Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Complete Salad

Trader Joe's Harvest Blend Salad

Could you put some more pumpkin in that please?

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.


 The Breakdown

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.


Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken

Trader Joe's Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken

See, there’s some chicken right there in the far back corner.

All salads are chock full of vegetables by definition – but Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad really hammers that notion home in a robust new way with this aggressively vegetable laden cud fest. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.

I love a salad that takes the salad formula in strange new directions, like the Artichoke and Hearts of Palm Salad, but I also have a great deal of respect for the classic salad formula pulled off right. Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken is one variation of that classic salad formula, huge hearty salad where the sheer robust presence of veggies completely eclipses the meat. It’s the perfect palette cleansing salad – a return to the roots of what a salad is meant to be: huge mouthfuls of hearty, filling veggies served on a thick bed of lettuce. Which isn’t to say the salad is so straight laced that it doesn’t dabble in absurdity. Case in point, the huge, uncut green beans laid out front and center on top of the whole shebang. “Are we really supposed to eat these?” and  “Why did Trader Joe’s do this?” are a couple of the reasonable questions you’ll immediate ask yourself. It’s not like Trader Joe’s doesn’t have sliced green beans. We know you have those, Joe.  No, these green beans are here on purpose, to convey a message – and that message is that you’re going to need a knife just to eat the vegetables in this salad. It’s boldness and simplicity intertwined – a masterful representation of Trader Joe’s high salad artistry.

The “eat your veggies” message is further hammered home by the choice of a creamy dijon dressing. Dijon? Certainly. Creamy? Not so much. It’s a fairly loose dressing actually, more like a vinaigrette than a heavy sauce and, more importantly, the acerbic dijon works like a vinaigrette, accenting and highlighting the chewy greenery instead of obscuring their flavor under thick, overpowering emollients.

To be sure, there are non-vegetable elements in this salad, the titular chicken, along with some cubes of white cheddar cheese and half a boiled egg, and it’s these touches that make the salad work. Vegetables for vegetables sake can quickly become boring – but the charbroiled taste of the chicken meat and thick cubes of cheese break up the homogeneity with sudden bursts of fatty flavor.

In all in all, it’s very well done – but that’s not to say it’s a must buy. Trader Joe’s put this salad together with one point in mind, to remind you about vegetables. If you’ve forgotten about vegetables, you’re sure as hell going to remember them as you sit idly chewing on a big mouthful of corn kernels and green beans, really tasting those flavors at their most basic. And while that’s an important message, it has its time and place.  If you remember vegetables quite well already and enjoy them frequently in your day to day life, you might appreciate one of Trader Joe’s more subtle or unusual salad over this bruiser. If, on the other hand, you need a palette cleanser, a vegetable side dish, or simply want to wipe the slate clean after a long sojourn among fast food, you couldn’t do better. As daily meal in itself, however, you might find that this salad tends to side a little too closely with the roughage.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a fundamentally good salad.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, the next time a need a simple, serviceable side salad.

Final Synopsis: A hearty garden salad that highlights the vegetables.

Trader Joe's Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken - nutrition facts

Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad with Tumeric Garbanzo Beans

I may occasionally give Trader Joe’s a real tongue lashing, like I felt compelled to do the other day with their strange and terrible pseudo-salad, but only when the really deserve it, and in any case I like to try and give TJ’s the chance to settle the score. In that spirit, I went out and picked up Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad with Tumeric Garbanzo Beans.

As you might gather from the picture, or the long, strange name, this is another entry in Trader Joe’s new line of little grain-salads-in-a-tub, and close cousin to Trader Joe’s underwhelming Nutty Grain Salad.  Surely TJ’s wouldn’t have released two, tiny, grain-based salads unless they had damn good reason to think people would actually enjoy them. They couldn’t both be as bad as the first one I tried, right?

The fact of the matter is that Trader Joe;s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad is miles better than it’s counterpart in both taste and nutritional content, and I was glad I picked it up. That said, it’s every bit as twisted and insane as the Nutty Grain salad, just on a different axis.

