Before I get started on all the ins and outs of Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice, I should admit right out the gate that I’m not a huge curry fan. Somehow, I always manage to forget this. “Alright!” I commonly exclaim, “Curry! I love curry!” Then I start eating and I remember that, oh yeah, no I don’t.
The problem is, I think, that at some point my brain got all scrambled up about what curry really is. What I like is Japanese curry, and Japanese curry, like Japanese game shows, is unusual and fascinating.
If you’ve ever had Japanese curry, you know that it’s more like a thick brown gravy than a traditional South East Asian curries. Generally it comes from a rue, and nothing really goes in it except maybe some sliced up carrots and potatoes and maybe an onion. Certainly not coconut cream, one of the most common elements of Asian curries, and never anything like morning glory, young coconut shoots, or banana flowers as in Trader Joe’s Thai curry here.I love the hell out of wacky Japanese curry – the real stuff, on the other hand, I’m still getting used to.
The other thing I love about Japanese curry, as long as were on the subject, is how it’s represented in Japan as a non-Japanese food. Without a doubt, no one but the Japanese are making curry in this very particularly Japanese way, but for some reason every package of Japanese curry mix is emblazoned with images of tropical isles , swamis, or Vermont. It’s very perplexing. Presumably the Japanese imagine people in Vermont are always serving each other big plates of Japanese curry all the time – much the same way I imagine people in Vermont are always wearing sweaters and strolling through orchards.
At any rate – Trader Joe’s Sai Tung Green Curry and Red Gaba Rice is certainly not that. Instead, it’s a rather nice coconut green curry packed into a frozen TV dinner. Trader Joe’s has really gone all out on trying for authenticity here. Take a look at your green curry – what do you have in it. Looks like some bamboo shoots, spinach, and maybe some onion? Ha, no. Try young coconut shoots, banana flowers and morning glory. That’s not just an ingredient list, that’s a line of free form poetry. Obviously these three intriguing ingredients bring their own unique tastes to the meal, but you’ll have a hard time picking any of them out seeing as how they’re slathered in a typically strong tasting curry. What you will notice are the interesting textures they lend – crisp, firm and stringy, respectively. It’s an elegant touch to bring these rare produce to America’s shores, and give the whole dish a feeling of being truly exotic. The spice is there as well. While the whole curry could probably be classified as “Mild Plus”, there is no shortage of piquant and interesting spices to light up your tongue.
While “sai tung” means “take out” in Thai, a phrase commonly bantered about by food vendors on the street of Bangkok, don’t go searching your Thai dictionary for “gaba”. The “Red Gaba Rice” mentioned on the box should actually be “Red GABA Rice”, as in the amino acid chain GABA, aka “gamma-aminobutyric acid”.
The more conventional name for “Gaba rice” is germinated brown rice – unpolished brown rice grains that are allowed to germinate and sprout, in this case for up to 48 hours, before cooking. Germinating your rice is a clever way to increase the nutrients in it, in particular the above mentioned GABA, which in turn gives your rice a better protein profile. You can see that in the Nutrition Facts box – despite being a vegan dish, this curry has 10 grams of protein in it. Of course, it also has 70 grams of carbs, but that’s just the way it goes.
The other effect of letting your rice germinate is that the texture changes. You’ll notice that the rice here is considerably chewier than regular steamed rice. Partnered with a saucy curry like it is here, that’s a welcome feature as it lends more body and substance to an otherwise quite basic meal.
Having disclosed by curry bias, I feel I can admit that I wasn’t in love with this curry. Trader Joe’s has a few really really amazing quick and easy frozen dinners (like this one, and this one). This curry was a nice change of pace, but I wasn’t addicted to it. Of course, I fully expect to hear a dissenting voice from some die-hard fans in the comments on this, and I certainly hope I do.
There’s a lot to love here, especially for vegans and vegetarians seeking cuisine options, fans of authentic Thai, or anyone looking for a good dinner that only costs $2.99. Now if only TJ’s could put a picture of Delaware on it they might win me over.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a classy bit of Thai curry.
Would I Buy It Again: No, but I’m not a big green curry fan.
