KitchenTigress: Sambal Kangkong (Water Spinach in Chilli Paste)

Sambal Kangkong (Water Spinach in Chilli Paste)

Sambal kangkong is a vegetable dish that even vegetable haters love. Kangkong, a green leafy veggie with hollow stems, is stir-fried with sambal over extreme high heat. Best eaten piping hot, good sambal kangkong is crunchy, spicy and smoky.

Did you know there's a connection between kangkong and the God of Fortune, aka 财神爷?

I'm guessing you don't, so here's the story:

3,000 years ago, China was ruled by an emperor who knew diddly squat about everything. As with all useless emperors, he had a wicked concubine. She was called 妲己.

One day, 妲己 pretended to be ill and said she needed to eat 比干's heart to be cured.

比干 was the good guy. He was trying to set the useless emperor on the right path, so the concubine – actually a "fox spirit" in human form – wanted to kill him.

Fortunately for 比干, one of his colleagues cast a spell on him so that he could live after his heart was dug out. There were, however, conditions: upon losing his heart, 比干 had to leave the city on a galloping horse till he was at least 2,000 miles away, without looking back.

The bad news was, the evil concubine/fox heard about the spell. She gave chase, after transforming herself into an old woman selling kangkong.

"Kangkong! Kangkong!" the concubine/fox/old woman shouted . . .

Oops, sorry, she didn't speak Malay. It should be "空心菜! 空心菜!"

Note: Kangkong is a type of spinach. It has stems that are hollow in the middle, so Chinese call it 空心菜, which means hollow/heartless vegetable.

Upon hearing the old woman's cries, 比干 turned around to ask her what 空心菜 was. As he did, he fell from his horse and died because the spell was broken.

What's all this got to do with the God of (Good) Fortune? Well, the stupid guy who couldn't follow simple instructions was deified as said god after he died.


Because he was heartless, so he couldn't favour anyone and would always be fair. That, I suppose, outweighed his inability to focus and not get distracted!

The key to good stir-fried kangkong is a very hot wok. If too much is cooked in one go, the wok wouldn't be hot enough. Hence, this recipe is for 250 g kangkong, which is only 150 g or so after trimming the roots. That's enough for 2 portions. If you need to make more, I suggest stir-frying the sambal in one go, then the kangkong in batches.

sambal kangkong
  • 250 g kangkong (water spinach)
  • 3 dried chillies – soak in warm water till soft (about 1 hour), drain, discard water
  • 1 tbsp dried prawns – soak in 1 tbsp water till soft (about ½ hour)
  • 1 red chilli
  • 2 bird's eye chilli
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ tsp belachan – toast till fragrant

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp sugar

  1. Trim and discard roots of kangkong. Wash, then break thicker stems by pressing with fingers. Chop into 8-cm (3-inch) pieces. Set aside to drain.

  2. Wash, peel and roughly chop sambal ingredients as appropriate. Drain dried prawns, setting aside the water. Blend or pound everything into a fine paste. Have a taste and add more chillies if you like.

  3. In a very hot wok, stir-fry sambal in vegetable oil over high heat till fragrant. Add salt and sugar. Stir through. Taste and if necessary adjust seasoning. Add kangkong and stir-fry till just wilted, 30 seconds or so, drizzling with the water for soaking dried prawns towards the end. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary.

  4. Plate and serve immediately.