This vegetable, known simply as "kong xin tsai" (空心菜) in Mandarin Chinese, is called so many other names in America that I get really confused. I've seen it called water spinach, water convulvulus, Chinese watercress, and ongchoy . . just to name a few. It's called hollow heart vegetable in Chinese because the stems are characteristically hollow. The hollow stems have a unique crunch that makes them fun to eat.
Hollow heart vegetable is prolific in Asia, and does not even need soil to grow, profusely thriving in marshy wetlands, rivers, and streams. In parts of the US, it has become so prolific that the USDA has official designated it a "noxious weed." It grows THAT easily.
We recently had a fun filled afternoon collecting bounty from our pastor's garden. Instead of apple picking, we went "kong xin tsai" picking. It was hard work! . . bending over with scissors cutting stalks and stalks of this "noxious weed."
This stuff is so easy to grow, my friend Emily from Emily Ku Photography bought some from the supermarket, stuck some in a cup of water, and grew her own! Remember how I said it just grows in rivers in Asia?
Kong xin tsai is delicious and has nutritional benefits similar to spinach. It's my husband's favorite Chinese leafy green, and we order it at restaurants all the time. The vegetable is prepared in countless different ways in Asia. You can cook it with shrimp paste (Malaysian), fermented tofu (Cantonese), or simply saute it with some garlic, which is classic. Here is another one of my favorite ways.
1 bunch of kong xin tsai
2-3 cloves of garlic (smashed)
1 T Chinese BBQ Sauce (Satsa - see photo to the right)
salt to taste
Note: my veggies came from the garden so they were pretty clean. If you buy these in the market, they can be pretty dirty. You might have to wash multiple times. Soak, drain, soak, drain, etc. Treat it like you do fresh spinach.
Remove the thicker stems from the leaves and cut, diagonally, into 1 inch pieces. [If you see super thick stems that seem really tough, discard those!]
Step 2: Add ~ 1T oil to wok and heat on high until the oil is almost smoking. Add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 30 second or so - don't let it burn!). Add the stems first and saute until softened, maybe 2-3 minutes or so.
Step 3: Add leaves in and then quickly stir around until leaves are wilted (this won't take too long - maybe like 1 minute). Remove from heat.
Step 4: Stir 1 T of Chinese BBQ Sauce (or more, to taste) into the cooked veggies. Add salt to taste. Enjoy!
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