The main thing you’ll probably notice when you pick this salad up is how it is topped with bright yellow chickpeas. Oh, great, you might think – Curry, that’s brilliant. I bet curry could taste really good on a salad like this.  

Only it’s not curry, it’s just tumeric. All the other rich and exotic spices that give curry it’s magical kick – the cardamom, the cumin, the garam masala in general, aren’t present. Just musty old tumeric – wonderful for color, but dull and dusty when it comes to taste. In fact, given the overall taste of the salad the garbanzo beans are a total non-sequiter. I went into this bulgur salad expecting it to taste something like Trader Joe’s Vegetable and Country Grain Salad – one of my all-time favorite TJ’s salads, and place holder on my Best of 2013 list. Instead of the nutty and mellow tastes of that salad, or something that would work well with tumeric, we get the strong flavor of orange juice. Yes, orange juice is the primary flavoring agent in this salad and I swear to god that you can taste it in every bite. This whole salad is infused with the strong zing of not just citrus, but real oranges, real oranges and a hint tumeric.

It’s incredible. Taken back to back with the Nutty Grain salad, it feels like Trader Joe’s has started to curate a small selection of recipes broadcast to it from a parallel universe several degrees separate from our own. “Mmm-boy! Serve me another plate of cooked bulgur and a tall galss of orange juice!” demand the insect-headed denizens of that universe before scuttling off to work in their cities beneath the sea.

The other flavors you’ll experience with this salad are the slightly nutty taste of the bulgur, and the strong, lingering taste of carrots. Surprisingly, the cilantro that gets top billing in the product name is only present as a subtle background touch, emerging mid chew, then vanishing again without a trace.

All in all, this salad tastes more like an orange/carrot juice drink than anything else. In salad form, that makes for a very strange eating experience but not necessarily a bad one. Once I got used to the fact of the thing, I happily munched this salad up. There’s enough texture and chewiness to the dish that it lasts you a surprisingly long time for only eight ounces, and the orange and carrot flavor works together, if not perfectly, than well enough.

The other nice difference between this salad and the Nutty Grain salad is that it has a much more reasonable calorie count. There are only 240 calories per serving, and only a slender 10 calories from fat. There is still a considerable 54 grams load of carbs in the tub, but that’s too be expected from so much grain, and it’s ameliorated somewhat by the 9 grams of fiber in it as well.

Overall, it might be the most unusual salad I’ve ever had – even stranger than the Korean Spicy Seaweed Salad – but isn’t that what we go to Trader Joe’s for? Whether it sort of work out, like today, or misses entirely, like with the Nutty Grain salad, I have to take my hat off to Mr. Joe if for nothing more than his boldness of vision.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not to the populous at large. This is a unique salad with an unusual taste.

Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so. It was okay, just not good enough to justify repeat purchases.

Final Synopsis: A small, bulgur salad flavored with orange juice.

Trader Joe's Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Carrot and Cilantro Bulgur Grain Salad – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad

 

I don’t have anything to say about Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad that isn’t short and nasty, so I suppose I’d better just get to it. Trader Joe’s should have called this Trader Joe’s Crappy Peanut Bean Thing. Instead they try and tell me it’s a salad and put it next to the good stuff.

Saying that this salad tastes as bad as it looks is not entirely accurate. Obviously, it looks terrible. I’m not sure I’ve seen a mass of soy beans, peanuts, pistachios chunked carrots, and cooked spelt that looks worse than this – and I’m including vomit in that. At least vomit has the effluvium of stomach bile to cloak it’s terrible, true nature. This stuff just sits there in the open, daring you to stare directly its clusters and lumps. Go ahead and try it – see if you can last longer than five seconds, I can’t.

