Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Kale Quinoa Salad

Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad

…and pumpkin seeds! Why don’t you mention the pumpkin seeds, Trader Joe’s? Why are you ashamed of them?

I’ve been very interested in Trader Joe’s line of Complete Salads (like their Harvest Blend, and Baby Spincah & Pecan versions) so I immediately jumped on Trader Joe’s brand new Kale Quinoa Salad.

Like all the other salads in the Complete Salad line, this is an amazing deal. For only $4 you get a massive bag of greens that could easily feed two cows, let alone two people. I’m something of a salad fiend, regularly sitting down to eat massive bowls of salad for lunch and dinner in the same day, and even I was overwhelmed by the huge portions you get from this bag. Definitely a good deal.

This salad is what it sounds like –a mountain of kale (in this case baby kale), packaged with a large bag of toasted quinoa. By itself this may not sound very appealing, but TJ’s dresses the salad up nicely – leanding it some more body with a handful of shredded broccoli, diced carrot, chopped red cabbage and radicchio, and scattering in a handful dried cranberries, and pumpkin seed kernels to provide flavor accents. That’s a pretty damn Complete Salad, if I do say so myself.

If you asked me to name one thing that Trader Joe’s consistently knocks out of the park, I’d say practically everything. But if you really pinned me down, I’d say their salads. The saladsmith have really honed their saladsmanship skills to elevated levels, and their skills are on full display here.

Of course any salad lives or dies by its dressing choice, and Trader Joe’s has certainly screwed up this part of the equation on occasion. In this case, TJ’s decided to pair the greens with a “lite” lemon vinaigrette. This suits the salad very well, the zingy zest making the salad taste as light and fresh as a spring breeze.

While I enjoyed this salad, your mileage may vary. The hard balls of crunchy quinoa give it a texture that isn’t usually found in salads, and there’s a ton of it. Unlike the cooked quinoa found in Trader Joe’s Wheat Berry and Quinoa Salad, there’s a real, crunchy, nutty texture here that will make or break the salad for you. If you’re already a fan of toasted quinoa, you’ll love this – but if you’ve never had it before you may want to proceed with caution.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, as long as you don’t mind the texture of crunchy quinoa.

Would I Buy It Again: Absolutely – I think I’ll top mine with some roasted chicken next time.

Final Synopsis: A zesty, refreshing salad perfect for spring, and another great addition to the Complete Salad line.

Trader Joe's Kale Quinoa Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Kale Quinoa Salad – Nutrition Facts


Too sick to post

sam-simon

Dramatization.

Sorry everyone – I’m too sick to post today. Hope to be back on schedule for Thursday!

Until then, please enjoy a “Comment of the Week” – one of the real comments left on my blog this week.

Posted by “buy cool t-shirts” on 2015/04/09 at 1:47 am:

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job.


Trader Joe’s Greens, Beans and Grains

Trader Joe's Greens, Beans and Grains

‘Could you pick up some Greens, Beans and Grains from Trader Joe’s?” That’s not confusing, right?

Trader Joe’s Green, Beans and Grains could be anything, with a name like that. What it actually is, is a West African inspired curry-like, vegetarian dish. In this case, the greens are kale, the beans are garbanzo beans, and the grains are couscous. Also there are peanuts, which are technically legumes, but whatever. They don’t get to be in the title. These tasty components have been simmered up in a heavily spiced tomato based sauce that tingles and excites the tongue. Despite not having any meat in it, this dish manages to satisfy quite nicely – a result of the complex, savory spices as much as the hearty, filling beans and grains.

The strangest thing about the name that Trader Joe’s choose for the product, is that it falls so short of actually describing the contents of the dish in any meaningful way. “Greens, beans and grains” is so vague and non-specific that it hardly serves as a product title at all – greens, beans and grains can show up in so many dishes and so many combinations, that this title only obfuscates the nature of the dish rather than help you out in any way. It’s like if Taco Bell decided to call one of their dishes “Cheese, Beans and Beef” – it effectively signifies nothing and sows confusion. It’s a sort of anti-product name really, confounding innocent shoppers and muddying the waters of cognition with its nebulous semiology.

Here’s the thing – if the dish is so West African, as Trader Joe’s themselves claim on the side of the box, shouldn’t there already be a name that it’s known by? Trader Joe’s looooves attaching strange, exotic names to their food products, often without explanation, such as their Pa Jeon, Uttapam, Kouigns Amman, Dukkah… I could go on. Why not do that again here?

