Asian Foods Ep.2

Asian Foods : Gado Gado (Indonesian salad with peanut sauce)

by Thomas M. Tillman
Gado Gado – fun to say, delicious to eat, this traditional Indonesian salad is probably the only recipe where you can put the words “blanched vegetables” and “tasty” in the same sentence and really mean it. That Gado Gado peanut sauce is a miracle worker! A Bali food favourite, it’s healthy and endlessly versatile. Use ANY vegetables – raw or cooked!

Gado Gado – Indonesian Salad with Peanut Sauce

This is a dish for the veg hating child within all of us. Clever Indonesians figured out a way to make plain vegetables completely irresistible to everyone – by drizzling with a sweet savoury Indonesian peanut sauce! Because seriously – if you plonk a giant plate of boiled vegetables in front of me and call it dinner, I would look at you like you’d lost your mind. But then if peanut sauce makes an appearance…. suddenly, dinner gets a whole lot more exciting. Gado Gado! We love saying the name, we love how colourful it is, we most definitely love eating it, and we REALLY love that how virtuous it makes us feel, scoffing down so many vegetables for dinner!

“Gado Gado” means “mix-mix” which is appropriate for this versatile dish that can be made with any mix of vegetables

What goes in Gado Gado Peanut Sauce

Gado Gado is all about the peanut sauce which is a slight variation of Thai Peanut Sauce. When made from scratch, it’s a bit of a pain, calling for pureeing roasted peanuts (and it’s tough to make it completely smooth), a handful of aromatics like lemongrass, galangal, garlic, South East Asian “umami” from shrimp paste, plus sauces. So I take a cheeky but highly effective shortcut using a bit of Thai red curry paste. It has the same ingredients, and saves a bunch of time, effort and money. Win, win, win!
  • Thai red curry paste – my favourite brand its Maesri. Best most authentic flavour by far – and happens to be the cheapest at ~$1.50 for a little can. Available at large grocery stores in Australia (Coles, Woolworths, Harris Farms) and of course, Asian stores. And yes, dear regular readers, you just read the same about Massaman Curry paste in Friday’s lamb shanks recipe!!
  • Natural peanut butter – Natural peanut butter is 100% peanuts and has a stronger peanut flavour than commercial peanut butter which has sugar and other additives. Pretty widely available nowadays in the health food section of supermarkets. Can use normal peanut butter spread but the peanut flavour is not as good and sauce will be thicker. Do not be tempted to dilute with too much water – it will dilute the flavour!
  • Kecap Manis – dark sweet thick sweet Indonesian soy sauce. Thicker and sweeter than normal soy sauce, with a consistency like syrup. Here in Australia, kecap manis is available in major supermarkets and Asian stores. Easy sub: honey and dark soy sauce. Also used for: Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice), Indonesian Satay Chicken and Mie Goreng Noodles;
  • Coconut milk – flavour and creaminess for the sauce;
  • Lime and garlic – tang and flavour!

What goes in Gado Gado

The whole point of Gado Gado is to be versatile, so while Gado Gado in Indonesia will usually be served with one or two ingredients you mightn’t be familiar with (such as Morning Glory, bitter gourd, chayote), you will likely recognise most ingredients. Spinach, beansprouts, egg and cucumber are typically included, so I’ve included it in mine. Potato is my starch of choice, though you could easily include some rice instead, or bulk out on more filling vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower. It’s nice to include a variety of textures and colours, as well as a starch so it makes a satisfying meal. Any potato, or something like pumpkin, or vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower are great for filling out this salad to make it a meal that will keep you full.


The one ingredient you spy in the above that you mightn’t be familiar with is tempeh. Tempeh is an Indonesian fermented soy bean product that vegetarians are mad for!😂 It has a texture like firm tofu, but meatier, and it tastes nutty – kind of like sunflower seeds. Nowadays, it’s usually available in the tofu section of large supermarkets in Australia (Wooles, Coles, Harris Farms).


Totally fine. Substitute with crispy tofu (included in recipe) or just leave it out and add another vegetable!

How to make Gado Gado

There’s a few components to making Gado Gado but it’s very straightforward:
  • Peanut sauce – plonk in saucepan, simmer 5 minutes;
  • Vegetables – blanch vegetables that need cooking;
  • Crispy tempeh or tofu – fry it up last so they’re nice and crispy, fresh out of the skillet;
  • Pile up the platter and serve it up!

Prawn Crackers – optional 

Oh – I haven’t mentioned prawn crackers yet. They are traditionally served on the side of Gado Gado – terrific crunchy addition that doubles as an eating vessel. I feel like Gado Gado has so many components to it as is, it’s kind of like the cherry on top. That is – I include it when I’m making for friends, leave it out when it’s a quick(ish) meal for myself. Buy a bag ready made, fry them up yourself (you’ll find raw prawn crackers in the Asian aisle of most large supermarkets nowadays) or a quick no-fry microwave popping option –  just place 8 to 10 on the edge of a microwave turntable and microwave for 20 to 30 seconds. (Yes really, it works 100%).

How to serve Gado Gado

Gado Gado is a mega salad that’s intended to be served as a main course salad. But it also works beautifully as part of a spread for sharing. The recipe as written below is for 2 people, but if you add a side of Nasi Goreng (Indonesian Fried Rice) or Mee Goreng (Indonesian Noodles) it would easily serve 4. If you wanted to bulk out the meal with some rice, add a side of coconut rice (people go bonkers over coconut rice with peanut sauce!). It travels well, being a dish that can be served at room temperature (tempeh aside), and reheats very quickly if you so choose (the vegetables warm quickly). But mostly, think of Gado Gado as a means to consume lots of vegetables in an extremely delicious form. I mean, you could blitz up another green smoothie that tastes like grass (because you got too enthusiastic with the kale, thinking well if I’m gonna do this, I may as well load it up), that you force yourself to drink all the while pinching your nose. Or you could do what the Indonesians do – cook up a pile of vegetables and douse it in peanut sauce.



