Well, well, well – here’s something new. Trader Joe’s is something of a salad master, filling their shelves with enough varieties to keep even the most jaded vegetarian happy. However, TJ’s salads have previously only appeared in two forms – assembled and disassembled. You could either pick up one of their many, varied salads-in-a-tub, or buy a bunch of salad fixings and make your own. What TJ’s has done here is something new – well, new for Trader Joe’s anyway.
Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Salad is a complete salad kit, uncombined, and served in a bag. Other grocery store chains have offered salad-in-a-bag for years, even as TJ’s steadfastly followed their own course. Why this sudden change in policy? Perhaps it’s another symptom of the recent pumpkin madness. Certainly this salad mix features a respectable array of pumpkin-derived products- it’s conceivable that in the fevered actions of the countless panicked food packers rushing to meet Trader Joe’s insane pumpkin product quotas they simply ran out of plastic bins and had to start shoveling salad into bags instead.
While this salad may not be in a little plastic box, have no fear – it’s every bit as good as Trader Joe’s more established salad offerings. The kit begins with nice mixture of baby lettuce, baby spinach and baby kale – supplementing these tender greens with some crunchy broccoli and cauliflower. Into this strata you have the options of mixing in a pouch of dates, raisins and roasted pumpkin seeds. Not content to limit a harvest salad to merely pumpkin seeds, TJ ups the pumpkin content with some of their Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons (yes, made of the same Pumpkin Cornbread we already looked at). The dressing itself is also pumpkin derived – a sweet and tangy pumpkin vinaigrette. While this isn’t a combination of words that seems like it would result in a very good salad dressing, the salad actually pulls it all together. The vinaigrette is thick, and sweet with the taste of ripe pumpkin, but still acidic and zesty enough to highlight the greens – like a pumpkin flavored raspberry vinaigrette.
I wouldn’t want to try a pumpkin vinaigrette on too many other salads but here, with the pumpkin seeds and pumpkin croutons to add extra dimension to the pumpkin taste, the result really is a remarkably “harvest” tasting, and tasty, pumpkin salad. Surprisingly, pumpkin itself doesn’t make an appearance in the mix. That doesn’t detract from the salad, but it seem like an obviously missing ingredient. If you happen to have some of the canned or roasted squash on hand there’s no reason you couldn’t throw some in and really amp the salad up.
That said, if there’s anything I didn’t like about this salad it’s the sweetness. Between the dates, raisins and sweet vinaigrette the salad teeters on the edge of being too sugary. The natural mellow sweetness of pumpkin works in the salad’s favor here, as it folds these additional sweet flavors into itself in a way that works overall. All the same, if you usually avoid overly fruity dressings on your salads, you may want to give the Harvest Blend Salad a miss as well.
What surprised me most about this salad, however, wasn’t any of the components – it’s how generous the portions are. Most salads-in-a-bag are puny little excuses for a salad. For a guy who prefers huge, plate-sprawling entree salads I find these pre-packaged portions utterly below my notice. Not so here. For only $3.99 a bag, Trader Joe’s packs 14 ounces of salad into each bag. That means make sure you get a damn big bowl ready if you plan on pouring it all out at once. Trader Joe’s says it’s enough for 4 side salads, which is probably true, but it also makes for one mondo entree salad if you’re looking for a quick, easy, and health lunch to pick up.
While many of Trader Joe’s pumpkin based products smack of novelty and little more, this salad works because of its pumpkin content rather than in spite of it. This is one product that I’ll be sorry to see go at the end of Pumpkin Season.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, so long as you don’t mind some sweetness in your salad.
Would I Buy It Again: I can visualize it clearly, even now.
Final Synopsis: A massive salad-in-a-bag mix that does pumpkin salad right.
I’d long suspectd that Trader Joe’s had lost their marbles, but I didn’t realize they’d actually gone insane. How can I tell? Because Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds is the sort of mad creation that only the incomprehensible visions of true insanity can show. We know that TJ’s is willing to put pumpkin in every last thing they can get their hands on, but putting extra pumpkin in pumpkin itself? That’s as far down the rabbit hole as you can go. There’s so much pumpkin here that it’s liable to collapse into some sort of pumpkin-induced singularity – sucking the entire world into one infinitely dense, rapidly rotating pumpkin. Adding pumpkin spices to pumpkin seeds is the food equivalent of clutching your head while rocking back and forth and whispering “pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin-pumpkin” to yourself ceaselessly in the corner of a dark room.
That said, these things are actually pretty good.
Roasted pumpkin seeds are, like peanut brittle, one of those snacks that are only ever trotted out because they’re in season. I’m sure there are people out there who might eat more than a handful of roasted pumpkin seeds out of curiosity/politeness, but I’ve never met them. Generally, roasted pumpkin seeds are served up with some sort of savory spice on them – paprika, cumin, oregano, etc. Less often you’ll find them mixed with cinnamon and sugar, or some other sweet version. Trader Joe’s one ups all these recipes with their excellent preparation.