The fact is, Trader Joe’s has gone somewhat rogue with West African cusine in this dish. The word “inspired” on the side of the box is meant in the same way that horror movies about ghosts that make people’s heads explode are “inspired” by true events. The germ of the idea comes from traditional West African dish maafe – or peanut stew. Traditionally maafe is made from peanuts, collared greens, tomatoes, onions and a selection of spices such as chili pepper, coriander, garlic and cumin. Trader Joe’s made the radical decision to swap out the collared greens for kale and, strangely, the peanuts for garbanzo beans, but the spices and the tomato and onion base are still there. It’s this tasty stock that makes the dish worth eating, as well as connecting it to it’s African roots.

Really, given how much the dish has deviated from it’s West African origin, TJ’s has shown remarkable restraint in giving the product a lackluster name instead of just sticking “Trader Joe’s Maafe” on it, and being done with it. That shows integrity, Trader Joe’s Marketing Department. Kudos.

It may not be, strictly speaking, a West African dish – but Trader Joe’s Green, Beans and Grains is interesting enough to make a strong case for it’s own existence in the frozen food aisle.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, it’s pleasantly spicy and reasonably healthy.

Would I Buy It Again: I very well might – this would be an easy way to dress up boring meat.

Final Synopsis: A spicy, West African curry – with couscous.


Trader Joe’s Grecian Style Eggplant with Tomatoes and Onions

eggplant-tomatoes-onions

All the tinned eggplant a man could want!

I’ll admit it, I find something strangely alluring about tins of food. I can’t really enunciate exactly what it is that draws me to large, sealed metal tins, but whatever it is Trader Joe’s Grecian style Eggplant with Tomatoes and Onions has got it. There’s just something of a mystique to them something, that aura of the unknown that surrounds the Mystery Box, and would lead me to trade it all for what lies behind Door Number Two.

Surely that’s an impulse that we all share – even if it might be a touch harder to understand how that translates over to tins of food in my mind. After all, tin are clearly labeled aren’t they and – what’s more – generally cheap, low-quality, packed with preservatives and otherwise the last resort of cut-rate food producers everywhere. Isn’t the tin, after all, the receptacle of choice for the $0.49 can of tuna fish, the repugnant anchovy, and Armour Brand Potted Meat Food Product?

Yes, indeed – but whether its a sensory addiction to the feeling of gripping the ring tab and slowly prying back the lid or something even stupider, I can’t resist the siren song of a mysterious tin of food.

The last time I was lured down this path was for Trade Joe’s Dolmas, which I found off-puttingly oily but which many readers rose to the defense of as laudably authentic.

Trader Joe’s has here returned again to the Grecian well with this stewed eggplant product, even going so far as to use the exact same type of tin – namely the upside down one with the tab on the bottom. This still twirks my mind unpleasantly. Wouldn’t it be just as easy, maybe even easier, to put the label on in such a way that you could read it and open the canister at the same time?

Well,whatever the reason for it, once you’ve pried open the top/bottom of the tin you’ll find a densely packed stew of the eponymous eggplant, tomatoes and onion – more of a gloop actually. All the constituent parts seem as though they were cooked gently enough to preserve much of their shape and texture, but then crammed into the tin under sufficient force to blur the boundaries between one vegetable and another.

Disappointingly, to me anyways, what you get is exactly what is advertised – a mixture of the three vegetables (plus parsley, garlic and red pepper) that tastes like… well, those three vegetables. There’s no ineffable alchemy that takes place here, no whole greater than the sum of its parts – the three veggies mingle but don’t enhance each other in any remarkable way. The overall result is exactly what you’d get if you decided to stew up the same three ingredients in a pot yourself. Sure, Trader Joe’s is conveniently saving you the trouble with this tin, but the question is why? Who feels particularly compelled to get these particular ingredients in this form? That seems like a rare enough demand to me that I don’t necessarily need it on my shelf, ready to go at any moment.

If I did feel the urge to have some stewed eggplant, I’d probably just cook some up myself instead of going for an oil-packed can like we have here. For a dish that’s all veggies, you wouldn’t think it would be able to pack in 250 calories of fat (70% of all the calories in the dish!).

Trader Joe’s boasts that you’ll be “enchanted by the soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture and the smooth, almost squash-like, eggplant flavor.” If oily, stewed mush is something you have to have from a can, then this tin will suit you just fine. For me, I’ll be heading on to the next mystery tin without a backward glance.


The Breakdown

Would I recommend It: Not in very strong terms, no.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t see any reason to.

Final Synopsis: Stewed eggplant packed in oil. About as good as it sounds.


