This is based on a revelatory plate of kangkung belacan I ate while I was writing this book. The renowned Malaysian dish uses a particular style of fermented shrimp paste that’s not easy to get hold of. But any fermented shrimp paste adds the uniquely pungent salty-sweet tang I’ve craved so often since eating that dish; I’ve used it, boosted by fresh chilli, with numerous wok-fried greens since. Look for Thai or Vietnamese shrimp paste online, or follow your nose if in a shop.
Try to use morning glory (kangkung in Malay) if you can get hold of it. The long, thin, hollow stems retain a relatively fresh, grassy bite even when wilted, and there’s loads of surface area for the sauce to cling to. But if you struggle to find it, pak choi or pretty much any other green vegetable from an Asian supermarket would take the flavours well. As, by my reckoning, would purple sprouting, tenderstem or normal florets of broccoli, spring greens and probably kale too. This is the kind of dish that would hold its own alongside a sticky, dark beef rendang or a coconut-based curry, or otherwise add interest to plainer ingredients such as soft tofu, chicken breast or a fried egg.
- Yield: 6 Servings
- 600 g morning glory, or other greens
- 3 banana shallots
- 2 medium red chillies
- 3 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons dried shrimp paste
- 2 heaped teaspoons caster sugar
- Prepare all the ingredients in advance, as the cooking process is quick. For morning glory, or any other greens with a long stem and fragile leaf, trim off the leafy ends at the point where the stems thicken and set aside. Cut the stems into 5 cm lengths there may be the odd leaf branching out from these. I prefer to keep the stems and leaves separate so as to cook them for the right amount of time.
- Peel the shallots and chop them roughly into quarters from root to tip; in this dish, they’re good left as distinct petals. Chop the chilli into thin rings along its length.
- Place a wok over a very high heat. Add the oil and allow it to heat up for 30–45 seconds, then add the shallots and stir-fry for 1 minute before adding the fermented shrimp paste. Cook this for 30 seconds, taking care not to let it burn, then add the green stems and sprinkle over the sugar (you may need to add the stems in a couple of batches if your wok isn’t huge).
- Stir-fry for 1–2 minutes, adding about 100 ml water to help steam the greens, then remove the wok from the heat just before the stems lose their spark and crispness. Add the leaves and let these wilt in the residual heat for 30 seconds. Transfer to a serving platter, ensuring you pour any sauce from the wok over the greens. Serve immediately.