A simple dish rich in flavours, Cantonese water spinach stir-fry shows you a very tasty way to cook leafy greens. It only takes a minute to cook.
What is water spinach
Water spinach is a type of leafy green vegetable popular in East and Southeast Asian cuisines. It’s also known as river spinach, Chinese spinach or water morning glory. In Chinese, a number of names are used for it in different regions, such as Kōng Xīn Cài/空心菜, Tōng Cài/通菜, Wèng Cài/蕹菜, etc.
The hollow stems are the key feature of this vegetable, whereas the leaves resemble those of willow trees. As for the taste, it shares some similarities with regular spinach but has a little less earthy flavour and more sweetness.
A classic Cantonese stir-fry
Like spinach and many other Asian leafy greens, it takes a very short time to cook. Today’s recipe, water spinach with fermented tofu and chilli (Jiāo Fǔ Tōng Cài/椒腐通菜) is a classic Cantonese dish which only needs a minute to stir-fry.
The intense heat and brief cooking time allow the stems to retain their crunchy texture. The flavour is great too: garlicky, umami, aromatic with a hint of winey taste. If you enjoy Chinese stir-fried dishes and look for vegetarian recipes, this is a great one to try.
Ingredients for seasoning
Apart form water spinach, you’ll need the following for this recipe:
- Garlic, a standard aromatic used in Chinese vegetable stir-fries
- Fresh chilli pepper. Red ones with mild heat are usually used for a contrast colour
- Fermented tofu (see more information below)
- Shaoxing rice wine
- Salt & sugar. A pinch of each would be enough
What is fermented tofu
A popular Chinese condiment, fermented tofu (Fǔ Rǔ/腐乳) is also known as fermented bean curd, tofu cheese, preserved tofu, etc. This preserved ingredient is made of soybeans, salt, rice wine, spices, etc. During the fermentation process, it develops a complex flavour: savoury, fragrant and winey. Its creamy, smooth texture resembles that of soft cheese.
Apart from being consumed directly with congee, spread over steamed buns or added to hot pot sauces, fermented tofu is also used in cooked dishes (e.g. for seasoning the broth of braised beef shank). It’s the key flavour component of today’s water spinach stir-fry.
🛎TIPS: You can find fermented tofu in most Chinese/Asian stores. It usually comes in blocks with brine stored in jars. There are two varieties: the white version and the red version. For this recipe, the former is recommended.
If you have trouble sourcing it, you may cook this dish without it, just like how you cook Bok Choy Stir-fry (but without the blanching process).
Step 1: Prepare the vegetables
In the sink, soak water spinach in plenty of water for a few minutes to loosen up any dirt. Then rinse well under running water.
Nip the end of the stems to check if it’s too hard. If so, trim off the hard bits. Then cut the vegetable into chopstick-friendly sections. Separate the stems and the leaves into two parts for later use.
Coarsely mince garlic cloves and cut fresh chillies into matchstick strips.
Step 2: Mix the seasonings
Put fermented tofu, Shaoxing rice wine, salt and sugar into a small bowl. Use the back of a spoon to press and mash the fermented tofu. Mix everything into a smooth, runny paste.
Step 3: Stir-fry the dish
Add neutral cooking oil, minced garlic and fresh chilli into a wok. Fry over high heat until intense bubbles appear around the aromatics.
Pour in the sauce mixture.
Add the stem part of the water spinach. Toss for 20-30 seconds.
Then put in the leafy part, along with 1 tablespoon of water (remember to retain high heat throughout the process).
Stir-fry for a short while until the leaves start to wilt. Transfer to a plate and serve immediately with steamed rice and other savoury dishes.
🛎TIP: This recipe also applies to other Asian leafy greens, such as spinach, Choy Sum, Bok Choy, Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli), etc. If using Bok Choy or Gai Lan, briefly blanch it in boiling water before stir-frying.
Water Spinach Stir-Fry (椒腐通菜)
- 200 g water spinach - about 7oz
- 2 pieces fermented tofu (Furu/腐乳), the white variety - about 25g/0.9oz (see note)
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch sugar
- 1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 fresh chilli pepper, julienned
Prepare the water spinach
- Soak water spinach in plenty of water to loosen up any dirt. Rinse under running water then drain well.
- Trim off the ends of the stems if they appear to be hard. Then cut the vegetable into bite-sized sections. Separate the stems from the leafy part.
Mix the seasonings
- Put fermented tofu, Shaoxing rice wine, salt and sugar into a small bowl. Use the back of a spoon to mash the fermented tofu. Mix everything to a smooth consistency.
Stir-fry the dish
- Add oil to a wok. Fry minced garlic and fresh chilli over high heat. Once intense bubbles appear, pour in the seasoning mixture.
- Add the stem part of the water spinach. Toss to fry for 20 seconds or so. Put in the leafy part, along with 1 tablespoon of water. Continue stir-frying.
- When the leaves start to wilt, dish out and serve immediately with steamed rice and other savoury protein dishes.
NUTRITION DISCLOSURE: Nutritional information on this website is provided as a courtesy to readers. It should be considered estimates. Please use your own brand nutritional values or your preferred nutrition calculator to double check against our estimates.