Saturday, February 02, 2008

mother of invention via Bali

Kangkung, water spinach or Ipomoea aquatica if you prefer – is an aquatic vegetable abundant in Southeast Asia. I’d heard about it long before I tasted it. The journey to my table was even longer.

The wonders of kangkung were uttered to me by a Malaysian woman I met about 5 years ago. “Please”, she entreated me “if you come and visit us in the country again bring us some kangkung.”

I had no idea what this king kong thing was. An Asian vegetable, triangular shaped leaves, high in iron. Schlepping around the Vic market I searched in vain for this vegetable, being sent here, there and everywhere by various stallholders but never ending up finding it in time for my last visit to see her.

Bali, of course, changed all that. Kangkung Pelecing is a staple on the island. We had it as our dose of daily greens on many occasions but the best of all was the large bowl assembled at our cooking class at Casa Luna.

I had every good intention of making it when I got home.

It’s only taken 6 months!

When I saw the glistening, fresh bunches at Vic market this week, I knew I had to buy some. I couldn’t remember what else was in the sambal but I reckoned I could wing it with what we had at home.

Necessity is the mother of invention. I had the Kangkung and dammit I was going to cook at least something vaguely resembling kangkung pelecing.

This is my version, interrupted halfway through preparation by a unexpected visitor, undeterred by an oil splatter on my naked arm (ouch!) or dirtying my brand new top (I really must get an apron) – I took the easy path by using a food processor and cooking the kangkug in the sambal. No shallots, candlenuts or kecap manis and fewer chillies than I would have liked – just as well because you aren’t allowed to reproduce the Casa Luna recipes!

Kangkung Pelecing (Water spinach in tomato sambal)

2 bunches of kangkung, well rinsed - stems roughly chopped
2-3 lime leaves, shredded
2-3 tablespoons of coconut oil
1 large spring onion, sliced on the diagonal (optional)

Tomato sambal

2 large red chillies (more if you have them)
2-3 tomatoes,
1 medium red onion (shallots would be better)
3 cloves of garlic
a small handful of nuts (almonds worked fine, though Id intended to use cashews)
a tsp or 2 of palm sugar
sea salt, to taste
1 tsp shrimp paste

Prepare the shrimp paste in the usual way. I wrap it in a double layer of al foil and dry roast in a hot fry pan for a few minutes.

Throw all the sambal ingredients in a food processor and blitz it. How easy is that?

Heat a wok and add the oil. Fry the sambal for about 5 minutes until it is reduced by nearly half. Traditionally you would have steamed the vegetables then mixed the sambal through it by hand but I noticed on the bottom of the recipe that throwing the kangkung in raw and cooking it in the sauce is was an acceptable variation to the method. With the wok still bubbling add the kangkung stalks and cook in the sambal for a few minutes. Add the lime leaves and spring onions then lastly the kangkung leaves. Give it a good mix through and take off the heat.

This is a fragrant and incredibly tasty vegetable side dish to an Asian meal. It also makes an easy lunch with rice on a hot day. Tofu could be added for it to become a stand-alone dish.

Weekend Herb Blogging is hosted this month by Claudia from Fool for Food.

Update: Did I articulate just how yummy the sambal is?! Don't be put off if you can't find this exotic vegetable, English spinach is an obvious substitute but be adventurous and try mixing the sambal through your favourite steamed greens.

I've now made three variations on this dish. Remember to keep in mind (on palate?) the salt/sugar balance. Like so many culinary beauties it is another case of 'just a bit more' of the things that are not so healthy for us. In this case it's the coconut oil that makes it lush, along with the palm sugar and salt. It is easiest to boil the kangkung for about 3 minutes. The latest version was to cook the sambal in the oil for 7-10 minutes then throw in the boiled vegetable with some diced tofu. Along with some steamed rice the combo is tasty and satisfying.

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Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

Hooray! I'm always so excited when someone comes up with an ingredient that's brand new to me. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a recipe with this before. Now if only I could travel to some exotic Asian location and try some myself! Great post!

1:58 pm  
Blogger GS said...

Hi Kalyn, welcome back. I read that it is a noxious weed in some Southern states in the USA, I think due to it clogging waterways. Of course you could use english spinach instead but that's not half as fun as finding a new ingredient.

5:15 pm  
Blogger Lucy said...

Right, will report back when I've made it tonight. Looks sensational - love those flavours in the sambal.

Did you see the Rojak made on SBS Food Safari's Singaporeean edition a week or two ago?

By the way, my bloke had NO trouble getting the smoked roe through customs. It wasn't even vacuum-sealed. Very happy.

7:45 am  
Blogger GS said...

Thanks Lucy - will investigate the smoked fish thing on next trip! Didn't see the Singaporean episode of FS but am hanging out for the Sri Lankan one this week! Let me know how the sambal goes.

8:31 am  
Blogger Lucy said...

Stunning flavours. The sambal is INCREDIBLY yum and would be good year-round with all sorts of greens, but with the water spinach it is perfect. Thanks. A new favourite.

10:30 am  
Blogger Anna (Morsels and Musings) said...

i have seen this veggie in chinatown but couldn't get a straight answer from anyone on how to cook it, until i went to bali too.
i had the same intention as you, to cook it back in AU, but i've been very remiss also. you've inspired me to get my act together!

10:48 am  
Blogger GS said...

Glad this has helped get people back on the kankkung bandwagon. $1.20 a bunch from Vic Market - what could be better!

12:39 pm  
Blogger grocer said...

I've only just come across your blog via... syrup & tang. Anyhow I just wanted to say that I LURVE kangkung.

I also blogged about it recently as I am seeing it around more and more frequently.

The Chinese call it ong choi - that might help if you are ever looking for it at markets and asian grocers...

4:21 am  

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