Kangkung Belacan is a very simple and nutritious vegetable side dish that goes so, so well with just some plain rice. It has a deep and quite often spicy flavour that the rice complements perfectly.
I know many of you outside of South East Asia may not be familiar with this vegetable, we’ll talk substitutes in a minute. If you have an Oriental supermarket or grocer near you, you might find it called Ung Choi or Kangkung. I can get it from time to time at mine but it can be a bit of a hit and miss as far as availability goes.
Growing up in Singapore, I always assumed this to be a Malay dish. Imagine my surprise when on my first trip to Thailand, I found it sold at street stalls! That was the start of countless, “Hey, that’s found in Singapore too!”.
Substitute Vegetables for Kangkung Belacan
Beansprouts – perfect cooked this way, despite the wrong colour!
Cabbage, Spinach, Pak Choi and other similar greens will work just as well.
There are 2 ingredients here that take a bit of getting used to if you don’t habitually cook with them: shrimp paste and dried shrimp. The first is definitely found in large UK supermarkets while the second, usually in Asian stores. Click on the links above to find out more, unfortunately, there aren’t really any substitutes for these ingredients, apart from each other!
Shrimp paste is, to many people, the most disgusting thing they’ll ever smell(!) while dried shrimps give off a very concentrated scent of the sea. The smell of the shrimp paste does blend with the other ingredients resulting in a singularly unique taste that cannot be replicated however you try! Give it a go!
- 250g vegetables
- 1 small onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- half to one fresh red chilli (more or less, for heat)
- 1 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)
- 1 tbs dried shrimp (soaked in just off the boil water for 10 minutes)
- 1 tsp oil
- salt and sugar if needed ( I don't use either as the shrimp paste is salty & I don't make it too spicy to need sugar)
- Soak the dried shrimp in hot water (just off the boil) for 10 minutes while you get everything else ready.
- Cut the kangkung into equal lengths, separating the harder stalks from the leaves, place on 2 separate plates.
- When the dried shrimps are done soaking ( at 10 minutes), pound or chop the onions, garlic, chilli, shrimps and shrimp paste finely.
- Heat oil in a frying pan on medium high heat and fry the ground ingredients until fragrant, about a minute.
- Add the stalks, stir fry for a minute, then add the leaves, give it a quick stir and taste for seasoning, turn stove off. Like spinach, kangkung cooks quickly and is best eaten with a slight crunch as is true for all vegetables!