For starters, they skip the whole pumpkin seed and go right for the meat of the thing – in this case the pepita, or hulled pumpkin seed. This means you aren’t dealing with any of the semi-edible, obstinate pumpkin seed shells, just the crunchy, nutty seed itself.
The second brilliant step, is that TJ’s treats the pepitas like you would a honey-roasted peanut. They aren’t screwing around here with the seasoning – each little seedling is blasted front-to-back and top-to-bottom with an even dusting of sugar and spice. This gives them a sweet, satisfying, roughness that balances fully against mealier, dry nuttiness of the pumpkin seed itself. Of course, it’s not just any spices we’re talking about here – Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds are coated with a mixture of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and, of course, plenty of sugar. While the sugar content will make you think of honey roasted peanuts, the other spices do a good job of approximating the flavorful complexity of a traditional pumpkin pie.
The result is something you won’t find anywhere else on the market. There’s been a huge uptick in exotically spiced nuts in recent years – from chili-spiced peanuts to honey-mustard almonds – but pumpkin pie spiced nuts haven’t been done yet. The result is an addicting and enjoyable snack – albeit one that might perform better on a different nut. The pumpkin seeds, although well prepared, are still waffer-y and dry, with a tendency to “pulp up” in your mouth in a way that real nuts don’t.
While I’d certainly be happy if someone wanted to come out with a pumpkin pie spiced peanut, I won’t turn up my nose at these pumpkin seeds. ‘Tis the harvest season, after all – if there’s ever a time for pumpkin seed it’s now. Setting out a bowl of these at your next autumnal gathering will fit the bill just right.
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, they’re tasty and snackable.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yeah, I’d substitute these for honey-roasted peanuts.
Final Synopsis: Sweet, roasted pumpkin seeds done right.
Pumpkin seed brittle – well, why not Trader Joe’s? Are they crazy? Well, yes, it certainly might be well warranted to accuse a man of madness on any old ordinary day if he shows up with the idea of making peanut brittle, but replacing the peanuts with pumpkin seeds. That might well warrant alarm. But these aren’t ordinary days. The twisted, orange doors of the Pumpkin Gate have been thrown open and from now until November we are at the mercy of the pumpkin-drunk gourd lords of Trader Joe’s. If that is the way the wind is blowing let it not be said that I don’t also blow that way.
It’s hard to know which way to turn when you goal is to document the unrestrained pumpkin revelry at Trader Joe’s, but Pumpkin Seed Brittle strikes me as particularly bold/insane. Brittle is, by itself, one of those divisive, old-timey candies, like black licorice or Peeps, that you have either eaten with fondness from your childhood, or detest the very thought of. It is, generously, a seasonal treat – not dissimilar to nog, or fruit cake – created, offered and eaten more out of thought to tradition than any real physical desire. Brittles, in particular, tend to last – the snack that is left over from after the party ends.
That’s not entirely the brittle’s fault. It is, by its nature, not a very social snack. A veggie or ranch dip, for example, is designed to be grazed upon easily by any number of party-goers Brittle, on the other hand, doesn’t break easily, makes your fingers tacky, and cements your molars together in a way that that is more scary than fun.
While peanut brittle does have a history of being made with different tupes of nuts/seeds (such as pistachos, or sesame seeds) pumpkin seeds in a recent innovation and, understandably, one that Trader Joe’s was eager to jump in on.
The first thing you’ll notice is the very nice box the pumpkin brittle comes in – pleasant colors and big, warm art make it perfectly suited to gifting.Inside the box, things are just as you’d expect them to be. The pumpkin seed brittle looks the same as peanut brittle – same dark brown color, same jagged panes of shattered brittle stacked up in uneven piles. The only real difference is that instead of standing out, like peanuts, the pumpkin seeds blend into the same mellow brown color of the brittle.
When it comes to flavor, the difference is similarly subtle. The pumpkin brittle is made from the same key ingredients that all brittles are made from – sugar, water, and butter. Be it peanut or pumpkin, the candy tastes the same – like sweet, carmalized sugar. The actual pumpkin seeds, when you come to them, are mild and crunchy, but don’t make much of an impact on the dish. In fact, while peanuts are a fairly notable part of peanut brittle – large, smooth and bland counterparts to the sticky, sweet brittle. The smaller, flatter pumpkin seeds don’t contribute nearly as much. You’ll notice a pumpkin seed when you bite into one, but don’t expect that strong taste of roast pumpkin seeds. The reason for this is that the recipe uses pumpkin seeds that have already been shelled. This makes for crispier, tastier eating – but remove much of what is uniqe about the pumpkin seed taste. These small seeds (and seed fragments) don’t provide much taste, even a bland one – they’re just a bit of crunch, and then gone.
