How to make Sambal Kangkong, a beloved Singapore hawker dish of water spinach stir fried with a savoury, spicy, umami sauce.
Sambal Kangkong is that one vegetable stir fry dish that you would almost always order at hawker stalls or zi char restaurants. Funnily enough, it’s not a dish that’s cooked often at home. Unlike most vegetable stir fries, this does require a couple of ~extra steps~, and I get it, not much home cooks would want to go through the trouble for a vegetable side dish!
Chillies, dried shrimps and belacan gives this that delicious signature spicy umami flavour. Everything about this will convert any veggie fiend; the long, stringy, chewy leaves, and the slight bite on the stalks, all tossed in a spicy, savoury sambal sauce gets incredibly addictive.
Why You Will LOVE this Sambal Kangkong
There are a couple reasons WHY you would make this at home!
- It’s incredibly ADDICTIVE – spicy, savoury, umami-bomb!
- You make sure the Water Spinach is CLEANED thoroughly! If you’ve purchased water spinach, you will know how dirt-caked this can be. I like that I can clean the vegetables thoroughly before consumption. As much as I love the hawker stalls, chances are they won’t be able to give the leaves as much wash in a high turnover situation.
- It’s VERSATILE – You can easily use the base paste for other recipes, and of course, you can replace the water spinach with other vegetables.
- The ingredients are MINIMAL
Ingredients for Sambal Kangkong
Sambal kangkong is all about that sambal base paste! The ingredients for the sambal is minimal:
- Dried Chillies: Dried chillies provide a rich, spicy depth to the dish. With dried chillies, you will need to soak the chillies in hot water for about 5 minutes until it softens. See my post for more details on this. You can also use fresh red chillies in place of dried chillies if you want to skip this step.
- Red Chilli: I used a regular red chilli here, but spice lovers can use Thai Bird’s Eye Chilli for that punch of spice!
- Dried Shrimps: This adds that all-important umami to the dish! You will need to soak this as well to soften it. Do it in the same time as the dried chillies for efficiency. In this recipe, I blended the dried shrimps in with everything else so I can use some of the shrimpy soaking liquid!
- Belachan or Fermented Shrimp Paste: This adds umami AND that distinctive flavour to Sambal Kangkong! In this recipe, I dry toasted it in the pan first for an even more intense flavour, before adding the rest of the paste. If you already have dry toasted belacan, skip this step or blend it in with the sambal paste.
- Onions and Garlic
What is Kangkong?
Kangkong (Kangkung) is also known as water spinach. This is a leafy vegetable, and grows easily in water and moist soil (if you can’t already infer from its name). This cheap vegetable is ingrained in Southeast Asian cuisine, mostly in stir fries. In Singapore and Malaysia, the most popular form of the vegetable is the Sambal Kangkung!
How to prepare Kangkong?
Kangkong is a very leafy vegetable with long stalks. You need a huge amount… to produce a small plate of Sambal Kangkong! Vegetable science. Anyway, you’ll need to clean the kangkong thoroughly and the easiest I like to do this is:
- Cut off the roots and discard
- Cut the kangkong in half, separating the stalks with the leafy tops.
- Further chop the stalks in half, and wash these first until cleaned. Keep to one side.
- Chop the leafy tops in half, and wash these next until cleaned. Keep to one side.
Done! This way, I get a thorough clean AND able to separate the two parts. I don’t have a big sink or a giant colander so separating it this way helps. You will need to cook the stalks first until tender, before the leaves. I find it easier to have them separated at the beginning.
Can I use other vegetables? Yes! Besides kangkung, you can use other vegetables too. Sweet Potato Leaves or long/green/french beans are also common replacements at hawker stalls.
How do you shortcut this Sambal Kangkong recipe?
“But I REALLY don’t want to use my blender”, I hear you lament. I get it.
Use ready-made sambal belacan! With sambal belacan, you skip the whole process of preparing it from scratch. If there is an additional step I would take, it would be to stir fry the dried shrimps in the pan until fragrant before adding the sambal belacan in.
You can also use any sambal that you have, and simply add the belacan straight in the wok. Ready-made sambal oelek works as well.
If you need some sambal recipes from scratch, I got you:
More Recipes Like This
- Acar Nonya Timun | Peranakan-Malay Vegetable Pickles
- Taugeh Goreng Ikan Bilis | Stir Fried Beansprouts with Dried Anchovies
- The ONLY Vegetable Stir Fry You Need!
Sambal Kangkong | Stir Fried Water SpinachCourse: Recipes
200 g kangkong (water spinach)
1 tbsp belachan
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
2-3 tbsps vegetable oil
- Sambal Paste
5g or about 3-4 stalks dried chillies, soaked
1 tbsp dried prawns, soaked + soaking liquid
1 red chilli (or Thai bird’s eye chillies)
1 clove garlic
- Ingredient Prep
- Properly clean the kangkong, and chop to separate the top leafy and bottom stalk sections. Further chop the top leafy section into half. Do the same of the bottom stalks. In total you should have four sections.
- Rinse the dried chillies and dried shrimps, and soak in hot water for 5 minutes, or until rehydrated. Drain the dried chillies, and chop into smaller pieces. No need to drain the dried shrimps.
- Blend the ingredients for the Sambal Paste. Use the soaking liquid to blend the paste smoother. Use water if you need to blend it smoother.
- Making the Sambal Kangkong
- To a dry pan, add the belachan. Toast over low to medium heat, until the belachan smells pungent and is not moist. It should crumbles easily with your spatula. Break the belachan in the pan.
- Add oil to the pan, along with the sambal paste. Stir to combine the sambal paste with the belachan. Continuously stir until the sambal paste dries slightly, and the colour deepens in shade. You should also be able to see oil surfacing on the paste. For more information, see my post on “how to properly cook dried chilli paste”.
- Season with salt and sugar and give a quick stir to incorporate. Add the kangkong stalks first, and toss to combine. Cook the stalks until tender.
- Once the stalks soften to your liking, add the remaining leafy portion. Stir to combine.
- Once the leaves wilt, Sambal Kangkong is done!