Trader Joe’s Giant Peruvian Inca Corn

Trader Joe's Giant Peruvian Inca Corn

A llama, traditional woven fabrics, the Andes, the silhouette of a pan flute player… Trader Joe’s is really going all out for the “Peruvian” theme.

Reviewing Trader Joe’s peculiar partially popped popcorn snack the other day got me to thinking. The highest praise I had for those little half-formed kernels was that they were like Trader Joe’s own off-brand of Corn Nuts. Then I remembered, Trader Joe’s already has its own off brand of corn nuts – in Trader Joe’s Giant Peruvian Inca Corn!

The phrase “giant Peruvian corn” might conjure up all sorts of images for you – enormous Peruvians tending their stepped maize fields with a tender prod of the forefingers, perhaps. What it actually means in this context is a bright yellow bag of very large corn kernels that have been fried up until hard, then robustly salted.

The result is something more or less exactly like the American snack food stable Corn Nuts – almost too hard, brittle, and incredibly crunchy kernels of puffed up corn primarily used as a salt delivery system for the snack prone. The taste is practically the same as well – roasted, toasted, nutty and only ever so slightly corn-y in the after taste.

The biggest difference between the branded variety and Trader Joe’s version is also the most obvious – these kernels are gigantic! Although the center of each roasted kernel is hollow, these roasted corn snacks are still alarming gigantic – chewing on even two or three at a time is a serious undertaking. Munching on these is like smoking a cigar to Corn Nuts’ cigarette – it’s simply scaled up the whole affair to a daunting level.

There’s no hidden trick to Trader Joe’s giant Inca Corn, they simply went to the source. Peruvians have been growing a giant form of corn, known as choclo or simply Cuzco corn, since time immemorial. In addition to being oversized, the corn is known for being chewier, nuttier and less sweet than other types of sweet corn.  The staple crop has long been served up in restaurants across Peru and the surrounding areas in this very form – fried, salted and served hot.

As long as you’re down with the Plain version of Corn Nuts, I found Trader Joe’s Giant Peruvian Inca Corn a perfectly acceptable substitute. In fact, the giant size makes them even more filling, and slightly less impulsively snackable, than the mainstream variety. Trader Joe’s Partially Popped Popcorn might taste about the same, and be less hard on the ol’ chompers, but in my book whole, hard, fried corn kernels is just a classic snack.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend Them: If you like Corn Nuts, you’ll like these.

Would I Buy Them Again: It’s a lot of carbs, but I’ll definitely be tempted to.

Final Synopsis: Big ol’ Corn Nuts with old school roots.

Trader Joe's Giant Peruvian Inca Corn - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Giant Peruvian Inca Corn – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Super Burrito!

Trader Joe's Super Burrito!

The kind of burrito ancient Peruvians were probably chowing down on all the time.

What this now – a Super Burrito? A Super Burrito with an exclamation mark and everything?! Oh wow, it must be like, the bigget, cheesiest, meatiest, most ass-kicking tube of molten sodium this side of the Taco Bell late night menu. Let’s just see what we’ve here –  quinoa, kale, sweet potato… wait a minute – this isn’t a Super Burrito, it’s a Super FOOD Burrito. Gah! Trader Joe’s you’ve snookered me again! I’ve bought healthy, filling cuisine when I was hoping for a heart-clogging cylinder of refried beans and queso.

Actually, I suppose I can’t Trader Joe’s you for leaving the “food” part out of their Super (Food) Burrito. There’s little to nothing about quinoa, kale, et al. that inclines one to think it would make for a satisfying, quick and dirty microwaveable Mexican food indulgence. Ah, but how wrong we are, us’n who equate only ground beef and melty cheese sauce with good burritos. Trader Joe’s delivers a downright hearty, filling and tasty blast of spicy southwestern cuisine that, if I hadn’t been tricked into it, I’d never have bothered to try.

First of all, yes, you’re correct – there’s no meat in this burrito. It’s entirely vegetarian and vegan friendly, yet even meat lovers can find something to love in this nutritious tortilla wrap.

We’ve covered quinoa, that ancient psuedo-grain, several times before – but for all the health claims that swirl around quinoa one is certifiably true – it really does do a good job of filling you up. A mix of red quinoa and gold quinoa make up the bulk of this burrito, and while they bring their trademark pearl-like texture to the mix, they’ve been cooked long enough and well enough that there isn’t any coarseness to the burrito – each bite is smooth and almost creamy. This smoothness is helped along by the large, soft pieces of golden sweet potato that help the quinoa fill out the burrito. Again, these have been cooked to a pleasing softness and go down easy. Kale makes for the third big ingredient, but despite my fears, it was mild and hard to detect from bite to bite. Kale, with it’s high nutrient, vitamin and mineral denseness has a tendency to scare off all but the most health-food focused, but here it makes nary a wave – chopped and stewed into yet another mild, easy on the tongue ingredient.