Final Synopsis: Authentic Thai curry, done cheap and quick.
I’ve got to hand it to Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders – they’re some of the best fake meat I’ve had to date. I’ve commented before on the common pitfalls of vegetarian cuisine attempting to ape meat instead of just doing its own thing. Usually this ends in a painfully tortured product name that attempts to acknowledge that it’s totally vegetarian but tastes just like meat, wink wink. (cf. Tofurkey). Generally this is an outrageous lie, or, more generously, extremely wishful thinking by a meat-starved demographic.
I’ve already expounded on my metaphysical sympathy for vegetarians. I can support the cause – I advocate the idea of abstaining from meat, and would do so myself if only my intensely bon vivant lifestyle would allow for it. Nevertheless, like the soy creamy ice cream substitute before it, I bought some crispy chickenless teneder because I needed a non-meat alternative for my (one) vegan friend. As fate would have it, I accidentally forgot to cook them in time for the meal, she ended up having nothing, and I was left with these chickenless tenders until tonight, when continued poor planning left me with nothing else in the house to eat.
Fortunately, Trader Joe’s Chickenless Tenders are not just edible, but downright tasty. They actually taste more or less like chicken tenders. How close? Close enough you could probably fool an unwary guest if you served them up without fanfare. There is still that tell-tale aftertaste of “soy-ness” that hangs around, but it’s pretty mild and is more or less totally cloaked by whatever dipping sauces or dressings you’re going to be ingesting the chicken tenders with. The only strange part is that the strips have been “breaded” in a variety of oats and flours that result in a crumbly, quasi breading that’s generally inferior to ordinary breading. The reason for this substitution, I cannot quite fathom.
TJ’s has managed to capture not just the taste, but also the texture of breaded chicken strips. The tenders are precisely that, coming out of the oven tender, moist, and just toothsome enough to give you a nice balance between chewy and yielding. They even pull apart more or less like real chicken, which is a difficult feat to accomplish when your medium is soy protein isolate.
How did TJ’s manage such a thing? I have no idea, but apparently it involves a large number of strange sounding, if allegedly natural, ingredients.
Water, soy protein isolate, and canola oil make up the first three ingredients, naturally enough. It might seem unusual that oil is ingredient #3, but remember that these are oven-baked “chicken” fingers we’re talking about. Like fish and or shrimp nuggets, when you take them out of the oven you’re going to be picking them up out of a little pool of their own oil.
After these three ingredients things get a little crazy. Pea protein pops up in a prominent position. Are peas known for their protein? Is it possible to tell someone, out loud, that your food has a lot of pea protein in it and not make it sound like an unspeakable form of bio-waste recycling? Not as far as I’m concerned.
After that we get into the ancient grain flours – including quinoa (natch), millet, and everyone’s favorite, amaranth. Rounding all that out is a good helping of Kamut®. “What the hell is Kamut®, and why is it trademarked?” is the very reasonable question you might be asking yourself right now. We’ll have to save that can of worms for another day, but the short answer is it’s a proprietary form of ancient wheat known as Khorasan wheat, originally from round about Afghanistan and nowadays lorded over by two Montana farmers. Also there’s beet root fiber in the tenders.
Somehow, in the end, all of this comes together to make strangely delicious vegan chicken tenders, with only thrice the fat of regular chicken tenders. For me it’s less important how it all works out, then the fact that it does. They might not replace regular, flesh and blood chicken in my life, but it’s good to know there’s a good back up option should it ever come to it.
Would I Recommend It: I would, if you’re a vegan/vegetarian.
Would I Buy It Again: This seems like a good fit for Meatless Monday.
Final Synopsis: Eerily good vegan chicken tenders.
To be honest, I picked up Trader Joe’s Organic Soy Creamy Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert (aka vegan ice cream) because I feel sorry for vegans.
I probably shouldn’t, I know that vegans and vegetarians and pescatarians and whatever all else there is are perfectly capable of looking after themselves, but I still feel sorry for them. It’s a crazy, meat eating world out here in America. If people aren’t spraining their jaws exalting the wonders of bacon, they’re drooling over commercials for monstrous, meat soaked burgers. Occasionally I try and put myself in the shoes of a person who, for reasons of personal ethics or personal health, has chosen not to eat meat.
