I’ve always been intrigued by Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken and Arugula Salad, squatting in the lower reaches of the salad aisle, mostly because I assumed it had a big piece of salmon on it. That particular misconception came about due to the unusually enormous salmon pink bag of spicy pimento dressing that lays, slug like, on top of the salad mix. While there’s no salmon on this salad, what it does have to offer is tasty and intriguing.
This is, as Trader Joe’s itself is quick to point out, a Moroccan style salad. Morocco is home to many types of salads, both hot and cold and beet derived, and while this isn’t a traditional type of Moroccan salad per se, it does bring together many wonderful, traditionally Moroccan spices. These include parsley, mint and smoked paprika, all of which show up along side the lemon zested chicken.
This medley of spices is mixed into a bed of couscous and red quinoa that makes up the unspoken third component of this chicken and arugula salad. It’s anyone’s guess why the grains didn’t make it into the title, they’re certainly the most notable part of the salad. The arugula is perfectly acceptable and the lemon chicken is nicely lemoned, but it’s the couscous and red quinoa mix that infuses it with rich and savory flavors, in addition to adding a little exotic texture. Add to this a scattering of sweet currants, and you’re talking about a complex combination of flavors that could easily go all wrong. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s manages to strike a good balance here. The simple flavors of the zesty lemon chicken and the stridently piquant arugula are foregrounded here, with the other more nuanced tastes leaping out at you from the curtains from bite to bite.
This leads us, as all human inquiry must, to the spicy pimento dressing. My first reaction to this dressing was, really? A dressing made out of pimentos? What did they do with the rest of the olive after they got the pimentos out? It turns out, however, that the pimento is more than just the hilarious name for a specific type of olive stuffer, it’s a little red pepper with a life all it’s own. The pimento is a smallish chili pepper, rather like a dwarfish, heart-shaped bell pepper, known also by the name cherry pepper. In the world of chili peppers, as we all know, there’s no rating so important as your place on the Scoville scale. While the juggernauts of the chili world, the ghost peppers and scotch bonnets and such, battle it out for position Supreme Pepper President at the top of the scale, the pimento suffers the indignity of having one of the lowest ratings on the books, ranking below even the banana pepper. Life in pepper school must have been hard for the poor pimento.
All this means that, despite being billed as such, this dressing is not particularly spicy – at least not in sane quantities. TJ’s seems to be suffering from the same spicy dressing over compensation here as they did with their seaweed salad. The single bag included in the tub could easy cover two to three salads of equal size. It’s a bold paring for such an already complex dish, but the creaminess and mild fire only add to the intrigue rather than detract from it – just be sure to play it on the safe side when putting it on.
On a final pimento note, it is my understanding stuffed green olives are made by a hydrolic pump shooting the pimento into each olive, blasting the olive pit out the other end at the same time with what, I am sure, is a very satisfying noise. While that has no bearing upon this dish, I just wanted to share that rather striking image wit you.
More than anything, Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken and Arugula salad reminds me of TJ’s other quinoa salad – but unlike that one, this salad fails to fill you up. Once you remove the dressing packet, there’s not a whole lot left in the salad tub – just a handful of knotted arugula leaves, a little hill of couscous and, depressingly, a tiny portion of chicken. If this salad was a little more robust, I’d be a frequent buyer. As it stands, it’ll have to be content to exist as a savory side dish to go along side a larger meal.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, but not as a meal in itself.
Would I Buy It Again: Probably someday, when I’m not too hungry.
Final Synopsis: A savory, Moroccan inspired salad that’s a little on the small side.