My sister-in-law is from a small village in Indonesia. One of her first gifts to me, because she knew my love of cooking, was a cookbook that was 100% Indonesian recipes. It was amazing to pour over because it wasn’t quite Vietnamese, wasn’t quite Thai, wasn’t quite Chinese, but a unique cuisine characteristic of its island isolation. Yes, there are their version of curries that have elements of Thai cuisine, but that’s more a result of common ingredients shared, used in a way complimentary to a shared tropical environment.
Even before meeting my sister-in-law, there was a restaurant in my hometown of Regina that served a vegan version of the famous Indonesian salad, gado gado. I loved how there could be a savoury peanut sauce on what was essentially a plate of steamed or blanched vegetables and bean sprouts.
Within Indonesian cuisine, the idea of a salad has common traits: mostly a peanut-based sauce that can be either sweet or sour, usually spicy with chillis and sometimes includes dried shrimp for a varied savoury flavour.
Since peanuts don’t grow nearby (I could grow them myself but I don’t have available land living in an apartment), I decided to used a toasted flax base. I wanted a tart flavour to go with it so I went with a rhubarb compote.
The vegetables involved can be anything, but generally are firmer vegetables that are steamed or blanched: green beans, potatoes, carrots, among others. It can also have wilted greens like spinach or chard. Then there’s the bean curd component in many Indonesian dishes. They can have fried tofu strips, fermented bean curd, or tempeh. It doesn’t try to be vegan or vegetarian, the cuisine just happens to work out that way. A lot of it has to do with using what is available, mainly due to a combination of poverty and an abundance of certain natural resources.
Here’s my variation on Indonesian Gado Gado. Feel free to use whatever veggies you like in whatever combination you like.
Gado Gado Salad with Rhubarb Toasted Flax Sauce
For the Rhubarb Toasted Flax Sambal:
1/4 cup toasted flax seeds (toast in a dry pan over medium high heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring and shaking the pan constantly until deeply golden brown)
2 Tbsp chopped red finger chilli
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp honey
1/4 cup rhubarb compote (2 cups fresh rhubarb + 1/2 cup honey cooked down over medium heat until broken down and thickened, about 20-25 minutes)
1-2 Tbsp water
Place all the ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. If it’s too thick add another tablespoon or two of water to thin out to a nice dip-like texture. Set aside.
For the salad:
4-6 medium carrots, if they’re fresh leave them unpeeled, cut in half lengthwise, blanched for 5-7 minutes and chilled in ice water
10-12 flat beans, blanched for 5-7 minutes and chilled in ice water
10-12 yellow or green beans, blanched for 5-7 minutes and chilled in ice water
1 cup lentil sprouts (to sprout your own see here), or other bean sprouts
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
3 or 4 baby zucchini, quartered lengthwise, pan roasted in a bit of oil for 3-4 minutes until golden on all sides.
On two plates, lay out the carrots, flat beans, yellow beans, hard boiled eggs and baby zucchini around the plate in a decorative fanning pattern. Add a mound of lentil sprouts to the centre of each plate. Serve with the Rhubarb Toasted Flax Sambal in side dishes. The sambal can be either spooned over the top of the salad like a dressing or used as a dip not unlike fondue. Serves 2.