What if the tables were turned, I sometimes wonder, and was in the minority? What if, for example, 99% of restaurants served dog and dog based dishes? What if TV, print media and the internet were plastered in ads showing people taking loving mouthfuls of hot, roasted dog. What if people not only went on at length about how many delicious puppies they ate last night, but would even go so far as to ridicule me for not eating dogs, and bemoan my stubborn refusal to just give in already and start eating puppies like everyone else.
So yes, I bought all the flavors of Soy Creamy Non-Dairy Frozen Desert because I want to morally support my vegan friends (okay…friend) who comes over sometimes. What I was shocked to discover, is that soy based ice cream is great!
I was every bit as surprised as you. As we’ve discussed over “healthy” guacamole and veggie patties, there’s usually a price to pay for healthy and/or vegetarian cuisine. That price is taste. If something is good for you, it doesn’t usually taste very good, and if something is bad for you it generally tastes amazing. That’s the inherent cruelty of life, and strong evidence that the Irish Catholic guilt-based version of God might be the accurate one. TJ’s Soy Creamy completely explodes this model. This vegan, non-dairy, organic, soy-based ice cream is equally as good as it’s dairy based counterpart. In fact, I might actually like it better.
Soy Creamy is just as sweet and creamy as any other grocery store ice cream you’re likely to find, creamier even. I assumed the “creamy” bit in the title was just a throw away marketing line. Not so – this stuff is seriously smooth. Something about the vegan make up of Soy Creamy keeps it from freezing solid in your freezer. We all know that problem, hammering away at the top of an ice-hard lump of caramel ripple, denting up the spoon in an attempt to get out two or three teaspoons worth of ice cream. The vegan ice cream doesn’t have this problem – every spoonful comes out smooth and easy, but still stiff, and melts on the tongue with a full bodied flavor. It strikes the perfect balance between soft-serve and the real stuff.
The flavors are great as well. The vanilla tastes wonderfully rich and perfectly decadent. A bowl of it will leave every bit as satisfied as any milk based alternative. The cherry chocolate chip was also good, but this has never been my favorite flavor, even in the non-dairy world. The combination of chocolate chunks and mild cherry flavor doesn’t work any better as a vegan dish, leaving me equally nonplussed.
The only thing I can imagine that might put people off of Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy is that the aftertaste is different from the aftertaste of dairy based ice cream. You might notice a mild aftertaste of beans a few minutes after finishing off a bowl. Is that a bad thing? I suppose that depends on how you feel about the taste of edamame. For my count, I found it mild enough to right it off entirely. Plus, it’s more than compensated for by the healthy nutrtional profile.
In addition to being totally organic, which it is, the soy cream also has less fat and fewer calories per serving. Trader Joe’s French Vanilla Ice Cream, for example, has 260 calories and 16 grams of fat per serving – compared to the 180 calories and 8 grams of fat in the Vanilla Soy Creamy. Even if you have trouble grappling with the concept of a non-dairy ice cream, the calorie count couldn’t be a more eloquent argument in it’s favor. Eat twice as much for the same amount of calories? I’m on board.
So yeah, I like it. In fact, with the summer coming around the corner I’m libel to buy a lot more. In fact, I might even start buying this exclusively whenever I have a hankering for chocolate or vanilla ice cream. Am I crazy? Arguably, but you’ll just have to try some and find out.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is your go to organic ice cream, so or not.
Would I Buy It Again: I may never go back to dairy ice cream.
Final Synopsis: Vegan ice cream that as good as the real thing.
Making due on an overdue promise I made when reviewing TJ’s excellent Pizza Veggie Burgers, today I decided to try out Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burger. What I got was a tasty bit of Indian cooking in a strange new form.
These two burgers, pizza and masala, are closely linked despite their completely different tastes. Obvisously they are both veggies burgers, but more than that they are veggies burgers that refuse to conform to the standard veggie burger model. Like Trader Joe’s Pizza Veggie Burger before it, the Vegetable Masala Burger has dared to ask the question, what if a veggie burger didn’t try to taste like a hamburger at all? It’s an ingenious solution that sidesteps the pitfall of trying to ape in greens what meat already is. You’re never going to out burger a burger with condensed tofu, the only way to win is to not play the game in the first place.
