This just might be the easiest morning glory recipe aka water spinach or 空心菜 (kōng xīn cài) in Chinese, which in my biased opinion is one of the top 3 leafy greens. The crunchy hollow stems are so good. It’s one of the first vegetables I liked as a kid and I’m excited to share it with you all! Enjoy this quick stir-fried morning glory in just 10 minutes.
The morning glory vegetable is commonly used in many Asian homes. I usually have at least 1 to 2 bunches stocked in my refrigerator every week when it’s in season since it’s super easy to prep and cook.
With a mild flavor, you can enjoy it as a quick and simple side dish to eat with Taiwanese cold noodles or dress it up with a sauce or fresh chili peppers.
🥘 main ingredients
INGREDIENTS YOU'LL NEED FOR THIS RECIPE
1 bunch morning glory (water spinach), about 8 ounces / 230 grams
1 tablespoon canola oil (or peanut oil, grapeseed oil)
2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon kosher salt
🎥 cooking video
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💭 what is morning glory?
Morning glory is also known as water spinach or 空心菜 (kōng xīn cài) in Chinese, which translates to “hollow heart vegetable.” As you can see, it’s named after its hollow and crunchy stems.
Other names include ong choy, pak boong, kang kong, and swamp cabbage to name a few.
It has a mild flavor with a subtle hint of sweetness when cooked. The stems are both fun and satisfying to eat! The best part is, the leaves are tender but keep their texture fairly well when stir-fried (unlike baby spinach or baby bok choy).
I first tasted it when I was 8 years old and living in Taipei, Taiwan. It's also commonly used in China and many Southeast Asian countries (I love how they cook it in Thailand).
nutrition and benefits
Like other dark leafy greens, morning glory is a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, iron, and calcium, but that’s not why I love it. The texture, flavor, and ease of cooking are what make me a huge fan.
💭 where to buy
I buy it from Thao Family Farm at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market every week when it’s in season (summertime). You can also find it in well-stocked Chinese or Thai grocery stores, usually displayed in the refrigerated produce area.
The ones in the grocery stores are sometimes more fibrous and don't last as long in the fridge since they're not freshly picked, so I try to get it from the local farmers market when I can.
💭 how to pick
- STEMS - Look for tender stems that crunch when you pinch them. They should also be pliable as shown in the photo above. That’s how you know they’re tender and not fibrous.
- BOTTOM OF STEMS - The bottom of the stems should look hydrated (not porous) and should be mostly green.
- LEAVES - Bright or dark green leaves show that it’s fresh (avoid wilted or yellow leaves). Also look for smooth, paper-thin leaves, which shows that it’s younger and will taste sweeter. Avoid buying water spinach with yellow leaves.
❄️ how to store
Remove any plastic around the water spinach and wrap the whole bunch with either a large kitchen towel [affiliate link] or cloth grocery bag. Cover the top (where the leaves are) with a slightly damp kitchen towel and store it in your vegetable drawer.
It’s best to not store it in a plastic bag since the leaves will get mushy over time. Fresh water spinach can last up to 5 days in the refrigerator, but the leaves will start to wilt after day 3. It’ll still taste great though after you liven them up with cold water.
You’ll know that it’s gone bad if the stems or leaves become moist and soggy.
🔪 how to prepare
Cut the morning glory into 3-inch sections starting from the bottom (stem) end. Thoroughly rinse with cold tap water until the water runs clear, then drain in a colander.
pro tip: Let the washed morning glory drain in a colander while you prepare the garlic. Allow it to drain well so there’s minimal excess water. The vegetables will taste better this way. If it’s too wet, it will end up steaming in the pan rather than being stir-fried and you won’t get the “breath of the wok” 鑊氣 flavor.
If you’re only able to find ones with thicker stems, you can trim the ends off by cutting 2-3 inches off the bottom. You’ll be able to tell if the stems are slightly fibrous by bending the stems (see the photo under the “how to pick” section above for reference). You’ll feel resistance when trying to bend the stem if they’re not as tender.
This is another reason why I like to buy it from a local farmer when it’s available. Sometimes the vegetables from the Chinese grocery store near me aren’t as fresh or are more mature, which takes longer to prep since you have to pick out the tender portions.
🥘 cooking methods
I like it stir fried with garlic (蒜炒空心菜) as shown in this recipe. Simple and delicious.
By stir-frying food in a well-seasoned wok over high heat, you infuse the dish with a delicious wok aroma known as the “breath of the wok” 鑊氣 huò qì (also known as “wok hay” in Cantonese). “Qì” or “hay” means “energy” or “life breath.” I would describe the aroma as smoky flavor goodness.
