Learn how to cook Indonesian most beloved vegetable dish, kangkung tumis terasi (stir-fried water spinach), with a primer on terasi/belacan/shrimp paste.
Kangkung tumis terasi, also known as kangkung cah terasi, kangkung tumis belacan, or kangkung cah belacan, is one of the most beloved vegetable dish throughout Indonesia (also Malaysia and Singapore). This vegetable dish is very easy to prepare, and I think it is a good and gentle way to introduce the stinky terasi/belacan/shrimp paste to the uninitiated. :D
What is kangkung?
Kangkung is a very common vegetable grown throughout Southeast, East, and South Asia. Because of this, different nations have differents names for this vegetable. Indonesians and Malaysians call this vegetable kangkung, but in the US, your grocery store most likely labels this either as on choy (蕹菜), water spinach, or Chinese spinach.
Throughout Southeast Asia, it is safe to say that almost everyone has tasted and even growing up eating lots of kangkung tumis terasi. In Indonesia, we also blanched/boiled kangkung and eat them as part of gado-gado, pecel, or turn it into a plecing dish.
What is terasi/belacan?
Terasi/belacan is made from tiny shrimps fermented with salt. It is sold in a block, has the color of dark chocolate, and is actually quite soft (softer than a chocolate bar).
If you have tried fish sauce, then you can imagine terasi/belacan as a super-concentrated form of fish sauce, though to me, the flavor profile of terasi/belacan is more complex.
How do I use terasi/belacan?
If you encounter a recipe calling for terasi/belacan, simply cut a tiny piece from the big block (say 1 teaspoon, 2 teaspoons, e.t.c.), then toast that tiny piece using one of the following methods:
- grab with a pair of stainless steel tongs, and toast with an open flame. This only works if you have a gas stove, and is the most traditional way of toasting terasi/belacan.
- dry frying in a frying pan
- toast in a toaster oven
- microwave for 30 seconds
Since I am lazy, needless to say, my favorite method is the microwave option. But do whatever you need to toast terasi/belacan before using it. Also, you may want to open all your kitchen windows to remove the stinky fishy odor from your house. ;)
Once you have opened a new packet of terasi/belacan, you want to store the leftover (which is a lot and should last a while) wrapped with 2-3 layers of parchment papers and then put it in 1-2 ziplock bags and just stashed in the fridge until needed.
Kangkung Tumis Terasi
- 1 bunch (500 gram/1.1 lb) kangkung/on choy/water spinach
- 2 tablespoon oil
- 1 tomato, diced
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- thinly sliced red chilies, for garnish (optional)
- Spice paste (grind/puree the following ingredients)
- 2-5 red Fresno chilies, seeded
- 1-5 red bird-eye chilies, seeded
- 50 gram shallot
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tablespoon dried anchovies, toasted (Indonesian: ikan teri, Malaysian: ikan bilis)
- 1 teaspoon shrimp paste, toasted (Indonesian: terasi, Malaysian: belacan)
- Wash and drain kangkung/water spinach, making sure that the vegetables are dry to prevent splattering. Cut into 3-4 inch sections. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Fry spice paste until fragrant, then add diced tomatoes and cook until wilted.
- Add kangkung/water spinach, water, salt, pepper, and sugar. Cover the wok and only open the lid once kangkung/water spinach has wilted. Stir to mix. Continue cooking until kangkung is tender and the sauce is slightly reduced.
- Turn off heat, transfer kangkung to a serving platter. Garnish with thinly sliced chilies (optional), and serve with steamed white rice.