This is the highest form of vegetarianism, the food item that’s not a “meatless” version of something else, not a substitute or alternative to the mainstream, but a unique and delicious meal in its own right. You’re not giving something up to eat this burger, you’re getting something new.
Before we get into what I think was strange about the burger, I’d better give you a run down of how it tastes. Masala simply means “a mixture of spices” and the term is used throughout south east Asia. The masala Trader Joe’s uses here is mysteriously only described as “spices” on the ingredient label, but from the taste of it all the usual suspects are here. Tumeric, cardamom and cumin all mingle with the hearty mixture of veggies, which very visibly includes potatoes, carrots, green beans and bell peppers. The resultant patty is dense, and redolent of spices when lightly toasted on the stove. It both looks and tastes like a hearty vegetable soup without the soup. In particular, the veggies are all soft and toothsome, a pleasure to eat even if the patty tends to disintegrate too easily while you eat it. As for the spices, they’re strong enough that they give the burger a warm and authentic flavor, but mild enough that you might consider dressing them up with a condiment – be it ketchup or chutney. Another selling point, and relief to veterans of the veggie burger world, the masala burgers don’t include soy of any kind, relying instead on breadcrumbs to bind the veggie mix together.
What’s strange to me is that they market these as burgers at all. Where Trader Joe’s pizza burger tried to at least give you the semblance and feel of a burger, the masala burger goes complete off the beaten path. From taste to texture, there’s nothing particularly “burger-y” about these burgers beyond the fact that they’re puck shaped. It’s even stranger when you regard the huge bits of potato and other vegetables roughly shouldering each other right up there at the surface. The veggie pizza burger sort of managed to look like a burger from a distance. With such large and vulgar vegetable chunks, these masala burgers wouldn’t fool a near-sighted sloth.
It almost seems unnatural that Trader Joe’s has forced the vegetables into this shape at all. The way the whole thing comes apart as soon as you stick a fork in them makes you wonder exactly who we’re fooling by going through the trouble of corralling them into a burger shape in the first place. They might more accurately be called Trader Joe’s Cooked Indian Veggies That We Packed Into A Cylindrical Shape, although I suspect that may not have gotten past the Marketing department. Trader Joe’s may have hung onto the name, but make no mistake – these burgers defy the genre in every other way.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, to vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Would I Buy Them Again: Probably not, honestly. I’ll eat burgers for my burgers and enjoy my Indian food on a plate.
Final Synopsis: A genuinely tasty veggie burger that defies the genre.
Today we follow up mochi with gnocchi.
Our good friend, mysteriously ethnic Trader Giotto has show up again, and he has brought us Trader Joe’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina. As a well-meaning carb avoider, gnocchi is a relatively unknown dish to me, let alone gnocchi that has some rather daunting appellations appended to it. In layman’s terms, Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina, or Gnocchi in the style of Sorrento, is a baked potato gnocchi (or in this case, a semolina, durham wheat and potato gnocchi) served with marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese.
Gnocchi, with it’s silent “g”, non-standard pronunciation, and strong resemblance to grubs has always seemed to me a strange and forbidding pasta dish – nothing like that friendly old goof spaghetti and his wacky cousins (fettuccine, linguine – even that lumbering yokel zitti). I was doubly hesitant to give this gnocchi a chance because of it’s residency in the frozen food section. I’m willing to give even the most outlandish fusilli a chance, but as soon as your pasta needs to be frozen I start to get wary. This wariness was not much alleviated when I poured out the contents of the bag – the gnocchi were rock solid and the marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese came out as big frozen discs, almost as if slices of frozen salami had been tossed in with the pasta. It was therefor a complete shock and surprise when this stuff came out of the microwave hot, steaming and perfectly delicious.
