Creamy, crunchy and plant-ey

How many dishes can serve up a fridge load of vegetables with pizzazz? I have an ongoing argument that nutrition comes from variety across meals, not within them — mixing together every colour of the rainbow just makes brown, not a rainbow, if you know what I mean. But Gado Gado is one of those dishes that proves me wrong; a chink in the armor of variety over time. Here, we find potato, cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, onion, cucumber, tomato, all stirred up into a work of art. Creamy steamed vegetables and crunchy fresh cucumber and carrot, all elevated by a crisp fried topping and married together with an incredible peanut sauce.

Take the plant challenge

Now, this is a dish that celebrates vegetables but traditionally it isn’t wholly plant-based — it’s usually served with boiled egg, prawn crackers and it’s often seasoned with fish sauce. But given how much I love this dish, and because it’s such a delight of flavour and textures, I set myself the goal of upping the plant factor to 100. Not an easy challenge, since egg and prawn crackers don’t seem to have any obvious alternatives.

Unsurprisingly, I went for the quick win first. Replacing fish sauce with soy sauce still gives us umami in the dressing, but no one’s really missing the extra funkiness here with so much already going on.

Undressed gado gado salad
Oh no, I’m undressed!

The chickpea or the egg?

Next I tackled the egg; I was concerned that removing such a well-loved ingredient would detract from the dish, but after tasting the result, I can tell you that it’s not missed at all. Nestled comfortably in the gap left by egg are lightly fried chickpeas that have already been boiled or tipped out of a can. This way, we don’t lose the protein and the dish is still more satisfying than a light salad. Chickpeas have a similar density and honestly, when mixed into a salad like this, the taste is quite similar.

Interestingly enough, my daughter walked into the kitchen the other day just as I was opening up the pressure cooker on some freshly cooked chickpeas, and she commented that it smelled like eggs. I did not drop any sulfur bombs, so my second substitution appears to pass the kid test!

Rice noodle surprise

Last up we have the prawn crackers. Those things are so distinctive that I couldn’t imagine there’d be any way to replace them. And yet — a quick search online told me that rice paper could puff in the same way. Taking that one step further? Rice noodles are basically rice paper in noodle form, so it was strongly implied that they should puff up just like prawn crackers.

Crispy and curly rice noodle puffs

I set out to test my theory, snapping a couple of noodles into 1 inch lengths and dropping them into bubbling oil. And puff they did. Dare I say that they work even better in this dish? Prawn crackers can be a bit large and thick unless you break them up, but these — these short, crispy curls — fit like Cinderella’s shoe and lend the dish an amazing crunch. I’d even go so far as to call them a permaculture ingredient (yes, I just did that). They’re easier and quicker to puff than prawn crackers, and super handy when you’ve already got rice noodles in the pantry for other dishes — a couple of noodles go a long way. Better yet, if you have any leftovers you can just season them with some salt and garlic powder for your own riff on Cheetos (no joke!).

A happy ending

Put all of the elements together and you’ve got a dish that’s just as satisfying, textural and delicious as the original. It still has that amazing peanut sauce that can bring anything to life (some part of me suspects it contains magic that could make even the most unsavory of foods appealing, but that’s a challenge for another day). For now, feel satisfied knowing that you’ve cleared out half the fridge and dosed yourself with something far healthier than a multivitamin. Serve up a few large scoops, go out into the garden and revel at how the colours of autumn are mirrored on your plate.

Gado Gado

Serves 6 Makes Prep Time: 8 minutes Cook Time: 1 hour 1 minute Total Time: 1 hour 9 minutes
  1. Steamed 27 minutes
    • Steamer
    1. 2 minutes
      Prepare steamer Prepare a steamer
    2. 5 minutes
      Chop cauliflower and potato Chop the cauliflower and potato into small chunks
    3. 20 minutes
      Steam cauliflower and potato Steam the cauliflower and potato
  2. Fresh 5 minutes
    • 4 small Tomato Cut into small cubes
    • 1 medium Carrot Shredded
    • 1 small head Cabbage Shredded
    • 0.5 medium Red Onion Thinly sliced
    • 1 bunch Spring Onion Sliced
    1. 5 minutes
      Prepare Prepare all of the fresh ingredients
  3. Fried 25 minutes
    • Heavy-bottomed fry pan
    • A spider or slotted spoon
    • 2 pieces Dry Tofu
    • 0.5 cup Chickpeas
    • 0.5 cup Oil
    • 2 sticks Rice Noodles
    1. 1 minute
      Break noodles Break up the rice noodles into 1 inch lengths
    2. 4 minutes
      Heat oil Heat the oil in a large wok. You may want to angle the wok slightly to make the pool of oil deeper. If you place a chopstick into the oil and it bubbles, then you're ready.
    3. 10 minutes
      Puff the noodles Throw a handful of broken noodles at a time into the oil and wait a few seconds for them to puff. Place the fried noodles onto your skillet to soak up any residual oil
    4. 10 minutes
      Fry tofu and chickpeas Remove the noodles from the skillet, put it over medium heat, and fry the tofu and chickpeas
  4. Sauce 8 minutes
    • Small pot
    • 0.5 medium Onion Finely diced
    • 2 cloves Garlic Sliced
    • 1 small Chilli Sliced
    • 0.75 cup Peanut Butter
    • 2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
    • 0.5 cup Coconut Milk or any plant-based milk
    • 1 teaspoon Sugar
    • 3 tablespoons Lime juice or lemon juice
    1. 1 minute
      Add aromatics to pot Place the onion, garlic and chilli into a small pot with a few tablespoons of water
    2. 3 minutes
      Saute aromatics Saute the aromatics until they are softened and fragrant
    3. 1 minute
      Add peanut butter Add the peanut butter to the pot and mash with a spoon
    4. 1 minute
      Add remaining ingredients Add the rest of the ingredients to the pot and mix with a spoon until you have a rich sauce
    5. 1 minute
      Heat the sauce Continue to cook the sauce on low heat for a minute
    6. 1 minute
      Add lime juice Turn off the heat and mix the lime juice into the sauce
  5. Mix 4 minutes
    • Large serving bowl
    1. 1 minute
      Put fresh with steamed Put the fresh and steamed ingredients in a large serving bowl
    2. 1 minute
      Pour sauce over salad Top with the peanut sauce
    3. 1 minute
      Stir until coated Stir until thoroughly combined and everything is coated in the sauce
    4. 1 minute
      Top with fried Add the fried ingredients on top


  1. Beautiful recipe and so much useful information. Especially frying noodles. Who would have thought? Yumm!!!

    1. Thanks Denise! Yes, it was a happy surprise to find that my noodle experiment paid off. 🙂

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