Indonesia is a transcontinental country that is located mainly in Southeast Asia but spans across Oceania. With more than 17,000 islands, it is the world’s largest island country, and the world’s 7th-largest country when combining sea and land areas. With a population of 260 million, it is also the fourth most populated country, after China, India and the United States.
Gado-gado (in Bahasa Indonesian or Betawi Malay, the language of Jakarta), also known as lotek (in Sundanese and Javanese), is an Indonesian salad of various blanched or steamed vegetables, also accompanied with hard-boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, fried tofu, tempeh, as well chopped as lontong or ketupat (rice cake), that is served with a spicy peanut sauce dressing.
In Indonesia, gado-gado is not really considered a salad but an actual main dish. It is thought to have originally been a Sundanese dish, as it is most prevalent in the Western parts of Java island. However, it is now a common dish throughout Indonesia with each region having its own twist on the traditional recipe.
In Bahasa Indonesia (official language of the country), gado-gado means “mix-mix”, potpourri or medley. Gado comes from the verb menggado, which means “to nibble at the side dishes without the rice”.
Depending on the version, gado-gado may include yardlong beans, bean sprouts, spinach, chayote, potato, bitter gourd, corn and cabbage. Proteins include tofu, tempeh and hard-boiled eggs. The salad is served with a spicy peanut sauce and is also sometimes topped with krupuk or emping (deep-fried crackers made with starch or melinjo), as well as bawang goreng (fried shallots).
The combination of blanched and raw vegetables is important, but the key to a delicious gado-gado is the bumbu kacang, this sauce prepared with fried peanuts, sweet palm sugar, garlic, chili peppers, tamarind and lime. Bumbu kacang is used in many Indonesian dishes including gado-gado, satay, karedok, ketoprak, asinan and pecel.
The authentic and traditional method to prepare this sauce is to use a cobek (pestle) and ulekan (flat rounded stone, mortar). The dry ingredients are ground first, then the tamarind extract is added to reach the desired consistency. I personally used a blender although I am sure the authentic method would have produced a better end result.
In East Java (around Surabaya), the dish is called gado-gado Surabaya or gado-gado Siram. Siram means “pour as food is ordered”. Another version called gado-gado Boplo comes from the area of Jakarta bearing the name. This version uses cashew nuts instead of peanuts for the sauce.
This dish is entirely vegan. If you wish to serve it with deep-fried crackers, just opt for kerupuk sayur (vegetable) or emping, which are just made with melinjo nuts.
I prepared this recipe for a sumptuous Asian dinner feast earlier this month as my friends Thao and Stephane were visiting from San Francisco. I served it as a salad before a delicious Cambodian amok trey, and my favorite Filipino dessert, buko salad.
- ½ lb green beans (or yardlong beans), cut into 2-inch pieces and blanched
- ½ lb bean sprouts , blanched
- ½ lb white cabbage , sliced and blanched
- 4 hard-boiled eggs , quartered
- 4 small cucumbers , sliced
- 12 oz. firm tofu
- 12 oz. tempeh
- 2 potatoes , boiled and cubed (optional)
- Lontong or rice cake (optional)
- Krupuk or emping (optional)
- 2 cups peanuts , unsalted
- 5 cloves garlic , peeled
- 2 red chili peppers seeded and chopped
- 2 oz. palm sugar
- 1 tablespoon tamarind extract
- Juice of 1 lime
First, prepare the sauce by frying the peanuts in a hot pan with a tablespoon of vegetable oil (skip this step if they are roasted). Stir frequently for a few minutes until they get lightly brown.
Mix the peanuts, garlic and chili with a mortar and pestle or in a blender to obtain a homogeneous paste.
In a sauce pan, combine the processed mixture with the tamarind extract, lime juice and water (about ¼ cup). Continue simmering to reach the desired consistency for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Cut tofu in 1-inch cubes. Fry the tofu in a pan with hot vegetable oil to lightly brown them on all the sides.
Slice the tempeh and fry it for a few minutes.
Arrange all the ingredients on a plate and serve with the peanut sauce.