The marinara and cheese sauce is pretty good – the tomato taste is rich, strong hints of basil are present throughout, and the cheese is present but not overwhelming. It’s a nice sauce and it serves the gnocchi well, but the star of the show is really the gnocchi itself.
A common problem with gnocchi, or any type of doughy lump, is that it’s easy to make them too dense, either by compressing the gnocchi too much, or simply getting the recipe wrong. Trader Joe’s Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina get the formula exactly right – the gnocchi are pillowy and pleasantly yielding without giving up body or heft. You can enjoy the hell out of these straight out of the bag, like I did, or dress it up with your own concoction of condiments and accoutrements. In fact, you should feel free to dress it up, as the bag of pasta and cheese somehow only clocks in at 510 calories for the entire one pound bag. That seems practically impossible, but is evidently true.
In any case this is a simple, cheap and easy to cook dish that could stand in for your kid’s Spaghetti O’s as easily as it could compliment your next bit of fine Italian cooking.
Would I Recommend It: Absolutely, there really aren’t any downsides to this dish.
Would I Buy It Again: Even someone as afraid of carbs as myself might pick this up again.
Final Synopsis: Excellent gnocchi that are as good as they are easy to make.
Trader Joe’s you simply never cease to amaze me. Although we may fight from time to time, such as when you mix kale and soybeans, you never fail to bounce right back and deliver something both shockingly clever or shockingly tasty. In this case, Trader Joe’s 12 Mushroom Mochi Pot Sticker Dumplings is both.
What Trader Joe’s has done here is something unprecedented, bold and iconoclastic. They’ve taken an ordinary mushroom dumpling, a classic of Chinese cuisine, and remade it with a touch of a Japanese style. Chinese dumplings, classic potstickers, are traditionally made with thin, translucent wrappings made of flour and water. Trader Joe’s has kept the interior stuffing, but replaced the exterior wrapping with the marvelously soft, chewy and malleable mochi.
For those of you know don’t know, and I hope that is very few of you, mochi is a type of dough made by pulverizing cooked rice over and over until, taffy like, it melds into a sticky, chewy, gooey blob. It’s a food that’s long been an integral part of Japanese cuisine – sometimes eaten by itself, sometimes as the delicious delivery system for a lump of sweet bean paste, sometimes (and most commonly in the States) as the elastic casing for a ball of ice cream.
What Trader Joe’s has ingeniously done is to divorce the mochi of it’s sweet innards and replace them with a savory mushroom filling. The result is a dumpling unlike any you’ve ever tasted. In fact, the pairing is so unorthodox that I don’t blame TJ’s for giving them such a long and unwieldy moniker as “Mochi Potsticker Dumplings”. There’s simply no easy description for such a unique dish.
The result of this combination the best of both worlds – a lovely, chewy yielding exterior that gives way to a traditionally Chinese mushroom center, a mixture of Wood Ear and Shiitake mushrooms, carrots, bamboo shoots, and oyster sauce. The mushroom filling is loose, and relatively small in comparison with the thick mochi walls, but still full of savory flavor and entirely tender.
A quick trip to the microwave renders each little mochi dumpling wonderfully warm and soft. Sitting down and eating these little, pale orbs of pert dough is a tactile pleasure as much as a culinary one. The mochi extends and snaps with just the right viscoelastic properties – a delight of texture, taste and tensile strength.
We’ve talked before about TJ’s tendency to append weirdly specific numerals to to the front of their products, so I won’t get into it again here. I’m pretty much against it in every case, except where the number can only be expressed in scientific notation. However, these mushroom mochi are so delightful that they rise far above their mundane numbering. Simply put, if you’re looking for an elegant and intriguing Asian side, these mushroom mochi dumplings won’t disappoint.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, to explore the intriguing recipie if nothing else.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, this is some of the best mochi I’ve had in years.
Final Synopsis: A hybrid Japense-Chinese dumpling that satisfies the senses.
As promised we continue Frozen Indian Food week with Trader Joe’s Channa Masala. Sure, the name might not be as hypnotically rhythmic and soothing as Aloo Chaat Kati Pouch, but this spicy, tasty, cheap and tangy chickpea dish has just as much to offer on the flavor front.
