Food

Water Spinach with Fermented Tofu — Hannah Che's simple, savoury stir fry from The Vegan Chinese Kitchen

Che uses ‘the vegan chef’s secret ingredient’ in this dish, but she told us an alt she thinks you can swap in.

Che uses ‘the vegan chef’s secret ingredient’ in this dish, but she told us an alt she thinks you can swap in

An overhead shot of a white plate of Stir-Fried Water Spinach with Fermented Tofu.
(Photography by Hannah Che)

We can’t wait to make Hannah Che’s water spinach stir fried with fermented tofu, which seems like it couldn't be easier to prepare, and looks and sounds delicious. In the intro to this recipe from her cookbook, The Vegan Chinese Kitchen, she talks about how fermented tofu is “the vegan chef’s secret ingredient” — noted. Though it’s readily available at Chinese and larger Asian grocery stores, and online, we asked if Che thought there might be a decent substitute for fermented tofu in this dish if you don't have it on hand. She replied with a “Yes!”, and with a very cool tip.

“Substitute the fermented tofu with the same amount of white miso (shiro miso),” she said. “Miso paste provides a similar creamy, salty, funky umami as fermented tofu.”

Stir-Fried Water Spinach with Fermented Tofu

Fˇurˇu kōngxīncài | 腐乳空心菜

By Hannah Che

Fermented tofu is the vegan chef’s secret ingredient: one or two cubes of the salty, ripened tofu, mashed into a creamy paste, bolsters the savoriness of stir-fried greens and lends a slightly silky mouthfeel. Water spinach is a southern aquatic vegetable with crisp, juicy stems, and it’s wonderful prepared this way, as its hollow stems and glossy leaves readily soak up the sauce. If you can’t find it, regular bunched spinach is also delicious. Try to use very fresh ginger here, as it will have more juice.

Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch (1 lb/450 g) water spinach, or 10 oz (280 g) spinach
  • 1 (4-inch) piece (30 g) fresh ginger, peeled
  • 2 cubes white fermented tofu (about 1½ tbsp), plus 2 tsp liquid from the jar
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 fresh red chili, thinly sliced (optional)
  • Kosher salt

Preparation

Wash and drain the water spinach thoroughly (see tip below). You should end up with about 10 ounces (280 grams) of prepped greens. (If using spinach, simply trim off the bottom of the stems, wash, dry, and use whole.)

On a cutting board, smack the ginger with the flat side of the blade of a knife to loosen its fibers. Grate or finely mince the ginger. Gather it up in the palm of your hand and squeeze the juice into a small bowl; you should have about 1 tablespoon. Discard the ginger pulp.

Place the fermented tofu and the liquid from its jar in the bowl with the ginger juice and mash it using a fork to combine. Add the Shaoxing wine and sugar, stirring to form a thin sauce.

Bring a pot of water to a vigorous boil and dunk the water spinach stems in until they turn bright green, about 20 seconds. Add the leaves and blanch until softened, another 10 seconds. (If using regular spinach, add it all together and blanch for 10 seconds, until just wilted.) Lift out immediately and drain in a colander. Shake dry.

Heat a wok or skillet over high heat until a bead of water evaporates within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Add the oil and swirl to coat the sides of the wok. Add the garlic and chili (if using) and stir-fry until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Add the sauce and wait until it bubbles, then add all the blanched spinach and stir-fry quickly until the sauce is incorporated, about 1 minute.

Remove the wok from the heat and taste the greens; season with a pinch of salt, if needed (usually the fermented tofu is salty enough). Transfer to a dish and serve.

Tip:

Water Spinach

Kōngxīncài | 空心菜

These hollow-stemmed greens come in two varieties: the ones with full, arrow-shaped leaves and thick, light green stalks are more tender than those with thin, darker-green stalks and narrow leaves. To prepare them, snap the leaves off the stems and keep them separate. Hold the hollow stem and bend it; it will break where it is tough. Discard the tough ends and cut the rest into 2-inch pieces. Add the stem parts to the wok first. 

Serves 4.


Excerpted from The Vegan Chinese Kitchen by Hannah Che. Copyright © 2022 Hannah Che. Photographs by Hannah Che. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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