Ingredients: scallops, Chinese water spinach, bamboo, garlic, ginger, Shaoxing rice wine, peanut oil, sesame oil, ghee, cornstarch, black pepper, salt.
Served with: spaetzle.
I came back from a recent trip to Malmö with a bunch of new things to try. At the top of the list was a bag of Chinese water spinach. I’d grabbed it from an Asian market without any idea what it was; it just looked fresh and healthy. I highly recommend this tactic as a way to learn about new fruits and vegetables.
[Side note: our new fruit of choice, the nashi pear, is a result of one such blind-purchase experiment. They're absolutely delicious, crisp like an apple but with subtle pear flavor and a hint of bubblegum. That's right, they taste like bubblegum. Awesome.]
So what is water spinach?* It’s a tall flowering marsh plant with skinny hollow stalks and long flat leaves, and it is completely unrelated to regular spinach (except in terms of taste and texture). You don’t need to know any of this if you’re American, though. The USDA classifies Ipomoea aquatica as a “Noxious Weed” and prohibits its cultivation, sale, or possession. Oh, there’s no health risk to eating water spinach (after all, it is a popular crop in China and most of Southeast Asia). The bad rap comes from its tendency to aggressively multiply and crowd out other plant species; it’s noxious to the environment.
Come on, American plants. Is that how you deal with a bully? Whine to the USDA?
I decided to make a simple Chinese stir-fry with the water spinach, and to serve it as an accompaniment to seared scallops. [I've written about how to properly sear scallops before, here and here, so that's all I'll say about them now. Well, okay, I'll also admit that they were delectable.]
I snipped the water spinach stalks into finger lengths, and sautéed them in peanut oil with garlic, ginger, and slivered bamboo shoots. Like regular spinach, it seemed to be thoroughly cooked in about a minute. I flavored the stir-fry with Shaoxing rice wine, salt & pepper, and a swirl of sesame oil. I also added a little cornstarch slurry to thicken it up.
White rice would have been an appropriate starch for this meal. Instead, I opted for a package of fresh spaetzle (German-style grated pasta dough) from a Polish grocery store. The last time I had spaetzle was probably 20 years ago, frozen together with Birds Eye® green beans and defrosted by Mom. I loved that stuff. This was much, much better. In fact, I’d like to learn how to make it from scratch… that will have to be another post.
* — aka. ong choy (Chinese); rau muong (Vietnamese); kangkong (Malay); pak bung (Thai); kankon (Japanese).