As you might guess from the above description, this dry and tangy dish comes from the dry and tangy regions of Northern India. Rajistan in the north west of Indian, and the neighboring regions, are dominated by the great Indian Thar Desert and something of the sere nature of this region has permeated the food that comes from here.
The Thar Desert (bordered to the south by the Great Rann of Kutch) is, of course, famous for having the best desert name of all time, just above Gobi and Mojave. The Thar Desert’s other claims to fame, of course, is as the setting for Rama’s attack on Lanka with his army of vanaras, when he and had to use his agneyashtra-amogha to dry up the drumakulya, leading to the creation of the Marukantara, but that may just be my opinion.
At any rate, masala, as we maybe all probably know, is the general South East Asian term for a mixture of spices, while channa, or chana, is the Hindustani word for chickpeas. That, and exactly that, is what you get in Trader Joe’s Channa Masala – a bunch of garbanzo beaans mixed into a sauce of onions, tomatoes, peppers and some usual Indian spices (namely, cumin, fenugreek, tamarind, mango powder and cilantro).
What that means is, you get a damn good side dish with a bunch of different flavors going on. The garbanzo beans cook up in a couple minutes in the microwave, and come out with just the right texture – a nice toothsome bite that is neither too hard nor too mushy. The sauce starts out with a savory, slightly charbroiled taste that gives way to a nice low burn as you eat. Where things start to get a little weird is around the edges of these flavors, where a noticeble, delicate sourness comes in. This hint of sour is the result of the mango powder and tamarind spices, and turns the whole meal into something more considerable than a simple bean side dish.
Trader Joe’s claims they make their Channa Masala from a traditional Indian recipe, and while that’s the sort of claim I usually write off immediately as marketer-speak, it really seems to be the truth in this case. This is a solid, and simple dish perfect for pairing with a more substantial entree – the Aloo Chaat, for example, would give you a complete, rather good Indian dinner in about 6 microwaveable minutes.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, these are some tasty beans.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, this is an excellent solution for my go-go lifestyle.
Final Synopsis: A cheap and easy Indian chickpea dish.
Aloo chaat kati pouch, aloo chaat kati pouch, aloo chaat kati pouch.
With this new foray into Indian street cuisine, Trader Joe’s hasn’t only delivered another short, sharp blast of tasty and convenient, on-the-go snack food, but also a nearly hypnotic chant that will resonate pleasantly in your brain for days. Go ahead, try saying it out loud a few times. Aloo chaat kait pouch. Aloo chaat kati pouch. Pretty soothing, wouldn’t you say?
One of the charming idiosyncrasies of Trader Joe’s is that, yes, they do have down and dirty, microwaveable bachelor food, but that it’s all Indian for some reason.
I talked a little bit about the myar sack full of bbq’d Punjab Eggplant (quite tasty, by the way), and I’ll probably write about their chaan masala later this week (so, you know, buckle up your seat belts for that). Like most of Trader Joe’s other frozen Indian cuisine offerings, those items are your typical slap-it-in-the-microwave-for-3:00-and-hope-for-the-best style meal. Trader Joe’s Aloo Chaat Kati Pouch takes this level of casual cuisine to a whole new level.
The pouches are, for all intents and purposes, Trader Joe’s high-end, Indian-inspired Hot Pocket. There can be no doubt about this. When you open up the box you get two frozen dough pouches and two cardboard crisping sleeves. The resemblance is shocking. Trader Joe’s must have either spent considerable resources reverse engineering the Hot Pocket formula, or they simply poached top Hot Pocket talent from HotPock Inc. In any case, if you’re an American citizen, this product should be incredibly familiar to you. Simply pop the crisping sleeve in the microwave for three minutes, and you get out a pipping hot “pouch”.
As derivative as the packaging may appear, Trader Joe’s actually has a solid, authentically Indian grounding to spin this approach out of. Kati pouches, or as they’re more generally known, kati rolls, are a food innovation that came out of Kolkata in the 1960’s. Kati is the Bengali word for bamboo skewers. These skewers are colloquially associated with kabobs that would often be rolled up in a paratha (sort of like naan) dough wrap. The wraps caught on, and led to the rise a whole class of kati street food – essentially anything wrapped up in a nice crispy bit of soft, buttery paratha.
