When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, I was delighted to discover that Thais are very fond of this dish, which I enjoyed as a child growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Thais call it phak bung fai daeng (phak bung is Thai for ong choy, and fai daeng is literally “fire red”). The Thai name provides the key for success in preparing this dish: a very hot cooking pan. Another important element is the rich and savory fermented bean curd. I like the chili-infused version, but the non-chili one will work fine as well. Part of the allure of this dish is the crunchiness of the stems. They require a little more cooking time than the leaves, so they get a head start in this recipe. The hollow stems of ong choy trap the sauce to provide a burst of flavor with each bite.
- 1/4 pound ong choy (water morning glory)
- 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
- 1 tablespoon chili-flavored fermented bean curd, mashed with a fork or spoon
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or cooking sherry
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
Wash and drain the ong choy. Cut into 3-4 inch lengths, keeping the lower-stem segments separate from the upper, leafy segments.
Heat the oil in a hot wok until it is almost smoking, then add the garlic and stir fry until light brown (about 10 seconds). Mix in the mashed bean curd and stir for a few more seconds.
Add the ong choy stems to the garlic/bean curd mixture and stir fry for about two minutes, then add the ong choy leaves, Shaoxing wine, and water. Continue to stir fry for about 2-3 minutes, adding a little more water if the mixture looks dry. Serve immediately.