, chop the garlic, and measure out the Shaoxing wine, sugar, MSG, and white pepper.
- Prepare a smoking wok by heating it over medium-high heat. As soon as the ginger and garlic are chopped, add them to the pan along with 3 tablespoons of oil. Then, add the belacan sauce and stir for another five to ten seconds. Keep cooking for another 10 seconds before including the water spinach.
- Boost the temperature to its maximum setting and combine the oil, sauce, and veggies with a scooping motion. As soon as the vegetables begin to wilt, collect them into a central mound in the wok.
- Cover the wok and pour the Shaoxing wine along the outer rim. This will allow the wok’s edges to heat up while keeping the vegetables from scorching on the bottom. It’s a tried-and-true Cantonese method that works even without a massive stovetop fire to impart that signature wok-hei seared flavor.
- Wait 30-60 seconds before taking the cover off your stove, depending on how hot it becomes. Add the sugar, MSG, and white pepper and stir well.
- The vegetables should be spread out around the sides of the wok and stir-fried in a circular motion to create a good sear on the wok’s outside edge.
- After 30 seconds of heating (with the lid off), return the vegetables to the center of the wok and repeat the process. If more salt is needed, taste it. Rapid service is required.