This stir-fried morning glory or water spinach recipe makes the Cambodian dish char trokuon, which is generally eaten family-style as one element of a spread of dishes, centred around rice, that would typically include a soup, perhaps a grilled fish, a salad, and maybe a curry. This is so good, we are very happy eating it just with a bowl of rice.
Our stir fried morning glory recipe makes a healthy Cambodian dish called char trokuon, which is super easy to make. In a Cambodian home a plate of stir fried green vegetables, such as morning glory, is generally eaten as one element of a communal meal served family-style: an array of dishes are laid out on the table and meant to be shared.
‘Char’ means to stir-fry or wok-fry and ‘trokuon’ means morning glory (Ipomoea aquatic), also known as water spinach, river spinach, Chinese spinach, Chinese watercress, and swamp cabbage. As there is no standardisation when it comes to the romanisation of Khmer words, you might also see ‘char’ spelt a chha, cha, tcha, t’cha, and so on, and ‘trokuon’ spelt as trokoun, trakuon, trakon, trokon, etc.
This has caused some headaches while research and writing our epic Cambodian cookbook and culinary history as we’ve been testing out Cambodian recipes in recent months, while staying at home quarantine cooking and engaging in cooking projects in our kitchen in Cambodia’s Siem Reap. But it makes life interesting!
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We need more funds to do so, to pay for our research assistant cum translator, a driver and car, travel expenses in Cambodia for all of us, and fees and food expenses for the local old cooks whose recipes and stories we’ll be documenting.
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Stir Fried Morning Glory Recipe for Cambodian Char Trokuon
This stir-fried morning glory or water spinach recipe makes the Cambodian dish char trokuon, which is generally eaten family-style as one element of a spread of dishes, centred around rice, that would typically include a soup, perhaps a grilled fish, a salad, maybe a curry. I am also very happy eating this with just with a bowl of rice!
Rice is always central to the Cambodian meal, rather than served as a side or accompaniment, with a large mound piled onto the centre of each plate and the rice bowl left on the table. In a comfortable home in the city, that shared meal, typically eaten for lunch or dinner, might include a dip such as prahok k’tis, a samlor (soup or stew) such as samlor machou kroeung sach ko, perhaps a grilled fish or roast chicken, maybe a salad such as this grilled beef salad, and perhaps a Cambodian curry.
The number of dishes would depend upon the number of people eating and how comfortable the family was, and the type of dishes would be dependent upon whether it was a work day or weekend and how much time they had to prepare and enjoy their food. In a more modest home of more limited means in the countryside a plate of stir-fried greens might only be eaten with rice and a soup.
If you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that we often mention that many of the more substantial Cambodian dishes, such as soups and stews, curries and barbecues, are typically eaten with sides, such as fresh salads and stir-fried greens, yet we’ve not yet published any of those. Well, that changes now. This stir-fried morning glory recipe is the first in a series of Cambodian recipes for vegetable sides and salads.
And if you think this dish looks familiar, but you don’t know much about Cambodian food, you may well have eaten this or a similar stir-fried morning glory dish at a Cantonese, Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, and maybe cooked it yourself. Variations of this dish are found in most regional Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines.
The Cantonese version is distinguished by its fermented tofu or preserved bean curd. There’s a similar Vietnamese morning glory dish with the addition of fish sauce, which is used widely in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
In Thailand, where it’s also known as Siam watercress (different to what we know as watercress in other Southeast Asia countries) and is called phak bung (in Thai) or ong choy (in Cantonese, if you’re looking for it in Chinatown), there’s a similar morning glory dish with the addition of even more chillies, along with yellow bean paste, and without sesame oil.
In the nyonya cooking of Singapore and Malaysia, it’s called kangkung belacan and is stir-fried morning glory with the addition of belacan or shrimp paste, ginger and pepper, but no sesame oil.
Tips for Making this Stir Fried Morning Glory or Water Spinach Recipe
One of my best tips for making this stir-fried morning glory or water spinach recipe is that you can replace it with any of the Southeast Asian or Chinese greens. So, don’t fret if you can’t find it. It is banned in much of the USA, for instance, where it’s considered to be a noxious weed, and can only be grown with a permit. This technique of stir-frying can be applied to all types of Chinese leafy greens. We especially love stir-fried bok choy this way.
When you’re looking for morning glory outside Southeast Asia, note that you’ll need to ask for ‘water morning glory’ or water spinach. There are two types of morning glory grown in Southeast Asia, one on land and one in water. While you could use either, the morning glory grown in water, which has long hollow crunchy stalks, works best for this dish.
When you’re using any of these leafy greens, always wash them thoroughly as quite often they are grown in sandy soil so you want to remove that grit. If you’re living in Southeast Asian, unless you know you’re buying from an organic grower, you probably want to wash away that last spray.
For this stir-fried morning glory – and any leafy Asian greens being cooked this way – you’ll typically blanch the vegetables first. However, sometimes I don’t blanch the leafy greens if I’m only making a small amount. I just use a little stock so I have some liquid in the wok.
If you are blanching, however, it is important not to skip the ice bath. The ice bath serves two purposes. Firstly, it stops the greens cooking and getting wilted, and secondly, it also helps to retain the bright green colour.
Some variations of this stir-fried morning glory recipe call for a lot more oyster sauce and sesame oil. As far as I’m concerned, too much oyster sauce overwhelms the dish. Keep in mind that stir-fried morning glory and other green leafy vegetables are generally served alongside heavier, full-flavoured dishes to provide contrast and balance.
With sesame oil, a little really goes a long way, so don’t add it all at once, and only add enough to your taste.
Also note that while this stir-fry morning glory recipe calls for fried garlic, some people don’t like the slightly bitter notes so feel free to replace it with fried shallots, which are a little sweeter but have the same texture. In any case, the dish is served well having a little crunch to it.
Cambodian Stir Fried Morning Glory Recipe
- 1 kg morning glory washed, cleaned and cut into stems
- 1 ½ tbsp garlic chopped and crushed
- 4 bird's eye chilies sliced finely
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- ¼ tbsp chilli oil
- 1 tbsp corn flour dissolved in 4 tbsp of cold water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 300 ml chicken stock
- 2 tbsp fried garlic
- ¼ cup long red chilies julienned
- In a stock pot, bring seasoned water to a boil and blanch the morning glory for 30 seconds.
- Transfer to an ice bath and when cold, strain in a colander.
- Place a wok on medium high heat, then turn the wok off add a tbsp of oil. Swirl the oil around to coat the surface of the wok. Turn the heat back on to medium-high and sauté the sliced bird's eye chilies. Add the garlic and 30 seconds later, add the blanched morning glory and keep stir-frying.
- Season the morning glory with soy and oyster sauces and add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock. Once boiling, add the corn flour mixture to the stock. Reduce a little and then add the chilli oil. Take off the heat and mix in the sesame oil.
- Place the morning glory on a platter and sprinkle with fried garlic and the julienned red chilies.
Please do let us know if you make our stir fried morning glory recipe for Cambodia’s char trokuon here in the comments below, by email or on social media. We’d love to know how it turns out for you.