This is the most popular Chinese-style water spinach stir fry and only calls for 4 ingredients. It is my ideal dark leafy side dish. Check about everything about water spinach and how to cook it.

water spinach stir fry with garlic

What’s Water Spinach

Water spinach also known as Chinese water spinach, river spinach is the most popular leafy green in hot summer days. It has long leaves and hollow stems so we name it “空(kōng)心(xīn)菜(cài)”, which literally translated as hallow heart vegetable. It is grown in water or damp soil. The tender leaves usually have a sweet and mild taste. Usually break the steam into 2-inch pieces along with the leaves. It can be used as a simple garlic stir fry or in stews and noodles. This vegetable is succulent and absorbs flavors quickly. This is why it is used together with other bold ingredients.

This quick-growing veggie lives and grows in natural fresh water. Rivers, ponds, and marshy areas are home to this aquatic leafy veggie. If you see it in a river, you will note its leaves and stems sit on the water’s surface.

water spinach stir fry with garlic

Other names of Chinese water spinach

There are lots of nicknames for this vegetable because it is widely grown and eaten. Following are some of the most popular ones:

Kangkong in Malaysia and Indonesia. But sometimes called as Chinese Kangkong
Hollow vegetables– because of the hollow stem
Water greens or water grass food – because it is grown in water
Chinese convolvulus– a more academic name
Kong Xin Cai or empty heart vegetable is the most popular Chinese name.

Chinese morning glory– I am quite confused about this name and it belongs to Convolvulaceae family.

What Does It Taste Like?

Water spinach is totally unique in flavor. Imagine a slightly sweet and nutty taste wrapped up in a vegetable. Delicate in flavor,  it humbly sits within delicious stir-fries, soups, and other dishes.

Our leafy veggie has a light, whispy and crunchy texture. Take a look at the features it’s known and loved for. It performs well under the pressure of high heat in a pan, retaining its structure and body.

water spinach stir fry with garlic

Where to buy it

You can find this green veg all over the world. As the global food scene spreads, so does the knowledge of this ingredient. Its roots, however, are Asian.

This ingredient is found in curries and soups. The crunch and color offer stir-fries great value.

Notice this ingredient appears in Chinese and Traditional Medicine. It is a part of diets targeting a blood sugar-lowering regime.

The Variations

Here is all you need to know about the two varieties of water spinach. Both variants are delicious and worth a try.

Whiter Stem Water Spinach

The white stem usually has round and large leaves with a pale light stem. It is spotted floating in intensely flavored broths or twirled as part of a colorful salad. It’s common in stir-fries, too! This veggie contrasts well with bold, astringent, rich flavors like soy sauce and garlic. Float it amongst your favorite aromatics.

The stems are slightly wider than its counterpart, which is the ideal vehicle of tastes and flavors. They are also a little glossy and hold up well in cooked dishes.

Green Stem Water Spinach

The green stem variety’s taste is stronger than the white variant. It has a grassier flavor. The leaves are smaller usually with a sharper shape, and the stem is a little thinner. This version contains more fiber than white-stem water spinach.

It is, of course, darker in color – a deeper green, you might say. It is a little more wrinkled in comparison.  You can choose either of the types because they can be interchangeable.


Water spinach is full to the brim with good things. We eat it every day all through the summer.  You can eat one portion of it and it will give you 3 times the nutrients a regular veggie will. Here are some of its stand-out features:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B
  • Vitamin C
  • High levels of antioxidants
  • Good soluble fiber
  • Potassium
  • Calcium
  • Zinc
  • Selenium

There are so many minerals and vitamins within the little leaves and stems of this plant. We love that you get a full-service health and wellness makeover from a portion of it. Well, that’s how we feel, anyway about it!

water spinach stir fry

How to cook water spinach

In addition to our garlic stir fry recipe today, there are still lots of ways of cooking water spinach. Let’s find some of the most popular ones.

