As you embark on your Vietnam travel, enjoying local food can be one of the most exciting experiences. Besides national specialties, Vietnam offers a wide selection of vegetables with unique tastes, colors, and cooking methods. Vietnamese spinach is not an exception. With soft-stemmed, glossy, heart-shaped leaves and a gummy texture, Vietnamese spinach is often consumed in the summer. Let’s explore more about this vegetable and learn some recipes that will please your taste buds!
1. General information about Vietnamese spinach
Among a variety of Vietnamese vegetables, Vietnamese spinach is scientifically referred to as Basella alba L, or Malabar spinach, which belongs to the Basellaceae family. It is a climbing herb with succulent leaves that is widely used in Vietnamese cuisine, particularly in refreshing summer soups like clam soup and crab soup.
Vietnamese spinach can be categorized into three main types:
- White spinach: recognized by its small leaves and thin, light green color.
- Purple spinach: features small leaves with reddish-purple stems and leaf veins.
- Big leaf spinach: distinguished by its thick, dark green leaves, large leaf blades, and stout, fat stems; typically grown densely for easy pruning of the less sticky young branches and higher productivity.
Vietnamese spinach is packed with health benefits. In traditional medicine, it's commonly used for a healthy colon, to nourish the blood, and to assist the body in its natural detoxification processes. Vietnamese spinach also has an impressive antioxidant profile, making it useful for the heart and overall well-being.
Regular consumption can contribute to healthier, more radiant skin. For those concerned about bone health and iron intake, Vietnamese spinach is a wise choice. It's known to be effective in preventing osteoporosis and provides a natural source of iron for the body.
Meanwhile, excessive consumption of Vietnamese spinach may hinder the absorption of essential nutrients within your body. Leftover spinach-based dishes that have been left overnight should be discarded, as they may pose health risks. Raw consumption of Vietnamese spinach is not recommended.
Furthermore, certain individuals should be cautious with this spinach. Those with kidney stones, recent dental tartar removal (as spinach can stain teeth), and individuals experiencing stomach pain should avoid or limit their consumption.
2. Best Vietnamese spinach recipes you need to try
Vietnamese spinach, known for its refreshing taste and numerous health benefits, can be used in a variety of delicious dishes and famous Vietnamese foods. If you're wondering how to make the most of this leafy green, we've got you covered with some fantastic Vietnamese spinach recipes.
2.1. Vietnamese spinach soup with shrimps
Vietnamese spinach soup is a Vietnamese go-to for beating the heat. You can make a tasty Vietnamese spinach soup using fresh shrimp. Here's how to make it:
- Peel and clean 300g of fresh shrimp, then marinate them with purple onions, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of seasoning.
- Wash the spinach leaves.
- Heat a pan, add 2 tablespoons of cooking oil, and stir-fry the shrimp for about 1 minute. Transfer them to a soup pot.
- Add 350 ml of water to the pot and bring it to a gentle boil.
- Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of MSG (optional), adjust the taste to your liking.
- Add the spinach, let it boil, and your soup is ready.
2.2. Vietnamese spinach soup with crab roe
One of the top local vegetable soups is Vietnamese spinach soup with crab roe. A bowl of soup with delicious broth, rich and nutritious crab roe, green vegetables served with crispy eggplant is an indispensable dish in a Vietnamese meal. Here’s how to make it:
- Clean the crab with salt, then peel the crab’s shell and separate the bib. Rinse the yellow roe until clean. Crush the crab in a mortar with a pinch of salt.
- Extract the crab roe by squeezing it in water in a mortar. Filter the water several times to get the roe.
- Next, chop jute leaves and spinach, and slice a sponge gourd to put them into the soup pot.
- Cook crab roe in a pot on medium heat with water until it floats. Add jute, spinach, and sponge gourd to the pot and season to taste.
- In the North, they often add crab roe straight to the pot first, then put the vegetables after. In the South, they often sauté onions, simmer crab roe, season it, and add it to the soup.
- Either way, you can enjoy a bowl of naturally sweet broth, crab meat, and fresh vegetables as a result—a refreshing taste of Vietnamese cuisine.
2.3. Vietnamese spinach soup with clams
Enjoying a refreshing soup on scorching days doesn't have to be complicated. The Vietnamese spinach soup with clams recipe is easy to prepare, serving up a delicious and refreshing dish. Here’s how to make it:
- Wash 1 kg of clams, then soak them in rice water first and then plain water for about 30 minutes. This will make the clams open to remove sand and dirt from inside.
- Peel the purple onions, wash them, and crush them. Next, wash 300 g of spinach, then chop it into small pieces.
- Put the clams in the pot and cook until the water boils and all the clams open their shells. Remember to save the clam broth for later.
- Separate the clam meat from the shell, then stir-fry the clam meat with onions and fish sauce to your taste.
- Now you may put the clam broth back into the pot and boil it. Add spinach and stir-fried clams to the pot, season, and then serve it up in a soup bowl.
- You can enjoy this dish with salted eggplant or vinegar-soaked bamboo shoots. They complement many Vietnamese dishes.
2.4. Vietnamese spinach stir-fried with garlic
Vietnamese stir-fried spinach with garlic is a popular Vietnamese dish that is included in many restaurant menus. Here’s how to make it:
- First, peel the garlic, crush it, and chop it into small pieces. If you like to have a spicy taste in your dish, you can use some chili. Remove the seeds from the chili and slice them.
- Boil a pot of water and add 1 teaspoon of salt. When the water boils, you can put the spinach in the pot.
- When the water boils down, quickly take the spinach out and soak it in a bowl of ice-cold water. This helps cool down the heat, so the green vegetables will be more crispy when stir-fired.
- Fry the minced garlic until golden brown. Add spinach and stir-fry over high heat. Season with a teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of fish sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of seasoning powder. You can adjust to your taste.
- Stir well to absorb the flavors of the spinach for 1.5–2 minutes. Turn off the stove, serve the dish on a plate, sprinkle fried garlic, chili, and a little pepper, and now it is ready to be enjoyed.
Normally, this dish is served with vegetables only, but you can add stir-fried beef to complement it. This dish is delicious when eaten alone or as a side dish in your meal.
3. Distinguish between Vietnamese spinach and Vietnamese water spinach
Vietnamese cuisine boasts an array of vibrant green vegetables, and two that are often compared due to their similar names and appearances are Vietnamese spinach and Vietnamese water spinach, or morning glory. Let's take a closer look to spot the differences between these two types of green.
Water spinach (morning glory) is an herbaceous plant often found growing near water or on land. Its stems are hollow inside, thick, segmented, and rooted at each node, with a smooth exterior. Water spinach leaves are long, typically with a pointed tip; sometimes they can also be elongated and narrow. This vegetable is loved for its light taste and crunchiness and is versatile for consumption, whether raw or cooked.
On the other hand, Vietnamese spinach’s leaves and stems are softer and more tender. This green features soft-stemmed, glossy, heart-shaped leaves. The Vietnamese spinach plant is a climbing herb known for its succulent leaves. It is predominantly used in Vietnamese cuisine; you can find it in summer soups like clam soup and crab soup.
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In conclusion, Vietnamese spinach, or "rau mồng tơi," is a versatile and beloved component of Vietnamese cuisine. From the delightful clam soup to the sumptuous crab roe soup, as you savor its various recipes and dishes, you will discover why Vietnamese spinach holds a special place in the hearts and palates of both locals and those enjoying Vietnamese cuisine.