So to say it’s as bad as it looks is implying that it tastes atrocious, which it doesn’t. It tastes worse than that – it tastes bland. There are foods out there that I think look and taste awful which whole cultures have passionate loves for. You’re not really a country, I reckon, unless you have at least one national dish that no one else in the world can stomach. The English have Vegemite, the Scotts have hummus, the Japanese have natto, the Americans have Kraft Singles, etc. What I’m trying to say is, taste is relative, and really intense flavors may alternately repulse and delight, depending on the eater.

Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad, on the other hand, is simply bland and uninteresting. The packaging claims that it is dressed with a soy ginger sauce. This is technically true, but the dressing is present in such cowardly quantities that it contributes almost nothing to the taste, beside rendering the whole mess somewhat squishy. The primary flavor you’ll experience is “soggy nuts”. There’s some nutty tasting quinoa, some peanuts and pistachios. Next to that, the edamame, spelt and carrots don’t really show up much, and when they do it’s only to add an additional dimension of blandness to the whole affair.

I could go on and on about how upset I am at this tiny little tub, but the bulk of my ire is actually reserved for the nutrition labels. Go ahead and flip this tub over, but first set your faces to “stunned”.

Serving size, 1 package. Sure, that seems reasonable. What else. Calories: 590, Calories from fat: 290.

Trader Joe’s, ARE YOU TRIPPIN’, BRO?!?! These numbers are absurd – and the madness goes on. 45% of your daily fat value, 350mg of sodium, 68 grams of carbs.

So essentially, what we have is a tiny little tub of stuff that looks gross, tastes like a more mild version of unsalted peanuts, and contains as much fat as a Big Mac only with more calories. It’s like Trader Joe’s figured out how to remove all the fun and enjoyment from eating fast food. There are entire galaxies of more delicious, healthful and fun meal options out there – many of them right there in the Trader Joe’s salad aisle. Unless you are in desperate need of compact, high calorie food sources (sumo wrestlers, long distance bomber pilots, roving apocalypse survivors) why you would want to go for this instead of literally anything else is beyond me.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, not unless you needed the final component for a robot powered by hate.

Would I Buy It Again: Only as a tip off to my loved ones that I’m secretly being coerced by kidnappers.

Final Synopsis: A bland, gross looking pseudo-salad that is bad for you.

Trader Joe's Nutty Grain Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Nutty Grain Salad – Nutrition Facts

 


Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad

Trader Joe's Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad

There’s the sad bastard now.

Well, it happened – a fall from grace I never saw coming. After and unending streak of not just good, but down right delicious salads, Trader Joe’s has finally served up a stinker.  A salad that’s not just kind of bad, or hard to get down, or somewhat unpalatable. No, I found Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad actually inedible. Inedible! There’s almost nothing from Trader Joe’s I’ve found inedible – and that’s coming from the guy who actually finished off Trader Joe’s gelatinous Shrimp Nuggets. I’ve even managed to finish of things I don’t like (like that tub of marinated beets). But with this salad I just couldn’t do it, and it wasn’t for lack of trying either. I really wanted to like this salad. Salad is one of my favorite foods in the world. For me, discovering a new salad is like unearthing a small, rare treasure. How could this have happened?

Before I launch into my criticism here, I’m perfectly willing to admit that it’s probably my fault that I didn’t enjoy this salad. Trader Joe’s has such a stellar record with their salads that it’s hard for me to accept that they could put out one so completely unpalatable. The far more likely scenario is that I’m an uncultured heathen whose crude taste buds failed to appreciate the higher art the salad was devised by. I’m fully expecting to see some resounding condemnations of my review in the comment section and, frankly, I welcome them. I’d rather live in a world where I’m a confused nitwit than a world where Trader Joe’s puts out lame salads.

Okay, so on to the salad.

It’s awful, guys. Nothing in it really seems to work. I should have maybe been tipped off to this by the name – a combination of kale, soy beans, and sweetened cranberries just sounds like trouble. On the other hand, there’s nothing about roasted squash, quinoa and wheatberries that sounds like they’d be particularly delicious and I enjoy that salad so much that I’m actually eating it now, as I type this.

