Thai Stir-Fried Water Spinach

Thai Stir-Fried Water Spinach by

Water spinach

Probably not the first food that comes to mind when thinking about Southeast Asian cuisine, but the leafy green veggie reveals the unique flavors of each country in the region.  In my kitchen in Malaysia, I often stir-fry water spinach with sambal belacan for a spicy, pungent dish called Sambal Kangkong.  In Indonesia, Ira Rodridgues blanches it with a spicy lime mixture to make Plecing Kangkung.  Ray Gingco, from the Philippines, stir-fries the veggie with adobo seasoning for Adobong Kangkong

In Thai cuisine, water spinach is stir-fried into a garlicky, salty dish called Pak Boong Fai Daeng.

Ingredients for thai stir-fried water spinach - garlic, yellow bean paste, birds eye chili peppers, and kangkong

Pak Boong Fai Daeng, or Thai Stir-Fried Water Spinach, is served all over Thailand from roadside stalls to high-end restaurants.  Stir-fried with garlic chunks, smashed Thai bird’s eye chili peppers, and a spoonful of sugar, yellow soybean paste and fish sauce – the veggie dish brings together the spicy and salty deliciousness of both Chinese and Thai cuisines.

thai stir-fried morning glory recipe (pad boong fai daeng)

Thai Stir-Fried Water Spinach is a must for any Thai-themed dinner.  It’s simple to cook, but just keep in mind a couple of important tips.  Crank up the fire when dropping the leaves and stems into the wok.  You want that slight smoky flavor.  Then cook the water spinach for just a flash in order to preserve the original texture and color. 

Pak Boong Fai Daeng is ready when the water spinach leaves begin to wilt and the stems retain a crisp-tender bite.

Thai Stir-Fried Water Spinach by

Thai Stir-Fried Water Spinach by Season with Spice 

350g water spinach - soft stems cut into 3-inch length pieces, and leaves kept whole. Discard any hard stems.
2 tbsp oil
4-5 garlic cloves - kept whole and crushed (or chopped into chunks)
4-5 Thai bird’s eye chili peppers - kept whole and smashed
1 tbsp yellow soybean paste
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp oyster sauce (optional)
2-3 tbsp water

1. After washing and cutting the water spinach, keep the stems and leaves in cold water (then drain the water right before you start cooking – this will help keep the veggies crisp)
2. Heat oil in a wok on high fire. Once oil is heated, add in garlic, and stir-fry over medium heat until fragrant – about half a minute. Garlic should be softened.
3. Add in the chili peppers, yellow soybean paste, fish sauce, and sugar (and oyster sauce if using). Stir quickly to mix.
 4. Crank up the fire again to high and drop in the stems along with two tablespoons of water. Stir-fry for about 10-15 seconds. Then add in the leafy parts and stir-fry quickly to make sure all the greens are in contact with the heat (add another tablespoon of water here if you want more gravy). To retain the fresh look and crunch of water spinach, you want to work the spatula quick and cook the greens not more than a minute. As soon as the leaves just begin to wilt, turn the heat off and immediately dish out the vegetables from the wok.

* For the yellow soybean paste, you can alternatively use a whole bean version as I did for my recipe here.  I prefer to use the whole bean form as it is less salty.   If you decide to do the same, crush the beans coarsely with a fork to release the flavor.