Pecel (Javanese vegetable salad with peanut sauce)

Pecel is a traditional Javanese dish of blanched mixed vegetables with peanut sauce, served with rice and tempeh or tofu. It is quite similar to Gado Gado and very much vegan proof.

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The uniqueness of Pecel is the galangal in the peanut dressing.

What is Pecel?

Remember when I said Gado Gado is one of my all time favorite vegan dishes? I was wrong. Pecel is one of my all time favorite dishes.

It is practically the same dish: blanched mix vegetable salad with peanut sauce. But slight differences can make a big difference. And with Pecel, its superiority is in the peanut sauce.

During the week that Tim and I jokingly called our Peanut Sauce Challenge, we prepared 4 traditionally vegan peanut sauce dishes in a row to cover on VeganEvergreens. And I am not going to lie: if there is peanut sauce on top, I’ll like it. No questions asked.

But when Tim whipped up Pecel, I basically ate the saucepan to get every little last bit of peanut sauce out.

The secret of Pecel peanut sauce

What is it that makes the Pecel peanut sauce so delicious then? Well, I’m happy you asked. It comes down to leaving out the coconut milk that is characteristic to the peanut dressing in Gado Gado and adding Galangal, a carrot closely related to ginger. But with a bit more funk.

This makes the peanut sauce for Pecel more intense than the one used in Gado Gado. So if you are more into milder flavors: the soft, coconutty peanut dressing in Gado Gado will probably be more to your liking. Switch now, while you still can. No hard feelings. Promise.

Are you still here? Good. Let’s dive into Pecel. And hey: nothing keeps you from copying our Peanut Sauce Challenge, and preparing all those traditionally vegan peanut sauce dishes Indonesia has to offer. Within one week. Like we did.

Of course, by the end of that week our bodies were half human, half peanut sauce. But we were also very happy people.

How to serve Pecel

Pecel is usually served with rice and tempeh or tofu. It you want to go full Indonesian, make Lontong rice cakes. On What to Cook Today (tried and true Asian recipes and tutorials) you find the traditional way of preparing lontong rice cakes, as well as the quick and easy way using a rice cooker or instant pot. Are you a lazy chef? Just buy a package of white or brown rice and cook it.

You can pretty much use any mix of vegetables you want for your own composition of Pecel veggies. But traditionally the mix usually includes water spinach, bean sprouts, cucumber and some type of cabbage.

The peanut sauce always has ground fried peanuts (we like to simply use peanut butter), water, palm sugar, tamarind juice, chili, galangal, kaffir lime leaves and garlic. Add some rempeyek peanut crackers or any type of vegan krupuk that you can find in your local supermarket.

Ingredients

For 2 servings

Pecel-ingredients

Ingredients for the salad

  • 1 handful of spinach, cut into pieces of 3 centimeter
  • 1 handful of bean sprouts
  • 3 long beans (or substitute with 1 handful of greens beans), cut into pieces of 3 centimeter
  • 1 handful of cabbage, sliced in wisps of 1 centimeter
  • ½ cucumber or a small cucumber, sliced
  • 1 handful of Thai basil leaves, plucked (or substitute with half mint, half regular basil)

Ingredients for the peanut sauce

  • 6 red chilies, chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of tamarind juice
  • 8 kaffir lime leaves (or substitute with 2 centimeters lemongrass, chopped)
  • 5 centimeters galangal, chopped (or substitute with 5 centimeters of ginger)
  • 300 grams of peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • Water

Note: we prepared this recipe staying in Thailand, where our pickings of peanut butter were slim. So we used a type of peanut butter that already contains plenty of sugar. However (being Dutch we know ALL about peanut butter) we would recommend using a 100% peanut butter. They’re just that more tasty. Like this one. Or any other brand that has a 100% peanut variation. If you do that, you might want to add 2 teaspoons of (palm) sugar to your peanut sauce though, for that little bit of Indonesian sweetness.

Garnish

  • Rempeyek peanut crackers (or any other type of vegan krupuk)

Kitchen utensils

  • Cooking pan
  • Saucepan
  • Food processor or mortar and pestle (recommended, but you can do without)

Step-by-step Pecel

Prep: 10 min. | Cook: 10 min. | Total: 20 min.

How to make the peanut sauce

Pecel-chopped-ingredients
If you don’t have a mortar and pestle at hand, cut the chilies, garlic, galangal and kaffir lime leaves as small as possible.
  1. Put the 6 chopped chilies, 5 cloves of garlic, 5 centimeter galangal and 8 kaffir lime leaves together in either a mortar and pestle or food processor to make a paste. If it is too dry, just add some water.

    (If you don’t have a mortar and pestle or food processor, just crush and chop the ingredients as small as possible – your peanut sauce will be a bit chunkier, but that’s fine.)
  1. Put a cooking pan on another pit with 1,5 half liter of water. Bring the water to a boil – this is needed for the veggies later on.
  1. Heat a saucepan 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. 
  1. When hot, put the paste into the pan and sauté for a minute. Keep on stirring. If you’re afraid the paste will burn, add a few splashes of water.

  2. Add the 3 tablespoons of tamarind juice. Keep stirring for another 30 seconds.

  3. Add the 300 grams of peanut butter and a cup of water.

  4. Stir well and add another cup of water to make the sauce thinner. Feel free to add more water if you think the sauce is too thick. If it is too thin, just keep on moderate heat so that the water will evaporate.
  1. Let the sauce simmer for 5 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  1. Meanwhile take the veggies and go to the instructions how to prepare them.

Pro-tip: Always make more peanut sauce if you can. It’s nice with plain rice, with cassava krupuk crackers as a dip or as a sandwich spread. You can store it in the fridge for a few days and even longer in the freezer. Peanut Sauce to the People!

Pro-tip 2: Making peanut sauce from fresh peanuts is fun too! Buy unroasted, unsalted peanuts. Roast them yourself in a saucepan without any oil until they are brown. Take off the heat and put them in boiling water for about 30 minutes. After that, simply blend them. Add the rest of the ingredients (together with some extra palm sugar).

How to make the vegetables

  1. Boil water in a cooking pan (no salt added).
  1. Hold 1 handful of spinach in the water for just 15 seconds. Using a colander is most practical. If you don’t have a colander, put the spinach on a skimmer.
  1. Put 1 handful of bean sprouts, 1 handful of long beans and 1 handful of cabbage into the water for 60 seconds using either the colander or the skimmer.
    Tip: If you want to present them separately, also blanch them separately.

  2. Add the raw sliced cucumber and a handful of sweet basil (or ½ mint, ½ basil) to the vegetables.

Happy eating!

Veggies with a unique peanut dressing, that is Pecel.

Summary

Recipe: Pecel (Javanese Vegetable Salad with Peanut Sauce)
Country: Indonesia
Prep: 10 min.
Cook: 10 min.
Total: 20 min.
Ingredients: bean sprouts, long beans, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, Thai basil, peanut butter, tamarind juice, galangal, garlic, chilies, kaffir lime leaves 
Type of meal: main dish

Leave a comment

We’d like to hear your thoughts on making Pecel! Did you make it with Galanga (and did you like it?) or were you forced to replace Galanga with Ginger? Leave a comment below.

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