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a hollow heart

Recipe: sautéed kong xing tsai

I’ve always loved greens ever since I was a kid. That’s mostly because my mom made a point of preparing plenty of vegetables for dinner. Growing up in southern Virginia, the norm for vegetables was mushy, puke-green slop. Not at my house! Mom sautéed most vegetables and preserved their bright, beautiful greens, textures, and nutrients. No wonder my sister and I loved spinach, broccoli, and a whole host of Asian vegetables. One leafy green in particular was my favorite. The Chinese name is kong xing tsai. We had it on occasion at “authentic” Chinese restaurants or whenever a Chinese friend would bring a bag of it over from their garden.

Sometimes I’m slow on the uptake. It dawned upon me a few months ago that kong xing tsai literally translates into “hollow heart vegetable”. When I was rejoicing at my discovery of the Super H Mart in Denver on Sunday, I came across bags and bags of kong xing tsai in the produce section. An impulse buy, it most certainly was. I didn’t know how to prepare it, but I could call my mom and ask. I just hadn’t eaten the vegetable nor seen it in years.

a $3 bag of kong xing tsai

When I split the bag open, sand scattered on the table. Makes sense. This plant is also known as water spinach. It grows along watery or marshy areas, hence the name… hence the sand. Mom warned me that you have to wash it thoroughly. She also instructed me to pick out the tender shoots and leaves – discarding the rest. She said Grandma used to chop up the stalks and stir fry them with other vegetables. My grandma was incredibly resourceful (she still is!) because she raised four daughters on her own in 1950s Taiwan. My grandma kicks ass.

small yield

Oh, and the stems are hollow. I suppose that is where the “hollow heart” comes from. Mom told me to cook it up just like spinach – heat some oil, add garlic, sauté the vegetable and season with some salt. Done and done. Just like spinach, it shrinks down to a mere fraction of the raw volume. Good thing it was just for the two of us tonight.

sauté and watch it shrink

The label on the bag read ong choy, which is the Cantonese name. I’ve seen it at the Sydney farmer’s market at the Asian vegetable stands. That’s some good stuff. A nice mild flavor without that gritty coating you get on your teeth when you eat spinach. It’s supposed to be good for you too!

i salivate when i see a lovely bowl of greens – mom raised me right

Sautéed Kong Xing Tsai
[print recipe]

2 lbs. kong xing tsai
2 tbsps vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, chopped
pinch of salt

Pick off the tender leaves and shoots from each stem. Wash the leaves and shoots thoroughly (double or triple wash) and drain. In a large frying pan or wok, heat oil over high heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, but not brown. Add the greens and sauté. Season with salt and continue to stir-fry until the leaves have wilted. Serve hot. Makes 2 cups.

27 nibbles at “a hollow heart”

  1. Anh says:

    I grew up with this dish, too. The only difference is we use fish sauce mostly to season the dish… Just so good!

  2. Smerky says:

    I love this dish too! Too bad the H Mart here doesn’t have it…maybe I can find a Super H Mart somewhere….Great Blog, by the way!

  3. Maninas: Food Matters says:

    :) we cook Swiss chard, cabbage and spinach in the same way in Dalmatia, Croatia. Actually, Swiss chard and cabbage are boiled first. i love the flavours.

  4. Bri says:

    I’m with ya on the veggies. I always loved broccoli and a whole host of veggies. It makes such a difference to have a great cook prepare them well, growing up. I really think that’s why so many kids won’t eat their vegetables. I’ve never seen these greens before, but I’ll keep my eyes out for them in the local Asian markets. Then, when I see them, I’ll know what to do. Thanks!

  5. holybasil says:

    I love this stuff too. My mom says it grows like weeds in Viet Nam and thus, costs next to nothing – lucky them. Vietnamese also eat it raw – in a salad called Gỏi Rau Muống. Also, your tulip picture is so stunning, I love it.

  6. lindsay says:

    simply LOVE this stuff.
    grew up with the two varieties – land grown vs water grown;
    this, watercress, & snow pea shoots (i think that’s what it’s called?) i’m a huge fan of, and have been faves since childhood.


  7. jenyu says:

    Anh – fish sauce sounds great, I’ll have to give that a try sometime!

    Smerky – thanks, and I hope you find some of the greens around where you live.

    Maninas – mmmm, I love greens in general, aren’t they great?

    Bri – I totally agree! I think if people were turned on to vegetables prepared in an appetizing way, they would have completely different attitudes.

