Leeks are always available in markets, but right now, some are more slender and tender.
Spring leeks harvested young measure less than an inch in diameter, and their dark green tops are soft enough to eat. That means less food waste and more flavor in this super-fast stir-fry in which land meets sea, the earthy sweetness of leeks and mild red chiles highlighting shrimp’s natural sweetness.
Watercress, which is especially peppery in spring, offers a savory counterpoint.
Growing up in a Cantonese American home, I ate my greens either cooked in stir-fries or raw in salad. In this dish I combine the two techniques. Most of the watercress is wilted to tame its sharp edge, but a handful of tender leaves and flowers are simply scattered on top. They add a refreshing brightness to the steaming hot stir-fry.
And that’s what you’re going for — a stir-fry so hot it’s still steaming when you serve it. In Chinese it’s called wok hay, which translates to “breath of a wok.” But you don’t actually need a wok to get that effect. Whether you’re using a flat-bottomed skillet (not nonstick!) or a wok, be sure to get it so hot that it’s nearly smoking before you even add the oil. You’ll know it’s ready when you fling a bit of water on the surface and the water dances right back out.
That crazy-hot pan will char the leeks enough to sweeten them but leave them with a little crunch. If you can’t find slender leeks (insider tip: they’re at Chinese supermarkets year round), you can use thick ones too. Just cut off the fibrous dark green parts that will leave you chewing endlessly and slice the parts you’re using in half lengthwise. Maybe it’ll add a few minutes to your prep time, but you’ll still have a full meal on the table in record time.