It is the peanut dressing that makes this salad. So compelling is the mix of umami with the zing of kaffir lime that folk songs have been penned to its name in Jakarta. I promise it is worth the effort of frying and grinding your own peanuts - it lifts the dressing to a new level - but no one will judge if you use peanut butter. Gado gado translates as a ‘jumbled mix’ so choose any vegetables you have. Bulk it out with tofu, boiled potatoes, ribbons of fried tempeh and prawn crackers if you want a more substantial meal. Or strip it back to just the blanched vegetables and dressing.
Start by preparing all your ingredients for the salad. Trim and slice the vegetables. Fry the tofu in a little oil for about 15 minutes, until golden. Soft-boil the eggs for 6 minutes and peel under cold water.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. First add the beans. After 1½ minutes add the bok choy, water spinach and spinach. After half a minute more, add the cabbage and beansprouts and immediately turn off the heat. Drain and run cold water through the colander to stop the cooking. Set aside.
If you are using raw peanuts in the dressing, you’ll need to fry them to bring out the toasty flavours. Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat until shimmering, add the nuts and stir-fry for a minute. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to fry, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until the nuts are deep golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
Using a large pestle and mortar, food processor or high-speed blender, grind the peanuts (and their skins) with the garlic, salt and palm sugar. Keep going; the oils in the peanuts will eventually come out, turning the rubble into a smooth peanut butter. Thin with a little water, but the dressing should be thick and fragrant. Mix in the kecap manis, crisp-fried shallots and juice from the kaffir lime. Taste to make sure the flavours sing, and adjust if needed.
Traditionally the dressing will be ground in the wide bowl of a ulek, coating its base. The vegetables will be added on top and tossed together. I like to replicate this by spooning the dressing into serving bowls and spreading it up the sides. Arrange the vegetables and tofu on top, along with halved boiled eggs and a few crackers. Drizzle over a little kecap manis and let everyone toss together their own portion at the table.
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