Water spinach (kangkung) thrives in the waterways, rivers, lakes and swamps of tropical Southeast Asia and Southern China. Therefore it is a common Asian vegetable dish and popular in many countries such as China, the Fillipines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Water spinach and its cooking method have similarities to the spinach we know in Europe and United States. Stir frying is the most common cooking method of water spinach. Water spinach (kankung) can be found at Asian supermarkets. If you can't find it you can substitute it with regular spinach. The end result will be slightly different though because the spinach Europeans and Americans know is sold without stems. The stems of water spinach give this dish a nice bite, which you wouldn't experience with regular spinach.
Stir fried water spinach is one of the simplest, easiest, and also cheapest vegetable dishes in Asia, which contributes to its popularity. Garlic and shallots or onion are often stir-fried in cooking oil, after which cleaned and cut water spinach is added, and then stir-fried in a wok on a strong fire with a small amount of cooking oil. The stir-frying lightly caramelises the water spinach, producing a mild-sweet taste.
A specific Indonesian stir-fried water spinach seasoned with shrimp paste (trassi or terasi) is called kankung terasi (or trassi). Tumis means to stir-fry. I first ate Kankung Tumis Terasi in Bandung, Indonesia a couple of years ago. In the Netherlands this dish isn't usually sold at Indonesian to-go shops (toko's) because water spinach isn't cultivated here and the vegetable has to be imported, making it quite expensive.
I like this water spinach dish quite spicy, so I use 5 Spanish chillies (lombok) and 2 or 3 Thai bird's eye chillies (cabe rawit). For a less spicy version you can omit the Thai bird's eye chillies of course.
First step of preparing Kankung Tumis Terasi is to thoroughly wash the water spinach and dry it using kitchen paper. Cut in 5cm/ 2inch pieces and set aside. Toast dried anchovies in a frying pan without oil for a couple of minutes until fragrant and slightly browned.
Then make the spice paste (bumbu). Roughly chop Spanish chillies (lombok), Thai bird's eye chillies (cabe rawit), if using, shallots and garlic. Add these ingredients, toasted anchovies and shrimp paste (trassi) to a food processor and pulse until a smooth paste forms.
Now that our preparation is done, heat oil in a frying pan/ skillet over medium heat. Fry spice paste for a couple minutes until fragrant, then add diced tomatoes and fry for another couple of minutes until tomatoes are wilted.
Add water spinach (kangkung), 60ml/ 1/4 cup water, salt, pepper, and palm sugar (gula jawa). Cover the pan/ skillet with a lid and only uncover once water spinach is wilted. Stir to mix.
Continue cooking for a couple of minutes until water spinach is tender and the sauce is slightly reduced. Remove pan from heat, stirr well, and add Kankung Tumis Terasi to a serving platter.
Ingredients for 4 people (side dish)
For the salad:
500gr/ 1,1 lb. water spinach (kangkung), or substitute with regular spinach
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (coconut, peanut, sunflower)
1 tomato, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon palm sugar (gula Jawa), or substitute with caster sugar
60ml/ 1/4 cup water
1 Spanish chilli (lombok), thinly sliced, as garnish (optional)
For the spice paste (bumbu):
4 - 5 Spanish chillies (lombok), remove seeds and membranes for less heat
2 - 3 Thai bird’s eye chilies (cabe rawit), remove seeds and membranes for less heat
2 small shallots, cut roughly
4 garlic cloves
2 dried anchovies (ikan teri), toasted
1 teaspoon shrimp paste (trassi or terasi)
Wash and drain water spinach. Use kitchen paper to dry water spinach. Cut into 5cm/ 2inch pieces. Set aside.
Make the spice paste (bumbu). Combine Spanish chillies, Thai bird’s eye chillies, shallots, garlic, toasted anchovies and shrimp paste in a food processor and pulse until a smooth paste (bumbu) forms.
Heat oil in a frying pan/ skillet over medium heat. Fry spice paste for a couple minutes until fragrant, then add diced tomatoes and fry for another couple of minutes until tomatoes are wilted.
Add water spinach, water, salt, pepper, and palm sugar (gula jawa). Cover the pan/ skillet with a lid and only uncover once water spinach is wilted. Stir to mix.
Continue cooking until water spinach is tender and the sauce is slightly reduced.