    Holybasil – I think it does grow like a weed in the US (it’s listed as a noxious weed, i.e. invasive), so why can’t they bundle them up and ship them to me?!? ;)

    Lindsay – Oooh, I love snow pea shoots too!

  8. Ma-li says:

    Mmm…these are my kiddos’ fave. They like it fried with dried shrimps & sambal belachan chilli or stir fry with the red fermented bean curd paste.

  9. beruta says:

    It`s dellicius! I used to eat it very often when I was in Beijing, I ate it in cooked in huo guo (chinese fondue), mmmmmm!
    You can`t find it in the city I live, I miss it a lot!!!

  10. Liz says:

    Mmm – all your cooking looks and sounds so good! You are inspiring me to spend more time in the kitchen. The greens look a little like a Poygonum species to me – most of which are wetland plants (and some are invasive). Do you happen to know the common or Latin names? Ok, yes, I’m a dork…

  11. jenyu says:

    Ma-li – those sound like great ideas!

    Beruta – I know what you mean, I had been without it for a few years.

    Liz – according to Wikipedia, it is Ipomoea aquatica. It’s also known as water morning-glory. I love geeks :)

  12. Futtaim says:

    I love that stuff with steamed jasmine rice .. oh yumm !!
    tastes even better with hot red chili
    we add full ones without chopping them.
    its gives it flavor .. just about enough .. not too little and not too much

  13. jenyu says:

    Futtaim – that sounds like a great way to serve it too. I may try that next time!

  14. itzi says:

    Ohhh!!que rico!!, me encantan esas verduras y otras muchas mas de china.Me encanta tu blog , aunque es peligroso, en cuanto lo veo….!me entra mucha hambre!!!!

  15. jenyu says:

    Itzi – gracias! mi espanol es terrible, pero usted es muy bueno.

  16. Sherry says:

    Cantonese people like this with fermented bean curd typically (I don’t think I’ve ever had it without or even consider making it without it). And a bit of oyster sauce. It’s got to be my favorite Chinese veggie as a kid and it’s so easy to cook. Although, it’s a bit surprising how little a big bunch of it reduces to…

  17. jenyu says:

    Sherry – I know what you mean. All of my favorite delicious leafy greens cook down into nothing :( But I suppose that means we get a lot of good nutrients and fiber when we eat them :)

  18. Kitt says:

    I recently started reading your blog (via White on Rice Couple), and then I was googling H-Mart tonight and this post came up. I love some good greens, and I’ve wanted to try water spinach, so I’ll be sure to try this. –Kitt (in Denver)

  19. jenyu says:

    Kitt – glad to have you! Just be sure to wash them thoroughly (very sandy!). Hope you like it – it’s one of my favorite greens :)

  20. jan says:

    This vegetable is called Kang Kung in my dictionary. That’s how my mom (Taiwanese) calls it, although I don’t know if she uses the Taiwanese name for it. But in my Chinese supermarket here in Amsterdam, they label it as Morning Glory or Kang Kung.

    Just so you know :). It’s my favorite veg.

  21. jenyu says:

    Jan – thanks, it’s one of my favs too, but it’s not easy for me to get around here :(

  22. Diane says:

    Here in San Francisco this is readily available and known as water spinach or also as morning glory. I like to quick stir-fry it with chilis and garlic. It’s a lovely vegetable, although it takes some prep.

  23. jenyu says:

    Diane – I know!! I’m so jealous of what you guys have in SF, but it’s great because my grandma has access to so many good Chinese groceries there. It does take lots of time to clean them, but they are soooo delicious :)

  24. Agnes says:

    We call it ‘kangkung’ in Indonesia. Never knew that it is not a native Indonesian word! It is my favorite veggie, but difficult to find here in Holland.

  25. Sharon says:

    We also call it kangkong here in Singapore. But it is cooked with chillie and grinded dry shrimps. The dried shrimps are soaked and then ground into a fine taste. Then it is sauteed with garlic and the grinded chillie paste. The aroma is tantalising. The chille has dried belacchan (dried shrimp paste). Then the kangkong is sauteed quickly and dished up. It goes very well with white rice or nasi lemak (rice with coconut milk and screwpine leaves)….yummy!

  26. Stir-fried King Oyster Mushrooms with Basil | FEED YOU WITH A KISS says:

    […] with rice!  I also recommend some steamed or stir-fried greens such as water spinach (see the kong xing tsai recipe at Use Real Butter) or yu choy on the […]

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    […] She Simmers has some good background on the origin of the vegetable and its preparation – Use Real Butter has a very simple Chinese-style preparation, which is what I grew up […]

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