Stirfried Chinese Spinach (Amaranth)

If your farmers’ market has one or more vendors of Asian vegetables, pay them a visit and just browse the offerings – you may discover a few varieties of greens that you’ve never tried before. One of them, called amaranth or calaloo, is often labeled Chinese Spinach. It has bright green stems and slightly darker green-edged leaves with a splash of pink in the middle. When it’s cooked, you end up with silky dark green leaves in a shockingly pink juice – my husband and I joke that if only our daughter were younger and still into pink, we could serve this up as princess spinach!

In Mandarin, it’s called hancai. It’s late in the season for it in Southern California just now, but I imagine in the rest of the country it still has a few weeks to go. The preparation of this vegetable, one of the simplest in Chinese cuisine, can be used to cook most tender leafy greens (spinach, etc.) The vegetable shrinks considerably, so if you’re only doing 2 dishes with rice, consider upping the quantity you use and cook it in 2 batches.

The flavor is cleaner than that of spinach, and as we say at our house, “It doesn’t leave sweaters on your teeth” like spinach does. My kids love this vegetable, and even the younger one (not a huge vegetable fan) will take multiple servings – here’s proof:


  • 12 oz amaranth (or other tender leafy green – but you won’t get the pink juice!)
  • 1 T oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)


  1. Soak the amaranth in as many changes of cool water as it takes to end up with no grit on the bottom of the sink, then remove the stems almost up to the leaf – the stems are very tough for a stirfry. Shake the leaves gently to remove most of the water, but leave some drops clinging to them.
  2. Heat the wok, add the oil until it shimmers and “explode the garlic until fragrant” without letting it brown.
  3. Add the amaranth leaves and quickly stirfry until coated with oil. Be careful – the remaining water droplets will make this sizzle and pop a lot.
  4. Add the salt, 1/4 tsp at a time, and keep stirfrying until the leaves wilt, turn darker and release their glorious pink juice.

3 Responses

  1. I love this vegetable! My mother would make a light soup with it and I loved how it would turn pink!

  2. wow!!!
    When do you find the time to do this?
    How about a good recipe for blackberries? It is blackberry season here on Whidbey Island!
    Your mother

  3. Oh, you know, at 4:30 in the morning, when everyone is asleep and I don’t have to be anyone’s “Mommy” or “Honey”! Will have to find a good blackberry recipe, but I fear it won’t be very Chinese!

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