Stir-fried Chinese morning glory with fermented bean curd is one of my all time favourite dishes. I’ve been enjoying it ever since I was a young teenager, regularly ordering it in Cantonese restaurants. Strangely enough, my mother never made it at home,Â even though there was usually a jar of fermented bean curd sitting in the fridge. So for me, this has always been a restaurant dish, until I recently decided to make it at home.
In Cantonese, we call this distinct-looking vegetable ong choi or tong choi (tongcai in Mandarin). It’s also referred to as morning glory or Chinese water spinach. Tong choi literally means ‘hollow vegetable’, which is an accurate description as the long stems are hollow, while the leaves resemble arrow tips. When cooked, you experience an interesting combination of textures, as the stems will still be crunchy, while the leaves will be soft. I bought a bag of fresh tong choi from New Loon Moon supermarket on Gerrard Street in Chinatown – Â£3.20 for 500g. I’m not sure whether this is considered expensive or not, but Chinese vegetables always seem to be rather pricey, particularly the ones that are air-freighted into the UK (I couldn’t tell from the packaging of my tong choi where it was grown).
From my regular See Woo supermarket on Lisle Street, I bought a jar of fermented bean curd with chilli for Â£1.85. There are three versions – standard, chilli and red (the latter is known as lam yue in Cantonese). I used to only eat the standard version, but I thought the chilli version would give the tong choi an extra kick. Fermented bean curd is delicious as an accompaniment to rice and I also like it with congee and noodles.
It comes in small cubes preserved in a glass jar. All you do is scoop out a couple (or more!) of cubes and place them on top of the rice, congee or noodles, breaking off a little with your chopsticks as you eat. It’s soft in texture, has a unique tangy flavour that I can’t really describe and may not be to everyone’s taste (like Marmite and thousand year old egg), but I love it. The husband didn’t think he would like it ‘straight’, but loved it cooked with the tong choi. Once opened, it’s best stored in the fridge, but because it’s fermented, it will keep for a long time. You’ll note I don’t specify how long, because no jar has ever lasted more than a month in my fridge!
I used Ken Hom‘s recipe from hisÂ The Taste of China, but added a couple of ingredients from Yan-Kit So’s Classic Chinese Cookbook, which I think are essential. The result was superb and I have to say, this was one of the most successful dishes I’ve ever replicated at home. I love the way tong choi just catches the sauce in its stems and leaves. I’m now also looking forward to adding fermented bean curd to other stir-fried vegetables. If you don’t like spicy food, all you have to do is use the standard or plain fermented bean curd and omit the fresh chilli. After cooking this, I spoke to my mother, who suggested adding some slices of fresh ginger along with the garlic and chilli. I shall try it next time!
Ingredients: (serves 4 as part of a meal or 2 as a single dish)
- 700-900g / 1Â½-2lb tong choi
- 2 tbsp peanut oil
- 3 tbsp fermented bean curd – chilli or plain
- 2 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry (Yan Kit-So uses Shaoxing, and so did I)
- 3 tbsp water
- 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (additional ingredient from Yan-Kit So)
- Â½ fresh red chilli, de-seeded & finely choppedÂ (additional ingredient from Yan-Kit So)
What to do next:
Wash the tong choi and drain. Cut off 5cm/2in from the bottom of the stem, which tends to be tough. I cut off a little more than this. Cut the rest of the spinach into 10cm/4in segments.
Heat a wok or large frying pan until hot and add the oil. Then add the garlic and chilli and fry for about a minute, before adding the fermented bean curd, mashing it up with your cooking utensil. Add the tong choi and stir-fry for 2 minutes. I added the stems and cooked them first before adding the leaves, as the stems take longer to cook. They should be crunchy but cooked through when ready to serve.
Add the rice wine and water and continue to cook for another 3 minutes, tossing and stirring constantly. Serve immediately!
This dish can be served as part of a three or four dish meal with steamed jasmine rice. We ate it as a main dish with rice for a simple healthy lunch.
Have you tried fermented bean curd? What do you think?!
Have a look at the other Chinese recipes on Lay The Table.
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