Sambal Kangkong is ubiquitous in Southeast Asia, and one of the most flavorful green vegetable dishes you’ll ever make. From the moment I first tasted it at the Lau Pa Sat hawker center here in Singapore, I was hooked. Leafy water spinach (or kangkong as it’s called in Singapore), is quickly wok fried in a potent sambal of garlic, shallots, chiles, dried shrimp, and belacan (fermented shrimp paste). This dish is juicy, shrimp-briny, and will have you sweating like mad from the chiles. Word of warning: If you’ve never cooked with awesome belacan paste before, the pungent fragrance will pummel your nose and sweep right out into your apartment hallway (don’t admit to your neighbors that it was you unless you want a cease and desist notice stapled to your door). The odor is somewhat arresting at first, but then you get used to it– and then you get addicted to it. Honest. So don’t wimp out and leave it out!
Note: Check your local Asian supermarket for hard to find items such as the belacan, dried shrimp, and kangkong.
Sambal Kang Kong
Serves: 4 as a side dish
1/4 cup dried shrimp
1/2 cup hot water
1/2-inch piece (or rounded tablespoon) belacan, chopped
2-3 red thai chiles, minced (de-seed to adjust the heat level)
5 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press
3 shallots, minced
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 bunches (about 16 ounces ) kangkong, or flat leaf spinach, washed and cut into 4-inch lengths
- In a small bowl, soak the dried shrimp with the hot water for 10 minutes. Drain shrimp, reserving 1/4 cup of the liquid.
- With a mortar and pestle, briefly mash belachan, chiles, garlic, and shallots into a rough paste; set aside.
- Add oil to wok or 12-inch skillet and set over medium-high heat. Add sambal mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until mixture is fragrant and lightly toasted, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Immediately add kangkong and the 1/4 cup reserved liquid, and cook, stirring frequently, until greens are just wilted and sambal is evenly distributed. If the greens are too dry before their cooked, add water to the pan, a tablespoon at a time. (Placing a cover over the skillet (if using), will also help to cook the greens. Adjust salt level and serve immediately.