You can also use the tender stems in noodles soups. Just separate them from the leaves and add them to a noodle soup at the very end of the cooking process. Thin stems cook as quick as bean sprouts would in a hot soup.
🍽 cooking equipment
Using a wok or cast iron (or carbon steel) pan will make all the difference for Asian leafy greens like this one. A well seasoned and hot pan will give the water spinach that wok flavor.
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📖 recipe and flavor variations
If I’m eating this on my own, I’ll add half of a fresh Thai chili pepper since I’m addicted to spice. I keep the seeds in and all, but I love lip-burning spicy food. When cooking this dish for others, I’ll usually remove the seeds or omit the chili altogether. If you feel like a spicy kick, just add it in with the garlic.
For fellow hot pot fans that have shacha sauce 沙茶醬 on hand, you can add a teaspoon in right when you add the morning glory to the pan. The addition of this sauce gives this dish an umami punch. Just thinking about it makes me hungry.
By the way, my FAVORITE shacha sauce is the Bull Head BBQ Sauce 牛頭牌沙茶醬 [this is an affiliate link]. Seriously, I’m not exaggerating. If you don’t know already, I’m a hot pot addict and the Bull’s Head brand of shacha sauce is something I always keep ample stock of in my pantry (at least 2-3 unopened large cans). I just can’t eat hot pot without it. It’s also really good with stir-fried spinach or yam leaves!
You can also add fermented tofu for a Chinese variation, though I personally like the other flavors mentioned above more since they complement the mild and sweet flavor of morning glory well. The fermented tofu has a strong, slightly funky (and very salty) flavor (it’s great with rice porridge).
Although there’s no other vegetable equal to water spinach, there are plenty of Asian greens and vegetables that you can cook using the same method and recipe:
- Bok choy 白菜 (bái cài)(note: regular bok choy will have a better texture than baby bok choy)
- Yu choy 油菜 (yóu cài) or choy sum 菜心 (cài xīn)
- Chinese broccoli 芥蘭 (jiè lán)
- Sliced cucumber (a variety like Persian or lemon cucumbers that have smaller seeds and a thinner peel)
- Spinach (not baby spinach, which would wilt too much)
- Kale leaves, de-stemmed and roughly chopped
COOKING WITH KIDS - what can kid chefs help with?
- washing the vegetables
- peeling garlic
I’ve been meal prepping with a flavor packed kimchi fried rice (vegetarian with a vegan option) for the week and adding in this morning glory recipe. It’s perfect for an easy meal since I can finish cooking the veggies while the rice is reheating.
It works out well for work-from-home lunches. What are some of your go-to recipes? I’d love to hear about it - comment below!
Speaking of easy dishes, I sometimes have hobakjuk (korean pumpkin porridge) on hand to enjoy for dessert. 😋
Happy cooking! ~ Cin
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Disclosure: The recipe below may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon
stir-fried morning glory 蒜炒空心菜
- 1 bunch morning glory (water spinach), washed (about 8 ounces / 230 grams)
- 1 tablespoon oil, canola
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- ½ teaspoon salt, kosher
- 1 small pinch flaky sea salt to finish
- Cut the morning glory into 3-inch sections starting from the bottom (stem) end.
- Thoroughly rinse with cold tap water until the water runs clear, then drain in a colander. Allow the washed vegetables to drain well so there's minimal excess water. Otherwise, you won't get the "breadth of the wok" 鑊氣 flavor. See notes below on more fibrous stems.
- Heat a 12-inch seasoned wok or cast iron pan over medium-high heat until the pan is hot (about 15 seconds for a wok or 3 minutes for a cast iron pan).
- Add the canola oil, tilt the pan to evenly coat the cooking surface, and add in the sliced garlic. Stir for about 10 seconds until the garlic is fragrant and turn the heat to high right before adding the morning glory. If the stems are thicker than what’s shown in the photos above, you can cook the stems first for 1 minute, toss with a spatula, and then add the leaves.
- Stir-fry the contents in the pan by constantly flipping and moving the vegetables with your spatula to prevent burning. Season with salt and continue to toss the morning glory with your spatula. Stir-fry until the stems and leaves turn brighter green (about 5 minutes) and immediately turn off the heat.
- Transfer to a serving platter, top with flaky sea salt (optional), and serve hot.
the sound of cooking video
- For the spice addict (like me), you can add half of a fresh Thai chili pepper (about ½ inch) when you add the garlic to the pan. I usually leave the seeds in (spicy), but you can remove the seeds first if you like.
- Looking for more flavor? Add 1 teaspoon of shacha sauce (mentioned in the blog post above) when you add the water spinach to the pan.