Beautiful July is on us again, and with it so too has come the promise of an infinite string of perfect barbecues at sunset, – the golden moments of life. And of course, I can never think about big, blow out BBQs without thinking about GAZPACHO!
No, I have never had gazpacho before, and certainly never at a barbecue, but the two are inextricably linked in my mind because of, like so much in my life, The Simpsons.
As I know, and I’m sure you now know, gazpacho is tomato soup – served ice cold. Despite what you may have heard from the shouting of beligerent drunks, Gazpacho is actually a Spanish dish tracing its origin back to the Andalusia region of southern Spain. Nowadays it’s eaten throughout Spain and Portugal as a go to cool-down dish during hot summer months.
If your pop culture tastes run a little higher brow than mine, you might also remember a good gazpacho scene from the movie “Violets Are Blue” (1986). In it gazpacho is described as “salad in a blender”, and that’s probably as good of a definition as any. In addition to the aforementioned cold tomatoes, Trader Joe’s Gazpacho contains cucumbers, green and yellow bell peppers, and onion – all finely diced into a robust concoction of chunky vegetables. The important thing to remember about gazpacho, and the thing that makes it different from any other vegetable soup out there, isn’t just that you serve it cold, but that it’s actually made cold. This is a raw soup – uncooked from start to finish, and as a result it’s bursting with full-bodied, vegetable flavor. Not just vegetables, actually, but fruit as well.
Many gazpacho traditions coexist, including varieties that include strawberries or muskmelon. Trader Joe’s doesn’t go so far as to throw in any fruit chunks, but they do dress up their soup with a good dose of orange juice – as the second ingredient behind tomatoes. That’s still just enough to add a subtle citrus tang to the soup, and to add the faintest touch of sweetness to the soup. Other seasonings going into Trader Joe’s Gazpacho are garlic, jalapeno pepper, and a touch of sherry vinegar, all of which work to give the soup bit of a spicy, acidic edge.
This soup isn’t hiding any surprises. Having never had gazpacho before, I found that it tasted exactly like I expected a cold soup, tomato based soup to taste. This is a soup of overwhelming vegetable flavor, and it doesn’t pull any punches. There’s no saltiness, no real sweetness, just that zing of sherry vinegar layered on top of many vegetables.
If you like strong tomato soups, you’ll like this. There’s certainly a little more than just tomato going on in the background, but overall it begins with tomato and it ends with tomato. Personally, I wasn’t exactly blown away by it. The gazpacho wasn’t flawed in anyway, but the simplicity of this cold, straightforward soup didn’t manage to catch my heart. While I didn’t mind eating it, I did keep thinking about how it might taste better if I heated it up and maybe dressed it up a little. I could have done, but at that point I might as well have just picked up one of Trader Joe’s other great soups, their minestrone for instance.
I’m willing to admit that that’s a personal failure, however. If you crave a dish of heart vegetables, or want to beat the heat with a flame-free meal, this gazpacho is certainly worth a shot.
Would I Recommend It: Sure – it may not blow you away, but this is a hearty, healthy soup.
Would I Buy It Again: I don’t think so, there are too many other soups to try.
Final Synposis: A cold tomato soup, with a little zing thrown in.
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.
Once again, I am shocked that Trader Joe’s Chile Rellano is not on the Trader Jose label. What’s the point of positing the existence of a Hispanic doppelganger if you’re not going to ham-handedly slap him on all your Spanish-inspired cuisine?
For that matter, why have a Trader Jose, a Trader Giotto, a Trader Josef and so on, but not a Korean Trader Jae, an Egyptian Trader Jahi, or a Thai Trader Jayavarman? Why the narrow window of ethno-specificity Trader Joe’s? Edward Said called, he wants to know where you got your Orientalism.
In any case, I better start off this review by disclosing that I’m not really all that into chile rellanos. My list of favorite Mexican food looks like this:
Table 1-1: Mexican Food Preference Chart
- Smothered/”Wet” Burritos
- Fish Tacos (soft)
- Nachos (supreme or ultimate)
- Sweet corn cake mash
As you can see, chile rellanos don’t even crack the top 5, so TJ’s was already embarking on an uphill battle when they created this product then let me go home with it. Strike 1 and 2, Trader Joe’s. Dubious but willing, I tucked in.
The Trader Joe’s Chile Rellano is a roasted poblano pepper, nice and mild, stuffed with monterey jack, slathered in spicy tomato salsa, dusted with bread crumbs and topped with cheddar. When that much melted cheese comes into play, it’s hard to make an unpalatable dish – and as you might imagine these rellanos go down easy.
While most rellanos contain meat of some sort, take note that this one is a vegetarian dish, meaning it is little more than a meat-free, tube of cheese.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you’re a vegetarian looking for sustenance amid the barrens of the modern grocery store. If you’re looking for that meat free Mexican food fix, here you are. The salsa is admirably spicy, delivering a short sharp burn with each bite, and the roasted pepper is toothsome, if somewhat tough to cut. The vegetarian rellano also boosts a surprisingly high protein profile, 22 grams to the serving, which might give you some sense of how much cheese we’re talking about here.
For my part, I found the meat-less rellano less than filling. As a component to a larger Mexican dish it would certainly be more effective – as plate compatriot to an enchilada, perhaps, or a taco. However, if I’m going to ingest that much straight up cheese I have other ways I’d prefer to go about it. (See table 1-1).
Would I Recommend It: To Mexican craving vegetarians, no one else.
Would I buy it again: I don’t see it happening.
Final Synopsis: This cheesy pepper is alright, but nothing special.