  1. use water spinach in wonton or noodles soups. It is the most popular dark leafy vegetable in Chongqing noodles.
  2. You can choose to blanch it for around 2 o3 seconds, then mix it with black vinegar, light soy sauce, and chili oil
  3. The stem can be separated for a pickled dish.
  4. You can use the stem only, cut it into small pieces, and fry it with minced pork.
  5. Even in stir-frying recipes, water spinach can be stir-fried with spices (Sichuan peppercorn and dried chili pepper) and with fermented tofu. The former is from Sichuan cuisine and the latter is from Cantonese cuisine.

So, what’s your favorite way of cooking this one? I love to see your creations.

How to Make a garlic water spinach stir fry

We do not need too many condiments in this recipe other than garlic. When frying leafy vegetables, cooks usually work hard to reduce the cooking time. So firstly we need to heat up the wok and then add oil to heat. Try to move the vegetables around the wok so they can be heated by the hotness of the entire work. We call the hotness of the wok “锅气”.

There are so many traditional ways to cook water spinach and many involve cooking the leaves and stems with pungent ingredients like garlic, ginger, chili, and fermented bean curd.

We love cooking water spinach in a wok via hot oil, aromatics, and high speed flash-frying and cooking it this way gives us wilted but crisp water spinach. Above all, we want the end result to be a veggie coated in a silky sauce!

As the veggie soaks up all the aromatics we throw at it, the result is a crisp set of stems and soft, wilted leaves. It’s so good that you should try it out and see if you love it like we do!

The key points are:

  • An oil with a high smoke point and is relatively neutral in taste, although, peanut oil can be delicious with wilted spinach.
  • Heat the wok first and then also the oil. Use high fire in the whole process.
  • If you are not good at stir-frying vegetables like this, you can try a chopstick. Chopstick will make this process much easier.
  • Don’t let the ginger or garlic burn. Turn your back for a minute, and your garlic can burn to a bitter crisp.
  • Move fast and don’t overcook the green dark leafy vegetables.


Prepare the water spinach by using a scissor to cut it into small sections. I draw a picture shown below. Make sure each piece has some stems and leaves. Or you can also simply cut them into shorter sections. Remember to discard the old stem.

how to prepare Chinese water spinach

Then wash well and strain completely. This is the key point for a yummy, crunchy water spinach stir fry.

Heat the wok and oil and then add garlic. Fry for 2 seconds and place water spinach in. Use your hand to grasp the vegetable instead of pouring it (to avoid water coming into the wok). Move fast, add salt and light soy sauce. Keep stirring and transfer out when they are darker in color.

Properly fried water spinach can hold a lovely green color.

water spinach stir fry
water spinach stir fry with garlic

Chinese Water Spinach Stir Fry

Chinese Water Spinach Stir Fry, Healthy vegetable stir fry
4.92 from 12 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: stir fry
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Water Spinach
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 2
Calories: 158kcal
Author: Elaine


  • 250 g water spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves , chopped
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp. light soy sauce , or use 1/2 for a lighter taste
  • 1/8 tsp. salt


  • Discard the tough stems and keep the tender parts. Then break the water spinach into 10cm length sections. Wash carefully and drain.
  • Heat oil in wok over highest fire. Add garlic, fry for a short time (around 5-8 seconds). Add water spinach salt, quickly fry 2-3 seconds, then add salt and light soy sauce. Mix well.
  • Serve immediately. After around 8-10 minutes, the vegetables become dark due to oxidation process. So this should be the last to make dish if you are preparing a large meal.



You can add chili pepper or Sichuan peppercorn to spicy it a little bit.  If necessary, add chili pepper and Sichuan peppercorn along with the garlic. 


Calories: 158kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 12g | Sodium: 142mg | Potassium: 390mg | Fiber: 2g | Vitamin A: 8010IU | Vitamin C: 69.7mg | Calcium: 102mg | Iron: 2.1mg

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  1. So glad I found your site. Just bought a bunch of water spinach from a summer farmers market. The lady raises it and told me how ro.preparw it. Much as you have described…so off to the house I go to cook this!