To counter this, TJ’s dusts their brittle with “traditional pupkin pie spices”. In this case, that means cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and some others. This is by far the strongest part of the brittle, giving each piece a very nice, sweetly spicy flavor. Pumpkin it may not taste like, but pumpkin pie it certainly does.
If you’re jonesing for that autumn brittle, you might consider picking this up for the novelty of it. More generally, however, we can consider this as something like Trader Joe’s Truffle Salt, a food better suited to holiday gift giving than actually imbibing.
Would I Recommend It: Sure, especially if you’re looking for a new kind of brittle to give people.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, but not until next year.
Final Synopsis: Like peanut brittle, but with some pumpkin pie spices on it.
I’ve been going around eating every type of gyoza Trader Joe’s has to offer, but only now am I finally sitting down with their Gyoza Dipping Sauce. Why the delay, you ask? Because I’m stupid. Thanks for pointing that out – now I feel terrible.
What is there to say about a simple gyoza dipping sauce? We’ll, for one, it’s not what you’d expect. A traditional gyoza dipping sauce, the type commonly used in China and Japan, is essentially a simple mixture of rice vinegar and soy sauce, occasionally touched with a bit of chili pepper. If you happen to have it laying around, it takes about two seconds to make up for yourself and costs almost nothing.
Trader Ming’s gyoza dipping sauce keeps the soy sauce and rice vinegar, but takes it in a different direction by adding load of additional spices – include sugar (in the form of “evaporated cane juice”), ginger, garlic, sesame seeds and cilantro. The result is a much thicker sauce, where the soy sauce and vinegar are pushed into the background by the strong flavors of the other spices. The result is something much more like what you’d get after mixing up a bunch of sauces at a Mongolian BBQ place than a traditional gyoza sauce. The cilantro, in particular, is an intriguing addition. We’re not talking about just a little bit of cilantro here either. Pick up the bottle and you’ll actually see the whole flakes of cilantro floating around ready to make you go “Wow, that really tastes like cilantro.”
None of this is unwarranted in Chinese cooking – cilantro, ginger and garlic all have important places in the pantheon of Asian cuisine – but it does make for a strong tasting, and somewhat unusual dipping sauce. I actually prefer the simpler vinegar/soy sauce concoction to this as the ginger and cilantro in particular really come to the fore of the sauce, and linger on the tongue long after. This, combined with the thickness of the sauce, threaten to overwhelm the taste of your pot stickers if used in more than very small quantities.
Of course, you’re not limited to using this on dumpling, if you don’t want. TJ also suggests trying it with egg rolls or, vaguely, “any Asian food”. While I’m not sure I would go that far, it certainly might work on salads, or with any number of Asian fusion dishes – banh mi, or Korean style tacos, perhaps.
Overall, however, this one feels like a miss for Trader Joe’s. Regular gyoza dipping sauce is simple and tasty by itself that TJ would have to offer something pretty special to lure me into making this a regular purchase. The sauce they delivered certainly has an unique taste – but not necessarily a superior one.
Would I Recommend It: Not really, unless you have some Asian-Mexican fusion recipes in mind.
Would I Buy It Again: No – I’ll stick to mixing soy sauce and rice vinegar, thanks.
Final Synopsis: A curiously thick and cilantro heavy dipping sauce
I’ve been holding off on these because, to be honest, an all vegetable gyoza just didn’t sound very appealing. I love vegetables, and there are salads I would kill for, but a bunch of mushed up steamed veggies just didn’t sound like something that was going to satisfy. At most, I was expecting something that might make a satisfactory hors d’oeuvre, to be absentmindedly pushed down the gullet while waiting for the real fare to come out. It was to my surprise that I found these Thai Vegetable Gyozas hold their own with any of Trader Joe’s other excellent gyoza.
I’m routinely shocked when I find a vegan food that isn’t merely palatable, but makes me want to go back for seconds. I suppose that speaks to my ignorance, because we’re lucky enough to live in a world where tasty vegan food is on the rise – particularly, as we’ve seen before, on the shelves of Trader Joe’s. It’s even more surprising considering that it’s a fast food that cooks from frozen in about 5 minutes. That’s a pretty good trick – of course, on the other hand, Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza aren’t really vegan at all.
Scour the bag all you might, you won’t find the telltale “V” TJ’s uses to demarcate their vegan offerings. That’s not because of the ingredients, which are all plants and plant-derived, but because of the processing facility. While laudable that these gyoza, like the Thai shrimp gyoza, are handmade in Thailand, their manufactured on the same machines that handle fish and shellfish – meaning they can’t give the bag that little happy “V”. I dare say that depending on which way your morals fall, that might still be vegan enough for some vegans out there.
