Hydroponically yours - sambal kangkong

A friend's friend rang me in the morning, promising to drop off some basil and water spinach on his way home in the evening. By afternoon, the sky turned black and huge raindrops began to fall. Well, that seemed to be the end of my vegetable story.

I had underestimated Anandh's zeal. He called at about 6 pm to ask for directions to my place. He had brought with him packs of Thai and Italian basil as well as a couple of packs of kangkong (water spinach) which he had harvested a couple of hours earlier. The leaves were clean and green. All the produce had been grown hydroponically.

Thai basil; kangkong; Italian basil

Anandh Ranganathan runs *Ranga Farms at Chennai where greens are grown without soil. In all 3 samples he gave me, the leaves were unblemished and the flavour and aroma of both kinds of basil were incredible (as I write this, I'm enjoying my bowl of pasta with pesto). There was just enough  of stem on the greens to keep the leafy bunches intact and thus, practically nothing to waste!

Smooth pesto with pasta

Hollow stems

Kangkong is also known as water convolvulus, water spinach or morning glory (not the flower!) The leaves are arrow-shaped and the stems are hollow as it is a semi-aquatic plant. It's packed with vitamins, iron and minerals. I had always thought kangkong was an urban legend in Chennai - heard it's available but never seen it!! And now, finally, it was in my kitchen and I had to make my favourite sambal kangkong with it.

Separate leaves from the stems

Separate the leaves from the stems and keep them whole (discard any tough stems). Cut the stems into 3-inch lengths. For the spice paste or rempah, grind dry red chillies along with garlic, dry prawns and shrimp paste. If you want to make it completely vegetarian, do omit the prawns and shrimp paste. The kangkong has to be cooked over high heat.

Sambal kangkong

Sambal Kangkong  

350 gm kangkong, separate the leaves, cut stems into 3" lengths
3 shallots
3 cloves garlic
5 dry red chillies soaked in hot water to soften (you could also use a mix of fresh and dry chillies)
1 tbsp dried prawns (wash and soak in warm water for 15 minutes)
1 tsp shrimp paste
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons oil

Wash the spinach, drain in a colander.
Grind together shallots, garlic, chillies, dried prawns and shrimp paste (add just enough water to keep the blades moving). Keep it aside.

Remove the leaves when they wilt a bit

Heat a large wok, put a third of the leaves into it and stir it around till it wilts. (If you are using a smaller quantity, you could do it all together.)
Remove and repeat with the remaining leaves.

Fried spice paste

Heat the oil, sauté the spice paste on a low flame till it is dry and oil starts to separate.
Transfer the paste onto a plate and keep aside.

Cut stems into 3" lengths

Heat the wok till it is very hot, sauté the stalks for about a minute or till just soft.
Add the fried paste and mix well.
Add the leaves and about 3 spoons water.
Sauté well, dish out and serve with steamed rice.

For a completely vegetarian dish, omit the prawns and shrimp paste.

*Anandh can be contacted at anan12@gmail.com

Yummy sambal kangkong


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