When Brett and I compiled the recipes for The Farmer’s Kitchen, we based it on what farmers told us they were growing: we had already made a half dozen cookbooks for farmers across the eastern seaboard.
But when I go to the farmers’ market in Union Square, I see also sorts of different veggies not covered in our book. The most striking comes Flats Mentor, a farm that specializes in Asian (and African) produce – pea tendrils, bok choy, Asian Flowering Mustard, Water spinach, Chinese long beans, and sweet potato leaves.
Perhaps, more than any other farmer, they need a list of recipes to help the average consumer understand and cook with their beautiful produce. And, in fact, they have a great book of recipes you can download from their website.
I first discovered Water Spinach as a line cook at Biba. The chef/owner Lydia Shire hired a Chinese chef to come in once a month and teach us about authentic Chinese ingredients and recipes. I can’t say we did anything fancy, we simply sautéed the ong toy (as it is called in Chinese) with ginger and garlic and seasoned it with soy sauce and rice wine. In Thailand, water spinach is called pak bung. It was one of my mainstays when I visited 10 years ago. Again, the preparation is very simple – sautéed with soy sauce and garlic.
Water spinach has the supple texture of spinach blended with the refreshing crunch of bok choy. The entire plant is edible, but the tender leaves are considered the most prized. The long stems hallow stems require longer cooking than the leaves, so it’s important to separate them before cooking so you can easily adjust the times.
I adapted a recipe from Eileen Yin-Fei Lo that called for bok choy.
Chicken with Water Spinach
¾ pound boneless chicken (breast or thigh meat), cut into strips
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
2 teaspoon gin
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 ¼ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoon corn starch
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon chopped ginger
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch water spinach, stems cut into 1 inch pieces, and leaves left whole.
1 cup chicken stock
3 scallions, cut into rings
1. Marinate chicken with soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger, gin, sesame oil, sugar, salt and corn starch.
2. Heat oil over high heat. Add ginger and garlic, and cook for 1 – 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add chicken and cook until it loses its raw color.
3. Add the water spinach stems and chicken stock. Cook for 3 minutes, until the chicken is almost cooked.
4. Add the water spinach leaves and cook until just wilted. The chicken should be cooked through too.
5. Remove from heat and serve with steamed rice. Garnish with scallions.