While TJ’s might still be open to accusations of biting on Hot Pocket’s style, it’s doing it’s own amazing thing with the taste. Aloo Chaat translates to something like “Street food style potato dish”. What that means is you get a tasty, corriander spiced mash of potatoes, chickpeas and onions, served in a snackable form. Despite the somewhat low-brow connotations of food pockets, Trader Joe’s really goes the extra mile to try and make these hot pouches tasty – including spicing the mixture with dates, shredded coconut, tamarind and even dry mango powder. The result is a slight tang of complex fruitiness that lingers on the edge of the stronger spiced potato flavor. I dare say that if it was served by itself, as a frozen side perhaps, where you would be able to dose it with condiments and seasonings as desired, it would be hard to find fault with this dish. However, constraining it in the pocket takes away something of the elegance of the dish, and limits your ability to add anything to it – forcing you to take it as is.
There’s two ways to look at this. If you’re looking for fine Indian fare, the aloo chaat is probably going to disappoint you when compared to an excellent samosa or chicken masala. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for some quick and easy street food style snacking, this aloo chaat is certainly going to satisfy your taste buds better than the competitors. Overall, it’s an intriguing take on an obscure Indian classic, and a winner in my book.
Would I Recommend It: If you’re looking for microwaveable on-the-go snacks, this is a winner.
Would I Buy It Again: I usually eat my meals sitting down, so no.
Final Synopsis: A tasty American spin on a fast and easy Indian street food.
Trader Joe’s 14 Shrimp Nuggets is the kind of product that makes you wonder if they really know what they’re doing of there, or if all the strokes of genius are merely the result of haphazard monkey slaps on the proverbial bank of typewriters.
Shrimp nuggets are a strong case for the latter. Let’s start with the words they put right there on the back of the box: “Shrimp Nuggets are filled with large pieces of shrimp bound with shrimp paste.”
Boy, that gets your mouth watering doesn’t it? Shrimp chunks and shrimp paste? I practically feel spoiled. Also, TJ, I love you but you’ve got to realize that specifying the exact number of shrimp nuggets you’re getting does not make it sound any more appetizing.
I get on Trader Joe’s case a lot for products, like their chocolate “nibs”, that are more or less the sweepings of the factory floor repackaged for human consumption. Let’s talk about the positive side first – this is some of the cheapest shrimp around. You can get this 10 oz box of shrimp/shrimp derived product for just $4.99. The flip side of that, of course, is that there’s a reason the shrimp in these nuggets is so cheap. There’s only one thing you chop up and extrude into nugget form, and that’s food products that are too small, imperfect or low-quality to market any another way.
That’s exactly what Trader Joe’s is doing here – chopping up bits of shrimp that would otherwise be, ironcially, too shrimpy to sell in their normal bags. Honestly, I applaud this sort of activity. There was quite the little uproar when videos of the “pink goop” that McDonalds allegedly makes their chicken nuggets from surfaced on the web. Sure, that’s gross. On the other hand, I think we can all agree that chicken nuggets are pretty tasty. If someone figured out a way to make them from what would otherwise amount to organic waste matter, I think they should be applauded for taking Native American traditions to heart and using every part of the beasts they slay.
That brings up back to Trader Joe’s 14 Shrimp Nuggets. If these things were tasty as hell, all would be forgiven and I’d gobble them down by the fistful. The problem is, these shrimp nuggets are not very good.
Here are my two main issues:
- They are really oily.
- Chunks of shrimp embedded in a gelatinous paste has a weird mouth feel.
As far as taste goes, they are pretty much exactly what you would expect – think fish sticks but with shrimp. The trouble is, the only way to bake these up, also like fish sticks, is in the oven. Once you’ve done so, you’ll notice that the nuggets are now sitting in a big puddle of oil. Why? Because of all the palm oil in the bread crumb coating – the same reason these back in a shocking 15 grams of fat per serving. With 3.5 servings per box, that’s 80% of your daily fat intake for the 14 nuggets together.