Piscine allegations notwithstanding, there’s no reason these gyoza should be limited to only the Vegan. Trader Joe’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza aren’t merely the “meat-free” version of a tastier gyoza, like some vegetarian fare tends to be, but are actually tasty pot stickers in their own right.
Each plump dumpling is stuffed with a filling of white cabbage, carrot, chive, radish, green onion and white onion – plus a dash of ginger, garlic and soy sauce. As you might guess from all the members of the Allium family in there, these are pungent little suckers – packing enough onion and garlic to imbue the minced cabbage with flavorful (if kiss-averting) taste. The touch of ginger and soy sauce lighten things up, giving the dumpling a zippy, slightly exotic taste. The body of the gyoza, which I was worried about being too meager, actually makes for a nice chewy mouthful thanks to the cabbage and carrot filling. Of course, the gyoza also benefits from the same excellent skin of Trader Joe’s other gyoza – thin, chewy, and pleasant to the bite.
What I really liked about these is that they have a very different flavor and mouth feel from the pork or chicken potstickers, which tend to be rather samey. By taking away the meat, it really gives the gyoza a chance to showcase a different, but still satisfying taste. While I might not be switching over to these gyoza exclusively, I could definitely see buying a bag of these for every bag of pork gyoza I get. Served alongside each other, they would add a level of depth that a simple plate of one or the other wouldn’t have by itself.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – but with a caveat to vegans.
Would I Buy It Again: Yup, they fill in
Final Synopsis: Nice gyoza that satisfy even without the meat.
Well folks – Trader Joe’s annual corn madness is upon us once again. The pumpkin hoppers have been serviced, the pumpkin chutes re-greased, and the pumpkin crazed madmen in the R&D department are off to a flying start with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread.
What possessed Trader Joe’s to add dehydrated, powdered pumpkin to cornbread I can’t say, whatever it was, it’s the same mechanism that drove TJ to put pumpkin in waffles and croissants. In all these products the addition of pumpkin seems completely superfluous – an unnecessary ingredient shoehorned into an food that was already perfectly fine. The pumpkin will not be denied. It’s almost sinister, in an Invasion of the Body Snatchers kind of way. You turn around and what you thought was cornbread is now pumpkin cornbread. You go to the fridge only to find your cream cheese is now pumpkin cream cheese and your yogurt has been replaced with pumpkin yogurt. You go to the Trader Joe’s to complain, but everywhere you look there’s more pumpkin products, insinuated into every aspect of your daily life, each box being dutifully stocked on the shelves by smiling Trader Joe’s employees.
At any rate, they did go and put pumpkin in cornbread, so I went ahead and ate it. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, even on a basic level. Notions as to what “cornbread” means varies wildly from state to state. In the South, where cornbread got its start, it’s made with practically no sugar and little or no flour. Up North, in Yankee lands, it’s a much sweeter dish, made with plenty of sugar and wheat flour besides making it more airy and cake-like. Meanwhile, out in the great Southwest it’s commonly made with creamed corn, jalapenos, and even topped with melted cheese.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread uses a Northern cornbread recipe, going heavy on the wheat and sugar, and fairly light on the corn meal and pumpkin. In fact, flour and sugar are the first two ingredients on the box, only then followed by corn meal and finally pumpkin. The result is a light, cakey cornbread, that cooks up in 30 minutes or so.
Fresh out of the bag, the cornbread mix smells delightfully redolent, as a heady mixture of spices wafts up to the nose. Pumpkin can be detected in here, sure, but cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves even more so – all the classic spices you find in pumpkin pie filling. The finished cornbread cooks up to a rich, golden brown – darker than ordinary cornbread. Following the directions exactly results in a dry, crumbly cornbread that’s ready and willing to soak up some butter. If you like a moister cornbread, you’ll want to consider adding a touch more oil and milk.
Shockingly, despite the pumpkin pie smell that comes off the cornbread, there’s almost no taste of pumpkin in the bread at all. In fact, it almost tastes exactly like regular cornbread, except spiced with a gentle amount of the above mentioned pumpkin pie spices. This isn’t a heavy spice cake, but a light touch that imbues an otherwise traditional cornbread recipe with an intriguing taste of autumn flavor.
Personally, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a pumpkin presence in the bread – why bother calling it pumpkin cornbread if you’re not really putting any pumpkin in it? That said, even without a strong pumpkin taste, the cornbread is quite tasty. The touch of spice adds an extra dimension to the bread, and really comes to the fore when loaded up with a good pat of butter.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a good fit for autumn dinners.
Would I Buy It Again: I’d probably buy this before I bought regular cornbread, to be honest.
Final Synopsis: More pumpkin pie spice cornbread than pumpkin cornbread.