Let’s Cook: Pak Boong Fai Daeng (Stir-fried Chinese Morning Glory)

There are a lot of stir-fried vegetable dishes in Thailand … like a lot a lot … but if you’re looking for just one that is super easy and crazy delicious then pak boong fai daeng is the one for you.

  • Pak: Thai word for ‘fried’ and is used for dishes stir-fried in a hot wok.
  • Boong: Thai word for morning glory, otherwise known as Ong Choy in Chinese (often labeled this way at the Asian market).
  • Fai daeng: literally means ‘red fire’.

So basically this dish is Chinese morning glory fried over a really hot fire. Sounds delish, count me in! You too, right?

Thought so.

In Thailand this was one of my favorite vegetable dishes. Sauteed vegetables, cooked just right with a crisp crunch and covered in a delicious sauce – a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy, and a lot a bit salty. Just the way I like it! I’ll admit that until I made this dish a few days ago I had never tried making it before. For some reason I thought it would be super difficult because of the enchanting combination of flavors on my palette.

I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. This recipe takes the cake for ease of preparation and is a great starting place for anyone just starting out with Thai cooking at home.

That’s not to say there aren’t a few unique and sometimes difficult to find ingredients. There is the traditional oyster sauce and fish sauce that can be found at nearly any Asian market, but also yellow bean sauce (also called soy bean paste) that might be more difficult to acquire. One of my local Asian markets has it, one does not. But, there really isn’t a substitute for the flavor this ingredient brings so try your very best to find it. You can also order it from ImportFood. Have I mentioned how much I love that site?

Also, the morning glory (Chinese water spinach or Ong Choy) can sometimes be difficult to find. Most Asian markets should have it, but if you aren’t familiar with the market you may pass right over it. And, be careful when asking for help. Try all possible names for the product. I started with morning glory, went to water spinach, and it wasn’t until calling it Ong Choy that the clerk said, “oh that, no we don’t have any today.” Darn.

However, if you do find yourself in this predicament as I did, broccolini (the thin, long stemmed broccoli) is a great substitute. It cooks up the same way and the taste fits well with this particular combination of flavors … plus the color is spectacular!

A few other recommendations after making this recipe:

  • Make sure your wok is super hot. If you don’t, you’ll miss out on the smoky flavor that is added when the vegetables actually fry (not just cook).
  • As stated earlier, do not substitute the soy bean paste with anything else. It really makes this dish.
  • Do not overcook the vegetables. It may seem like two minutes is a really short cook time and that’s because it is. But, anything longer (or any time left in the pan before moving to a serving dish) will overcook the morning glory and leave you disappointed.
  • If you use fresh Thai chilies, just bruise them with the flat side of your knife. This allows some of the spice to come through but it won’t overpower the entire dish.

Chok dii!

Pak Boong Fai Daeng (Stir-friend Chinese Morning Glory)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy

Recipe pulled from Pok Pok cookbook

Ingredients

Served with Thai-style Pork Ribs and Jaew dipping sauce

Served with Thai-style Pork Ribs and Jaew dipping sauce

  • 2 TBSP Thai oyster sauce
  • Scant TBSP Thai fish sauce
  • 1 tsp Thai yellow bean sauce (soy bean paste)
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil
  • 1 TBSP garlic cloves, cut in half and lightly smashed
  • 6 ounces water spinach (broccolini is an easy substitute)
  • 3-4 fresh red Thai chilies (calls for dried but I prefer fresh!)
  • ¼ cup reduced sodium chicken broth

Method

    1. Combine the oyster sauce, fish sauce, bean sauce, and sugar in a bowl and stir well. Set aside.
    2. Heat a wok over very high heat, add the oil. When it begins to smoke lightly, add the garlic. Let garlic sizzle, stirring often, until it turns light golden brown. If the garlic starts to brown too quickly, remove the wok from the heat and continue browning.
    3. Put the wok back on the heat, add the morning glory/water spinach, and stir until the leaves begin to wilt, about 15 seconds.
    4. Add the oyster sauce mixture (plus a splash of water if necessary) and the chilies. Stir-fry, constantly stirring and scooping, until the leaves have fully wilted, about 45 seconds.
    5. Add 2 tablespoons of the stock and stir-fry until the stems are just tender with a slight crunch, about 45 more seconds.
  • Remove immediately and transfer to a plate to serve. Do not leave over heat or you will overcook the greens.

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