Gado gado – Indonesian vegetable dish

To celebrate the release of my novel Shifting Reality, which features Indonesians (and Indonesian cooking) in space, here is your very own recipe for gado gado. This recipe is a favourite passed to me through the huge Indonesian cook-ins we used to have in our family. The quantities are very loose because none of this recipe was ever written down. Use your judgement depending on how many people you are cooking for. It’s very flexible. Since the basic recipe is vegetarian, you may like to make another dish. We often have chicken sate, so I include that recipe here.

Chicken sate:
Mix up some curry powder with a tiny bit of tomato sauce, crushed garlic and a good quantity of kecap manis. You can substitute soy sauce, but get the generic (for example Coles) brand, not the rancid Chinese variety. The marinade needs to be dark brown in colour, not yellow or red. Mix in with chicken pieces. Put chicken pieces on bamboo stick. You can start putting those in the grill now.

Vegetables for gado-gado:
Make a colourful mix of whatever vegetables are in season. You want to at least include bean sprouts*, but other good ingredients are green beans, carrot strips, small pieces of cauliflower and white cabbage. Do not include onions. Blanch any of these vegetables you dislike eating raw. Arrange on a plate. Top with cubed tofu and/or peeled and quartered eggs. Decorate with cucumber strips.

The sauce:
This is the secret ingredient. Saute a finely-cut garlic and onion in a bit of oil with a tablespoon of brown sugar (or use palm sugar if you have any). When onions are cooked, add a tablespoon of vinegar. At this time, you can also add a teaspoon of sambal goreng (available in small jars in most supermarkets) and a small piece of trassi udang** if you have any. Add about 3 good-sized tablespoons of peanut butter. Stir well and add 2 tablespoons of kecap manis (or generic brand soy sauce as per above). Now add a bit of water. The mixture will go dark in colour. Keep adding more water and stir. The peanut butter will act as a thickener and will make a smooth peanut-coloured sauce. This will require a fair bit of water, by the way, at least half a cup. If you happen to add too much, you can always add a bit more peanut butter.

Pour the sauce over the vegetables (and optional sate sticks arranged on top).

Serve with plain white rice.

For something different, serve with a bowl of freshly made krupuk emping, which are similar to prawn chips but made from nuts. You can buy krupuk emping in many Asian supermarkets, but you may have to cook it. Anyway, cooking your own prawn chips is so much better than getting the ready-made variety. Just heat some oil in a pan (oil needs to be at least 2cm deep) and toss the chips in a few at a time. Watch them go patooing! and take them out immediately with a slotted spoon. Do not let them turn brown, because they will taste burnt. Leave to cool and drain on a bit of kitchen paper.

* bean sprouts or tauge are essential for a lot of Indonesian cooking. The ones you get in the supermarket are often of deplorable quality, so here’s how to make your own. Buy a packet of green mung beans from any Asian supermarket. You will also need a preferably plastic sieve or colander, and a container with a lid (like a pan) where you can suspend the sieve or colander insie the container and put the lid on for a reasonable seal.
Toss a handful of mung beans in the bottom of the sieve. Rinse. Fill pan with water and suspend the sieve with beans on top so that the beans are submerged. Put on lid. Put in a dark and not too cold place (NOT in the fridge). Leave for a day. Drain water and rinse beans. Now suspend the sieve inside the pan without the water, but keeping the lid on. Put in the same dark cupboard. Rinse beans every day and keep them covered in the sieve inside the pan. The bean sprouts should be ready within a day or two, or three, or… depending on how cold your house is.

** trassi udang is shrimp paste. It can come in various shapes, including powdered in a jar or in a small block similar to a large stock cube. It’s brown, and yes, it pongs. You only use a very small piece. Keep in the frigde.

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