We went to Ben’s sister J’s last weekend in the 90 degree heat to check in on her beautiful and quirky property in Sonoma. We met her in Santa Rosa at a farm where a lovely woman named Vivian raises chickens. Little Sammy immediately availed himself of the flock, grabbing whichever bird would let him near. That kid is so fearless—at two, Leo sure wasn’t picking up any chickens (he wasn’t even at nine). Emus ran around the back of the farm and we bought two dozen gorgeous pastured (chicken! Not emu!) eggs to take home.

At J’s, there were fawns to feed with bottles, more chickens, including three temperamental and hysterical roosters, a pond with bright little fish, and a hose—oh my! Sammy watered for hours on end, and since their property is fed with a spring, we didn’t even feel too guilty about it.

And there was Gado Gado for lunch.

I already had Gado Gado on the brain. I was thinking how all of my recipes so far have been pretty homey, not “company stuff,” as they say. But with its gorgeous layers and colors, the Indonesian dish Gado Gado is the kind of vegetarian dinner you could serve when you want to make a big deal out of someone. Gado Gado is versatile, it feels a bit exotic, it’s a great way to put to use any veggies you’ve got, and it’s delicious. It’s also gluten-free (as have been all of my recipes so far) and good for vegans if you omit the eggs.

Gado Gado is a delicious and easy vegetarian dinner you can even serve to company!

Note that my interpretation of Gado Gado is probably not authentic. (Someday, I’d like to go to Indonesia and eat the real thing.) And like last week’s recipe for tofu, this recipe is more of a concept than a firm list of ingredients and techniques. But that’s what I love about it: the possibilities really are endless.

A note on amounts: I’m sorry not to be firmer in the amounts below, but this dish depends a lot on how many are coming and how big their appetites are, as well as on what’s in your fridge. If I only have three potatoes for my family, I’ll supplement heavily with a sweet potato and a few carrots. Half a cucumber is fine if you also have some beautiful spring onions and a handful of cherry tomatoes. Etc.

Gado Gado

A variety of cooking vegetables, chopped into large-ish bite-sized pieces (potatoes are classic; I have also used sweet potato, carrot, cabbage, greens, etc. Try for a mix of colors and flavors. At J’s we did potatoes, purple sweet potatoes, and large chunks of green and purple cabbage)

A variety of raw vegetables, including cucumber, lettuce, tomato, bean sprouts, green onions, green beans, pickled anything, more cabbage, etc., chopped into large-ish bite-sized pieces (at J’s we had tomatoes, cukes, lightly dressed baby bok choi, pickled carrots, green onions…)

Rice (traditional is sticky rice in a banana leaf! I always just make a pot of jasmine in my rice cooker and call it a day. J made a brown sticky rice, which was delicious)

Baked or fried tofu or tempeh (a block/package will serve four; you can also buy already marinated, seasoned tofu and use that—or, omit it altogether)

1-2 hard boiled eggs per person

Peanut Sauce (recipe below)

To make Gado Gado, prep your veggies: cut everything into bite-sized pieces and get the steamers going. Note that while it’s tempting to just throw everything together, the beauty in this dish is when all the vegetables form a mosaic on your platter. So resist the urge to skimp on pots and pans and neatly separate all your veggies. (This way, too, you’ll be sure that your sweet potatoes are not mushy while your carrots are still hard.)

While your potatoes and similar are steaming away, beautifully wash and prep your raw veggies. Boil your eggs, fry your tofu, and prepare your peanut sauce and rice.

When your cooked vegetables are cooked and your raw vegetables are beautifully chopped, get out your most beautiful platter and arrange everything. I like to pile like with like around the plate, making a rainbow of colors. Serve your rice on the side. You can either drizzle over some peanut sauce (and pass more at the table) or serve the sauce in a pitcher for everyone to help themselves. Either way, be sure to have plenty of peanut sauce.

As J says, without the sauce, it’s just a pile of vegetables.

Serve with hot sauce, too, for those who like it spicy!

Peanut (or Almond) Sauce

This is a recipe I love from Cynthia Lair’s fabulous cookbook Feeding the Whole Family. I *always* double it.

¼ cup creamy peanut or almond butter

2 teaspoons maple syrup

2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon or more grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon sriracha or similar hot sauce (or to taste)

1/3 cup of water

Put all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk until the sauce is smooth and warm. Thin with water as necessary. 

Love peanut sauce? Make Bathing Rama, too: noodles or rice, fried tofu, a big pile of spinach or other cooked greens, all drizzled with the sauce. Yum.

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P.S. You might also like:

Vegetarian Dinners That Don’t Suck

Vegetarian Dinners That Don’t Suck Part Two: Indian Feast

Vegetarian Dinners That Don’t Suck Part Three: Tofu Two Ways

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