Point number two is, I hope, pretty self explanatory. The shrimp pieces in these nuggets are large, as promised. However, that makes for an irregular eating experience. Where a chicken nugget or fish stick is homogenous all the way through, these shrimp nuggets are an aggregate of various sized bits of shrimp that make them various squishy and chewy.
If you’re a huge fan of seafood in processed stick or nugget form, these would probably appeal to you, but as far as I can see these shrimp nuggets seem only to exist as an outlet for otherwise unusable shrimp.
Would I Recommend It: Not really. Not terrible, but not very good either.
Would I Buy It Again: Nope. I like my shrimp intact, thanks
Final Synopsis: Lumps of shrimp in oily nuggets.
“Chicken meat with vegetables in a flaky pie dough”, promises the box of Trader Joe’s Chicken Pot Pie Bites. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this description, but I’d suggest switching the word order around. Flaky pie dough with chicken and vegetables is considerably more accurate.
If you come to pot pies mainly for the flaky, buttery crust then this the pot pie for you. It will suffice for you to stop reading this post now and pop on down to your local TJ’s. If, on the other hand, you come to chicken pot pie for the chicken, or other intra-pie materials, then this is going to be a much tougher sell.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with Trader Joe’s Chicken Pot Pie Bites. The filling is made with yummy little bits of chicken, creamy sauce, peas, carrots, etc – all the stuff you’d expect, and all done well and tasty. As already mentioned, the crust is very good – in fact, it’s probably the best pot pie crust I’ve ever had. Crispy, buttery and flaky, never dry or tasteless, it’s a fine crust on a fine pot pie. The only problem is that there’s just so much of it. The pot pie bites are served up to as 12 individual tiny pot pies, each with their own complete pot pie crust. In theory this is the perfect pot pie upgrade for our take-it-anywhere, always-on-the-go mobile age. In practice it ends up being a whole lot of extra crust that undermines the entire nature of the pot pie.
You would imagine that in order to make a 1/12th scale pot pie, you would simply implement the culinary equivalent of a shrink ray and reduce all the pastry’s ingredients by 1/12th. In practice this doesn’t work. If you tried to make a pot pie crust that was 1/12th the thickness of an ordinary pot pie there wouldn’t be enough structural support to keep all the insides in and you’d end up with a just a little spot of burnt stew on a baking pan.
There’s a limit to how far down you can scale the crust. The problem Trader Joe’s encounters here is actual similar to the same reason giant insects don’t rule the world. Exoskeletons work really well for keeping bugs together as long as they’re relatively small. Start scaling up the size of an ant and you need a thicker and thicker carapace to keep it from falling all to pieces. The thicker the shell, however, the less room for the important stuff inside, hence the impossibility of ants the size of cars. Simply put, attempting to scale things at a 1:1 ratio breaks down pretty quickly in the real world.
In order to maintain the structural integrity of their mini pot pies, TJ’s has to use nearly the same thickness crust they’d use on a full sized pot pie. This means when you bite into a tiny pot pie, you’re getting something like 50% crust, and 50% filling on a good bite. This brings me back to our main point – if you’re a real crust fiend the talk of so much crust has probably got you pretty hot and bothered. If, on the other hand, you enjoy the traditional ratios of pot pie filling to pot pie crust these are going to be more interesting to you as a novelty than as real repast.
There’s a wonderful history of pot pies that is as long and colorful as it is dubiously apocryphal. Unfortunately, I don’t really have the time to get into it in this post. We’ll have to suffice with noting that the ancient Romans purportedly served pot pies filled with live birds at their banquets, a practice that, as the LA Times notes, “must have startled unwary guests.” Associated Press’s Tom Hoge, I would imagine that’s an understatement.
Sadly, we no longer live in a time where the diner must approach his pot pie warily lest he be overtaken by screeching, disoriented birds. Nevertheless, Trader Joe’s continues to enliven the pot pie tradition with novelty – even if in this case it’s more of a miss than a hit.
Would I Recommend It: Only to inveterate pot pie crust lovers.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll buy a regular sized pot pie next time.
Final Synopsis: Good little pot pies that are as much crust as filling.