  • 1/3 cup natural peanut butter, smooth or crunchy (your choice) (Note 1)
  • 4 tsp red curry paste , store bought (Maesri brand best, Note 2)
  • 3 tsp Kecap Manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce, Note 3)
  • 1 tsp sambal oelak or other chilli paste (adjust spiciness to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large garlic clove , pressed using garlic press (~ 3/4 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lime juice (Note 4)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk , full fat (Ayam brand best)
  • 1/2 cup water


  • 1 bunch spinach , roots trimmed
  • 4 cups beansprouts
  • 200g / 7 oz potato - small halved, large peeled chopped 2 cm / 1" cubes OR 1.5cm / 1/2" slices
  • 1 cucumber , sliced on the diagonal ( or 1/2 long cucumber ie Telegraph/English)
  • 2 - 3 boiled eggs , peeled and halved
  • 15 prawn crackers , optional (Note 6)


  • 2 tbsp vegetable or peanut oil
  • 200g / 7 oz tempeh (or firm tofu, Note 7)


  • 1 tbsp finely chopped peanuts (highly recommended)
  • Red chilli , finely sliced, optional (small = spicy, large = less spicy)



  • Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Bring to simmer then cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly so the bottom doesn't catch, until it thickens. If too thick, just add more water - should be able to drizzle it (see video for thickness).
  • Taste and adjust as follows: lime for more sour, salt, sugar for sweet.
  • Cover and keep warm.


  • Bring a saucepan of water to the boil.
  • Add potatoes and cook for 5 minutes or until cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to colander to drain.
  • Cook beansprouts for 3 minutes or until just wilted. Transfer to colander, press out excess water.
  • Add spinach, push under to submerge - will instantly wilt. Remove, transfer to colander, press out excess water.


  • Slice into 0.75 x 5 cm / 1/3 x 2" slices (or thereabouts).
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Cook tempeh 2 min on each side until deep golden and crispy. (Tofu ~ 1 1/2 min)


  • Either make one platter for sharing, or individual. Vegetables and egg can be served warm or at room temp, sauce should be served warm (it thickens when cool).
  • Place vegetables and tempeh on serving plate, top with egg.
  • Pour sauce into serving bowl.
  • Serve Gado Gado Salad with peanut sauce, peanuts for sprinkling, fresh chillies and prawn crackers on the side.

Recipe Notes:

1. Peanut butter - use natural / pure peanut butter with no added sugar, oil or other additives. It has a more intense peanut flavour so the sauce is tastier. If you use Kraft or another peanut butter spread with sugar etc added, it's still tasty but: a) the sauce won't be as peanutty (and if you add more, sauce will be too thick); and b) skip kecap manis, use dark soy instead, otherwise the peanut sauce will be too sweet. 2. Red Curry Paste - regular readers know I am very loyal to Maesri brand Thai Curry pastes! By far the best available to the general public (here in Australia), and also happens to be the cheapest. Little tins ~$1.50, sold at large Woolworths, Coles, all Harris Farms and Asian stores. I use it for Red, Green and Massaman Curry (also the epic Lamb Shank Massaman from Friday!). 3. Kecap Manis (sometimes called Ketjap Manis) is an Indonesian sweet soy sauce that is thicker than other soy sauces. Sometimes just labelled as "sweet soy sauce". Consistency resembles maple syrup, available in most supermarkets in Australia (Woolworths, Coles, Harris Farms). 4. Lime subs - or 1 tbsp cider vinegar, or 2 tsp white vinegar. 5. Vegetables:
  • Spinach - hard to measure, I use one whole standard bunch sold at the supermarkets (a big standard bunch). Diameter of the stems of the bunch is around the size of a tennis ball. It will look like a lot but will wilt down about 80% in volume.
  • Beansprouts - again, hard to measure! Use 2 big handfuls.
  • Other vegetables - blanched: carrot (diagonal slice), green beans, broccoli/broccolini, cauliflower, asparagus, any Asian greens, cabbage (fairly finely sliced), zucchini, corn, baby corn, kale, silverbeet/Swiss chard, sweet potato, pumpkin.
  • Raw veg: tomato wedges or cherry tomatoes, radish.
6. Prawn crackers - traditionally served on the side, great crunch factor / to build bites. Either buy them or make (sold in large Aussie grocery stores in Asian section). Make per packet by frying OR make a NO FAT version using the microwave - place 8 to 10 around the edges of turntable, microwave 20 to 30 seconds. They will puff up and be crispy, just like they're fried! 7. Tempeh - traditional Indonesian ingredient made from fermented soy beans, it's like really firm tofu except it tastes nutty (sort of like sunflower seeds). Pan fries golden with a beautiful crispy outside. Vegetarians are mad for it! Best served hot out of the skillet - it is very addictive (especially with the peanut sauce!). Tofu - dust with flour to make crispy. Pat dry, sprinkle with table salt and pepper, then just before cooking, dust lightly with flour. 8. Storage - makes more sauce than you will need (hard to make less), keeps 5 days in the fridge or 3 months in freezer. Use it for a quick veg side salad, or dunking! Reheating cooked veg - spinach and beansprouts leach water when reheated, so reheat them separately before plating up. 9. Nutrition per serving, assuming half the sauce is used (it's about 1/3 cup per serve - quite generous!). Most of the calories is in the sauce due to the peanuts, then the oil for cooking the tempeh, then egg and potato. This is a filling serve for a main course!