Sambal Kangkong (Water Spinach with Chilli Paste)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Do you know that 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, and his 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 who was trying to set the useless emperor on the right path, so the concubine – actually a 'fox spirit' in human form – wanted to get rid of 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, and transformed 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. The stems 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!

(Recipe for 2 persons)

250 g kangkong (water spinach)
3 dried chillies, soaked in warm water till soft, about 1 hour, drain and discard water
1 tbsp dried prawns, soaked in 1 tbsp water till soft, about ½ hour
1 red chilli
2 cili padi (bird's eye chilli)
3 shallots
1 clove garlic
½ tsp belachan, toasted till fragrant

2 tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar

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

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.

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 cili padi if you like.

In a stonking hot wok, stir-fry sambal in vegetable oil over high heat till fragrant. Add salt and sugar. Stir through. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. 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. Plate and serve immediately.


JH said...

Wah, I didn't know that! Thank you for sharing :)

KT said...


Here's something else you may not know: It was 姜太公 – you know, the old man who loved fishing without bait – who cast the spell on 比干.

财神爷 and 姜太公 used to be colleagues – small world!

Anonymous said...


You are such a good story teller:) readers are confused...

KT said...

Hopefully, out of confusion comes enlightenment.

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