Balinese style gado gado rolls with sweet and spicy home made peanut sauce are a great vegan side dish or delicious snack.
My hint of a tan has gone, the warmth of the sun has left my bones and memories of Bali are starting to feel like a dream.
I’m happy to dwell in the Balinese rabbit hole I fell into last month, by sharing just a few more of my favourite Indonesian recipes. (Then I promise I’ll snap out of it. Maybe).
We all know how smells can take us back to a place, and it’s fair to say flavours do the same. I’m enjoying this quite a lot.
Tinkering with this peanut sauce recipe, tasting as I went, put me immediately in mind of the many, many dishes of gado gado I’ve eaten in Indonesia.
Gado gado (literally meaning mix-mix) is an Indonesian salad of boiled, blanched or steamed vegetables served with a richly flavoured peanut sauce. It’s often served with boiled potato and egg, sliced cucumber and fried tofu or tempeh. Just leave off the egg and it’s a delicious vegan meal.
Gado gado rolls
I’ve enjoyed gado gado served in many ways, from fully freestyle at beachside warungs through to a carefully plated, almost sculptural version at a lovely restaurant amid rice paddies in the Sidemen Valley.
Using blanched cabbage leaves to roll the salad components into a tidy little package is really popular in Bali, and not limited to higher end restaurants. It looks nice, but it’s also practical and easy to eat.
As a meal, these gado gado rolls might be served alongside some rice, a wedge or two of fried tempeh, and a generous serve of peanut sauce. You can also serve them as a side dish with an Indonesian meal (try them with a Balinese curry and urab sayur). I like the idea of these as a potluck or ‘bring a plate’ dish too.
Making the gado gado rolls is easy and quite fun. Start by removing seven or eight outer leaves of a cabbage, being careful to keep them in one piece. It’s a good idea to use a small, sharp knife to trim some (not all) of the thick stem part away, before quickly blanching the cabbage leaves in boiling water for 10-20 seconds, just enough to soften them, before running them under cold water to refresh.
Then assemble your choice of blanched vegetables on each leaf and roll them up tight. I used mung bean sprouts, green beans, spinach and carrot for my filling.
Once tightly rolled, slice the raggedy ends off on an angle, and slice each roll into two pieces.
A full flavoured, sweet, spicy and savoury peanut sauce or bumbu kacang is absolutely essential to a delicious gado gado.
The main ingredient is ground roasted peanuts, and the other key players include garlic, shallots, chilli, palm or coconut sugar, soy sauce and lime or tamarind for sourness. Some recipes use coconut milk.
The recipe I’m sharing with you today is based on the method taught to me by Putu, a Balinese cook I spent a day with in Bali. We ground roasted peanuts and other ingredients in a wide ulekan, or wide, flat mortar and pestle, until smooth, before frying them off with some coconut oil, seasoning the mixture and thinning it with water.
I don’t have a big enough mortar and pestle to easily manage this at home, so I used my food processor to grind everything as smooth as I could. The texture of the finished sauce was pretty good, but definitely grainer than the version we made in Bali. It might work better to process the ingredients, then give them a secondary smash with a mortar and pestle once most of the hard work has been done. Or try using peanut butter.
This sauce can be served thick, as I did, or as more of a dressing – just add more water until you reach a consistency you like. Keep in mind it’ll thicken as it cools too.
I ate these gado gado rolls by spooning a dollop of thick peanut sauce onto one end, then gobbling them right up. Delicious.
Gado gado rolls with peanut sauce
For the gado gado rolls:
- 7-8 whole cabbage leaves
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into batons
- 1 handful green beans, trimmed
- 2-3 handfuls bean sprouts
- 2-3 handfuls spinach leaves
For the peanut sauce:
- 1 cup roasted peanuts
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 2 shallots, peeled and sliced, see recipe notes
- 1-2 long red chillis, sliced, see recipe notes
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 tbsp kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)
- 1 tbsp palm or coconut sugar
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the gado gado rolls:
- Use a small, sharp knife to carefully trim away some (but not all) of the thick part of the cabbage stems. The idea is to make them less thick, so that they're easy to roll and eat later.
- Fill a large, deep saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Drop the cabbage leaves in one or two at a time and blanch for 10-20 seconds, or just until soft. Remove, drain and refresh under cold water, then drain well.
- Blanch, refresh and drain the other vegetables, one type at a time. Blanch carrots and beans for 2-3 minutes, and blanch spinach and bean sprouts for 20 seconds.
- Assemble some of each filling ingredient along a cabbage leaf, roll tightly, then trip away the raggedy ends and slice each roll into two portions. Repeat until you've used up your ingredients. Arrange the rolls on a serving platter ready to serve, or refrigerate for later.
For the peanut sauce:
- Use a mortar and pestle or food processor to grind the peanuts, garlic, shallot and chilli together, as smooth as possible.
- Heat coconut oil in a small frypan (skillet) until medium hot, then add the peanut mixture. Fry, stirring constantly, for a few minutes or until fragrant and darkening in colour a little.
- Add kecap manis and palm or coconut sugar, and stir through.
- Add water, stirring, until you reach a consistency you like. I used about 1 cup of water. Cook for a few more minutes, and adjust the water again if needed (it'll thicken as it cooks).
- Add lime juice, taste and adjust seasoning with more lime juice and up to 1/2 tsp of salt as needed.
- Serve gado gado rolls with peanut sauce, which is best served warm but can be used at any temperature.
- Gado gado roll ingredient quantities are estimated and flexible.
- I used New Zealand shallots, which are approximately thumb-sized.
- Use one chilli with seeds removed for a mildly spicy peanut sauce. Use more, and/or leave the seeds in for a spicier sauce.
- To make this sauce gluten free, replace the kecap manis with tamari and add another 1 tbsp of palm or coconut sugar, to taste.