The first problem with the Kale and Edamame sald is, I think, the kale. There’s no other green in the salad but kale. I like me some kale in my salad – I loved TJ’s Cruciferous Crunch for exactly that reason – but kale needs to be used sparingly. It’s wonderful for texture and body, but when you make your salad out of nothing but kale, like TJ’s did here, it feels like you’re eating a pine tree from the tip down.

If you can get past the kale, you’ve still got to deal with the gangs of edamame soybeans, cranberries, grape tomatoes and scallions. These tastes just simply did not go together well for me.  The sweetness of the cranberries fought against the waxiness of the beans, and the scallions practically reeked, overpowering the other tastes. The big, button-sized beans and whole tomatoes didn’t help either, it just made it so I had to take lots of giant mouthfuls.

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, was the salad dressing. The package bills it as a lemon herb dressing, and I had hope for it. The dressing looked thick and creamy perhaps, I reasoned, it would have just the right flavor to balance the rest of the salad’s intense elements. Sadly, it did not. The lemon herb dressing lacks sweetness, or tanginess or depth. What it delivers seemed more like mustard to me than anything – harsh and astringent, clashing with everything else in the bowl.

It was after the addition of the dressing, when I found myself sitting there chewing a huge mouthful of chopped kale covered with lemon juice and pungent herbs, that I simply put the fork down. I couldn’t go on. I need at least one good element in a food to muscle my way through it, one ray of light. In the case of Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Salad I couldn’t find any.

 


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: No, just no.

Would I Buy It Again: It was such an unpleasant experience that I might have to get it again, just to convince myself it was real.

Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s worst salad.

Trader Joe's Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad - Nutrtion Facts

Trader Joe’s Kale and Edamame Bistro Salad – Nutrtion Facts


Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch Collection

Trader Joe's Cruciferous Crunch Collection

With a salad mix this good, it doesn’t matter what your name is.

Those word geniuses at Trader Joe’s have done it again, by gum! I never thought they’d top Avacado’s Number, and while Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch may not have dethroned my favorite math-pun named guacamole, it comes close. After all, who in this wide world of popular appeal and lowest common denominator chooses to name their product after a tongue-tangling Latinate family? Trader Joe’s, that’s who. Keep up the good work, whoever it was at Trader Joe’s who was in charge of that! Some R&D wonk, maybe!

The Cruciferous Crunch Collection, as is not at all clear from the title, is a bag of shredded kale, Brussels sprouts, green cabbage and red cabbage. It is, in short, the nightmare scenario of every little kid sitting down to the dinner table. Back in the day that would have been me panicking at the site of kale, however since growing to adulthood I’ve developed a certain fondness for robust salads. To the modern day me, this bag of greens is a god send. The texture and heft of your greens are aspects of salads that go criminally under appreciated. Every time you’ve ever sat down do a cold plate of watery iceberg lettuce, someone has taken the texture and heft of their salad greens for granted. The absolute bastards.

Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch mix brings vibrant tastes and textures to your salad, shading the other elements with the nutritious, nutty flavor of kale, the crunch of crisp shredded cabbage, and the dense chewiness of sliced Burssels sprouts. Throwing an handful of two of this mix in with your bed of baby spinach, romaine or, dear I say it, arugula, is the easiest thing you could do to upgrade your entire salad experience.

A word or two must be spared for the outre name of this bag of greens. Cruciferae is the Latin family name for a whole range of of dark, leafy greens – from broccoli to wasabi – and refers to the cross shaped leaves of the plants. Confusingly, cruciferous plants are also known under the more generally used family name brassicaceae, for no good reason other than to make trouble for botanists. I assume Trader Joe’s opted for cruciferous over brassicaceous because it’s marginally easier to pronounce, and because “Cruciferous Crunch Collection” sounds better than “Brassicaceous Bunch Bag”.

In any case, I would certainly assert  that the bag is amazingly named, and that if you’re at all a fan of good, satisfying salads this is an essential addition to your fridge’s crisper drawer.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: To salad makers everywhere.

