This Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe makes Cambodia’s cha spei preng kachong. Any leafy Asian greens or Chinese green vegetables can be used – choy sum, bok choy, baby bok choy, gai lan etc. There are variations of this vegetable dish within China and right across Southeast Asia, but this is the Cambodian take on this classic side.
This Cambodian take on stir-fried Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe makes cha spei preng kachong in Khmer. ‘Cha’ or ‘char’ means to stir-fry or wok-fry, ‘spei’ refers to all Chinese or Asian leafy green vegetables, and ‘preng kachong’ refers to oyster sauce although not specifically oysters as such, but molluscs with shells, such as clams and snails.
I had originally wanted to share a recipe for stir-fried gai lan (or kai lan) with oyster sauce, which Cambodians call cha preng kachong khatna – khatna is the Khmer word for gai lan – but while Angkor Market, the Siem Reap supermarket we use is excellent when it comes to the quality and variety of produce, with plenty of organic fruit, vegetables and herbs, they’re not so great with labelling.
When the packaging is fogged up in the cold vegetable fridges and we’re in a hurry as we’ve left the shopping until an hour before closing to maintain some sort of social distancing, we trust the label on the shelf – which is how Lara came home one night with what she thought was gai lan (Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra) or Chinese broccoli but turned out to be choy sum (Brassica rapa var. parachinensis) or Chinese flowering cabbage.
Which is how this became a stir-fried Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe instead of a stir-fried gai lan with oyster sauce recipe, and a great excuse to write about the common Chinese green leafy vegetables, such as gai lan, choy sum, bok choy, baby bok choy, etc, that are eaten across Southeast Asia, including here in Cambodia.
Asian Leafy Green Vegetables with Oyster Sauce Recipe for Cha Spei Preng Kachong
Like the stir-fried morning glory recipe we recently published, this Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe isn’t hard to make at all once you know how. It’s so easy that if you’re making these stir-fried leafy Chinese greens for the first time you’ll probably never need to look at a recipe after you do.
So why are we even publishing an Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe if stir-fried greens are so easy to make, particularly when there are so many recipes online? Well, if you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that while we’ve been staying at home quarantine cooking and engaging in cooking projects this year, we’ve also been doing a lot of recipe-testing.
For those of you visiting for the first time, we’re testing Cambodian recipes for a Cambodian street food cookbook (our own recipes) as well as for our epic Cambodian cookbook and culinary history, which documents the stories and recipes of cooks all over Cambodia (which we’re always looking for patrons for and you can pledge support for this first-of-its-kind project for as little as US$2 or $5 a month on Patreon).
We would be remiss in excluding a stir-fried Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe from a Cambodian cookbook just because they’re easy to make and there are so many recipes out there, because leafy Asian greens – as Chinese leafy green vegetables have come to be known as they’re cooked right across Southeast Asia – are essential to Cambodian cooking.
A stir-fry of green vegetables is not only healthy and nutritious but it provides balance to a Southeast Asian family meal, which, in a well-off urban home, would typically consist of an array of dishes meant to be shared, including the all-important bowl of rice, a pot of soup, perhaps a salad, maybe something barbecued or grilled, or some kind of stew or curry.
In a more modest home in a village in the countryside, the main meal might consist of only rice, a big pot of soup and a plate of stir-fried green vegetables to be shared. There will nearly always be greens, because they’re not only nutritious and provide balance, but they are also cheap.
In a home of Cambodians who are of Khmer heritage, this would typically be stir-fried morning glory, either grown or plucked from the nearest pond or river. But in a home of Cambodians with Chinese heritage in their family, a spread of dishes would typically include Cambodian-Chinese favourites alongside Khmer specialties, and there would nearly always be a green vegetable dish, such as stir-fried gai lan or bok choy or choy sum.
So what makes this stir-fried Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe Cambodian or more specifically Chinese-Cambodian? Well, most Chinese recipes for green leafy vegetables with oyster sauce are drizzled with a dressing of oyster sauce, garlic, soy sauce, and maybe sugar and white pepper.
A fancier Chinese restaurant-style oyster sauce recipe might include sesame oil, although this is often drizzled on the vegetables before the oyster sauce, and the Chinese cooking wine called Shaoxing wine. None of that is used in Cambodian-Chinese stir-fried Asian greens with oyster sauce.
The additional ingredient in Cambodian stir-fried leafy green vegetables is fish sauce, of course, an essential Southeast Asian ingredient, which you’ll also find in Thai-style stir-fried greens with oyster sauce, and Vietnamese stir-fried vegetables.
Tips for Cooking Leafy Asian Green Vegetables
Just a few important tips for this Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe that can apply to any similar Chinese greens with crunchy stalks and large leaves. Use the freshest leafy greens you can get your hands on and use good quality Asian condiments.
For fish sauce, we typically use local fish sauces, such as a Cambodian fish sauce with Cambodian dishes, Thai fish sauce with Thai dishes, Vietnamese fish sauce with Vietnamese dishes, and so on.
But you probably won’t find our Battambang and Kampot fish sauces in the Asian section of your local supermarket in Australia, the USA, UK or Europe, so we recommend Thailand’s Megachef, which is a premium fish sauce that’s consistent in quality and widely available.
Sesame oil is a must for finishing all Chinese leafy greens as far as I’m concerned, and I also use it on my special fried rice.
Soy sauce isn’t normally included if this dish is being made by a Khmer cook but a cook of Chinese-Cambodia descent might add soy sauce. In that case, we like to use these light and dark soy sauce brands.
With all Asian stir-fries it’s important to have every ingredient ready to be tossed into the wok. With leafy Asian vegetables the blanch and refresh stage of the greens is very important.
Greens so wilted they are brownish is not acceptable. Very high heat and working fast bring the best results.
Regardless of what dishes you are presenting with this dish, it needs to be the last dish to hit the table.
Stir-Fried Asian Leafy Greens with Oyster Sauce Recipe
- 1 kg Asian greens - choy sum, bok choy, baby bok choy, kai lan
- ⅓ cup oyster sauce
- 3 tbsp garlic - crushed
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 60 ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- pepper to taste
- ½ tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp dried cabbage powder - optional
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic - fried
- 1 fresh long chilli - julienned
- Blanch the Asian greens in seasoned boiling water for 30 seconds and add to a bowl with ice water. Remove after 2 minutes and dry off.
- In a wok over high heat, sauté the garlic in the oil, quickly add the blanched greens and stock and stir-fry until the greens have wilted a little. Add the oyster sauce, fish sauce and pepper. Finish with the sesame oil.
- Serve on a large plate with the sauce and sprinkle over the cabbage powder (if using).
- Garnish with the fried garlic and chilli.
Do let us know if you make this Asian leafy green vegetables with oyster sauce recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.