Paleo Gado Gado Recipe

In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the story of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle.

In the article below, I took a deeper look at the Indonesian dish gado-gado, a salad that’s hearty enough to be a meal—and super easy to make. It’s great for filling you with energy during a post-holiday clean-up, and the bonus is that it doesn’t feel like a clean-up because it tastes so good!

Sure, you can refer to gado-gado as a “salad,” but only if you define salad as “colorful extravaganza of flavor explosions.”

Translated as “mix-mix” and pronounced GOD-o-GOD-o, gado-gado is a popular Indonesian one-plate meal. It combines raw vegetables, steamed vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, and a luscious peanut or cashew butter dressing topped with crispy fried shallots and ginger. While the vegetables are delicious, the true appeal of the dish is the dressing, a contrast of salty, sour, sweet, and spicy flavors. Truth: this dressing could make even shredded newspaper taste like a delicacy.

The Wall Street Journal proclaimed gado-gado a “morning-to-nighttime staple,” and its presentation can be both humble—a bowl of vegetables under a blanket of dressing—or elaborate. For special events like weddings, the gado-gado ingredients are piled into a wedding cake-like pyramid to serve to the celebrating crowd.

In Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia located on the island of Java, gado-gado is served all over the city. Each cook—from the kitchen of a five-star restaurant to a street-vendor’s cart—customizes gado-gado based on personal preference and available veggies. It’s often served with steamed rice or prawn crackers. There are usually a few slices of fried tofu, and the dressing may or may not be made with coconut milk. But there are a few fundamentals that define the dish: boiled potatoes and hard-boiled egg are a must, and the dressing should be served warm, mixed thoroughly with the room temperature salad ingredients. After eating gado-gado myself, I would argue that crispy shallots and fried ginger are also non-negotiable. Those two condiments make it a sexy way to eat your vegetables.

To add a bigger punch of protein, I modeled this recipe on one from a gado-gado stall in Jakarta that tops its salad with fried chicken, known as ayam goreng. I’ve also replaced the peanut butter found in most recipes with sunflower seed butter, but you could also use cashew butter to replicate an authentic taste. In Indonesian cuisine, cooks use shrimp paste known as terasi to add umami to their dressing. I’ve used the easier-to-find dried shrimp in my version. If you can’t find dried shrimp, you can substitute 1 whole anchovy or add a splash of fish sauce. (Red Boat is great!)

Feel free to play around with this recipe to suit your tastes. As William Wongso, host of the Indonesian TV show Cooking Adventure, explains: “Gado-gado has probably been around for as long as we’ve had nuts and chiles…. Everybody does it slightly differently. That’s the beauty. You can have it how you like it.”


Paleo Gado-Gado

Serves 4 | Whole30 approved when you omit the coconut sugar in the dressing

All of the ingredients can be prepared in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To serve, bring all the ingredients to room temperature and heat the dressing so it can be drizzled, warm, over the salad ingredients.

  • 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil

  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed

  • 1 serrano chile pepper, seeds removed, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup sunflower seed or cashew butter

  • 1/4 cup canned coconut milk

  • 1/2 cup hot water

  • 1 tablespoon lime juice

  • 1 tablespoon coconut aminos

  • 2 tablespoons coconut sugar (omit for Whole30)

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried shrimp (or 1 anchovy)

Vegetables: Your choice of...
  • steamed broccoli

  • steamed carrots

  • steamed spinach

  • steamed green beans

  • steamed cauliflower

  • steamed cabbage

  • raw cucumber

  • raw lettuce

  • raw tomato

  • raw celery

  • boiled potatoes

Pan-Crisped Chicken:
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • salt and ground black pepper

  • 4 hard-boiled eggs

  • crispy shallots

  • fried ginger

  • sliced raw scallions


To make the dressing:
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut oil and allow it to melt. Add the garlic and chile pepper to the pan and stir-fry until golden and beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Place the garlic and chile pepper in a blender or food processor. Add the sunflower seed butter, coconut milk, hot water, lime juice, coconut aminos, coconut sugar, salt, and dried shrimp. Purée until smooth, adding more water if the sauce is too thick. Transfer dressing to a small saucepan and keep warm until it’s time to eat. The dressing can be stored, covered, in the fridge for up to 5 days; just reheat before adding to the salad.


To make the chicken:
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Add the coconut oil and allow it to melt. Sprinkle the chicken generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken in the pan in a single layer, leaving some wiggle room around the pieces. (You may have to do this in two batches.) Place a smaller pan on top of the chicken so the chicken is pressed down into the fat and cook, undisturbed, for 5-7 minutes. Flip the chicken and repeat on the other side. Set the cooked chicken aside until cool enough to handle, then cut into thin slices.


To make the crispy shallots and fried ginger:
Cook each separately but follow the same instructions. Slice the vegetable very thinly and toss with 1 tablespoons arrowroot powder or baking soda until lightly coated. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes. Add 1-2 tablespoons coconut oil and allow it to melt. Add the vegetable in a single layer and stir-fry until golden brown and beginning to get crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to paper towels to drain; they’ll get crispier as they cool. If you make these in advance and they get soft in the refrigerator, you can re-crisp them on a baking sheet in a 300F oven for a few minutes.


Assemble the salad:
The salad should be served at room temperature; the dressing should be warm. Arrange the vegetables, chicken, and hard-boiled eggs on a serving plate. Drizzle with the dressing, and pass small bowls of the crispy shallots, fried ginger, and raw scallions so everyone can garnish their own plate.


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  • lyndamac says:

    This looks great! I make a meal to take to my daughters house twice a week to give her a break from cooking. This is a perfect plate of food for everyone, including our grandsons, to munch on together. I will use everyones favorite meats and veggies. Thanx for the inspiration….have well fed and well fed 2….love these cookbooks.

  • Caitlin says:

    This sounds amazing! I am very excited to try it.

  • Jessica says:

    Definitely want to try this but I am allergic to coconut. Is there anything I can use in the dressing besides the coconut milk? I can’t eat tree nuts either.

    • You can just skip the coconut milk and replace it with water or chicken broth. If you can’t eat tree nuts, you can’t make a paleo version of this… sorry! The traditional recipe uses peanuts, which aren’t paleo but are your only option, I think.

  • Fafa says:

    I’m so happy about this post! I’m an Indonesian that just started paleo last year, at first it was tough because healthy food are dificult to find in stores but as I traveled around the country, most Indonesian home cooked food are paleo (just minus the rice/noodles that comes with the dishes)!

  • Ashley says:

    Have made this twice and really like it. Out of curiously, what brand of dried shrimp did you use? So far I have used anchovies, but want a more subtle salty taste. Would it be possible to substitute some Red Boat Fish Sauce and then reduce the amount of water? This is now my “go-to” topping for all veggies and grilled meats, so options are great. Thanks!

    • Honestly, I just use whatever I can find at the store. In Austin, it was some Hispanic brand. You can absolutely use Red Boat, and I don’t think you need to worry about reducing the amount of water. Red Boat also makes a Fish Sauce Powder that would work.

  • Karen says:

    Ohhhhh this sounds divine!! Hubby has asked for lunch ideas for the weekend where we can have a leisurely time eating and I think this will be perfect!! I think having a few glasses of club soda with a twist of lime would be wonderful with it.

  • Kitty says:

    oh my goodness this sauce is addicting! Thank you for yet another hit!