Would I Buy It Again: I already have.

Final Synopsis: An awesome name for an awesome bag of salad greens.

Trader Joe's Cruciferous Crunch Collection - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch Collection – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Honey Glazed Miso Salmon on Salad Greens

 

Trader Joe's Honey Glazed Miso Salmon

When you put salmon on a salad it’s no longer a salad – it’s merely a bed of “salad greens”.

Many a good salad have I reviewed from Trader Joe’s, but always am I on the prowl for more – ever hunting, never satisfied. So it was that, in my endless roaming, I cam across Trader Joe’s Honey Glazed Miso Salmon salad – an Asian-style salad with pretensions to greatness, but which settles merely for good.

Before we dig into this salad, it’s important to note which version of Trader Joe’s Honey Glazed Miso Salmon on Salad Greens I’m talking about. Running contrary to the feeling of friendliness and openness that Trader Joe’s cultivates is their shadowy, behind the scenes operations. The goings-on of Trader Joe’s corporate offices are famously private – cloaked from all public scrutiny due to orders straight from the owners, Germany’s ultra-private Albrecht family.

Despite the rather sinister tone all this evokes, Trader Joe’s seems to be a mostly a force for good – at least in the supermarket world. One way that it continually surprises me, however, is through the continual reformulations that TJ’s is carrying out invisibly, beneath our very noses. Last month I found myself staring rather blankly at my old friend Turkey Bacon, not sure who he was anymore. The packaging was the same, the product copy was the same, but these were undeniably different strips of meat –  leaner and with a different, less tasty, flavor profile. Can I prove that this was a reformulation? No, I have no proof, nothing beyond my own vanishingly subjective experiences, and Trader Joe’s won’t comment. Is this how the hegemony convinces us that our protestations are merely symptoms of madness? By replacing our bacon? Time will tell, I’m sure.

Rather more noticeably is the face lift that the miso salmon salad in question went through. A previous product of the exact same name but of totally different formulation used to sit on Trader Joe’s shelves. This previous iteration, in addition to having different packaging, was served over lo mein noodles and had an inferior salmon. The version I’m reviewing today has no noodles and a better cut of fish – overall a change for the better.

Trader Joe's Honey Glazed Miso Salmon version2

The previous version of the salad – notice the noodles.

There’s a lot to love in this salad actually – salmon, first of all, is a wonderful salad accompaniment. Not only is it flavorful and healthy, but it flakes easily under the fork, a highly desirable quality for a fork-only food. That said, salmon can be a difficult fish to do right – doubly so when you’re packing it cold into a refrigerated salad. Trader Joe’s does a reasonable job delivering the salmon here. It’s a generous hunk of fish, and clearly some love went into the cooking process, in particular the miso-honey glaze. The miso honey glaze is nearly as good as it sounds, a sweet and tangy drizzle of flavor that gives your taste buds a pleasant zing. That said, the salmon itself is somewhat on the bland side, possibly over boiled. In any case, it’s the glaze you’ll notice, and the salmon passes by more or less as wallpaper.

The rest of the salad delivers a similarly satisfactory experience. “Matchstick” vegetables simply means that everything has been julienned into long veggies strips, strips that include such elegant additions as daikon (a mild Japanese radish) among the carrots and broccoli. The slivered almonds are also a nice touch, giving a bit of toothsome crunch to the proceedings.

The biggest problem, for me, was the salad dressing. The honey ginger vinaigrette included with the salad wasn’t bad – but I found it too oily, and tending toward bland where it should have been zingy. Not a death stroke, certainly, but a problem in that it’s hard to find a good dressing to pair with the honey-miso salmon. Apart from this one little misstep, this salad was a welcome change of pace to the chicken dominated salad fare that makes up most of Trader Joe’s other selections.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Yes, but bring your own dressing.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes, and I might try TJ’s Asian Sesame Seed Dressing with it next time.

Final Synopsis: A good, Asian salad with average salmon on it.