What you do notice is the spiciness. The filling is spiced with aji amarillo chili sauce, made from the small, orangish and quintessentially Peruvian chili pepper, and the tortilla is seasoned with red pepper flakes. This gives the burrito considerably more spice than you might expect given the typically mild ingredients in the filling. Each bite delivers a little punch of fire that sears without burning and lends the whole affair some much needed spice that takes it up a notch in the flavor category.

I doubt I would have picked up this burrito if I’d suspected what was in it, but I’m glad I did. The flavors all play well together, the texture is even and smooth, and it cooks up in the microwave in about two minutes. This isn’t just a good vegan burrito, it’s a good burrito in general – and with only 44 grams of carbs and 18 grams of fat it’s a pretty damn healthy one too boot.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: I would – it finds a comfortable intersection between taste and nutrition.

Would I Buy It Again: It surprises even myself to say so, but yes I would buy this vegan burrito again.

Final Synopsis: A quinoa-based, vegan burrito that is actually worth checking out.

Trader Joe's Super Burrito! - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Super Burrito! – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn

Trader Joe's Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn

You know how much you like bacon? Well this doesn’t have any.

It’s hard to know what to say about Trader Joe’s Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn. It’s unusual certainly – the most unusual popcorn I’ve had since Trader Joe’s last weird popcorn experiment (or maybe the one before that) – but unusual in a very different way. This popcorn is, weirdly, exactly what it says – a vaguely bacon-y kind of popcorn. Not bacon popcorn, not popcorn with bacon bits, bacon flakes or even real bacon flavor, but a bacon-esque popcorn. Popcorn, in this case, that has been infused with a fake bacon smoke flavor. That fake bacon flavor is mingled with an intense white cheddar cheese powder results in a bizarre, slightly off-putting, but addictive snack.

I’ve written before on my opinion of bacon-mania. Although longer lasting than many of the food fads that have swept the nation, it stills shares the same quality of food fads everywhere – whether it be bacon vodka, or chocolate covered bacon, novelty comes first and quality is the afterthought. So when I see a new bacon gimmick on the self I’m immediately skeptical.

Does Trader Joe’s Baconesque Popcorn actually qualify as bacon though? Kind of… but not really. Normally I’d criticize a product for something like that, but in this case that’s what they’re actually advertising right on the bag. They promise fake bacon flavor and they deliver fake bacon flavor – should they penalized for that, or just stared at agog? They make it abundantly clear that in lieu of real bacon or bacon flavoring you will be getting “natural smoke flavor”. A psuedo-flavor that is sort of like putting your nose right above a sizzingly BBQ.

“Natural smoke flavor” is the same thing as “liquid smoke”, which really is actually made from smoke. It’s usually made by burning hickory or mesquite wood and capturing and concentrating the resulting smoke in a liquid medium. The resulting taste is a general sort of heavily-cooked meatiness. There isn’t anything screamingly bacon-y about it, certainly nothing resembling the heady, savory tastes of Trader Joe’s incredible Apple Smoked or Black Forest bacons. It tastes much more like these pieces of popcorn were mixed with a few heaping handfuls of Baco Bits – those hard, granuated bacon imitators people put on baked potatoes and what have you.

This strong and perplexing taste is combined with the equally strident taste of white cheddar – every bit as mouth blastingly cheesy as you would expect as if this popcorn was bright orange. The combination of extremely fake bacon flavor with extremely strong cheese flavor makes for one intense popcorn snack.

I personally found the roller coaster ride of flavors interesting enough to come back to bag more than once – although each time I limited myself to just a kernel or two. This would be extremely hard stuff to munch down like your standard movie theater popcorn. It’s much better treated like a tin of sardines or a plate of olives – as an over the top flavor to be sampled in small quantities.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Probably not. The fake bacon taste is somewhat off putting.

Would I Buy It Again: I might, I like a snack that demands you muse on it rather than gobble it down.

Final Synopsis: Like cheesy popcorn with a bunch of Baco bits mixed in.

Trader Joe's Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn - Nutrtion Facts

Trader Joe’s Baconesque White Cheddar Popcorn – Nutrtion Facts


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