We return again to the strange shores of vegan cuisine to take a look at Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs. We’ve looked at a good number of vegetarian and vegan alternatives to this meaty world we live in – from soy “ice cream” to chicken-free chicken nuggets.
In general, I find that vegetarian food really shines when it’s not getting hung up on trying to be the doppleganger of meat products, as with Trader Joe’s Vegetable Masala Burgers, and just does it’s own thing. The worst sins of vegan cuisine seem to occur when somebody decides that, goddammit, yes, I need to make a turkey out of tofu. Vegetable dishes are good as vegetables, and meat dishes are good as meat – there’s no need for vegetables to be all things to all people. Nevertheless, I’m always excited to be proved wrong in novel ways, hence the acquisition of these “meat”balls.
TJ’s comes straight out and calls their meatless meatballs, “a delicious meat-free substitute for any meal” right there on the package, without even a hint of modesty. I wouldn’t go that far, but the meatballs do delivery a surprisingly rich and full, if not exactly meaty, flavor. The meatlessballs, for lack of a better word, replicate the texture and mouthfeel of a standard party meatball pretty closely. The bite of the ball is moist and a little chewy – holding together well, and breaking up much as a bit of ground beef would. Coated with a heavy sauce, or mixed into a plate of pasta you wouldn’t notice much of a difference. Taken by itself, however, the meatlessball tastes, and more importantly, smells very dissimilar.
A good job was done to season the meatlessballs in such a way that they are roughly approximate to a normal meatball, but there’s no hiding the sort of soybean-y aftertaste when eaten straight off the plate. There’s nothing here of the fatty, visceral taste of the meatball – instead there’s a thinner, somewhat vegetable blandness. This difference in taste is rather mild, however, which means it can be hidden very effectively under a good marinera or similar sauce. More problematic, for those seeking a true meat substitute, is the smell wich has nothing of the savory, fatty scent of a simmering meatball. Instead, it smells like what it is – a bunch of hot soy. It’s a strong enough scent that it might make you think twice about digging in.
When you pop this bag open, the first thing you should realize is that you
are getting a ton of these guys. These are cocktail meatballs, not the big honking ones you get in Trader Joe’s regular bag of frozen meatballs. The move feels like it may be a practical one, as even at their smaller size the meatless meatballs have a certain tendency to break up if played around with too much. On the plus side, they’re down right healthy compared to Trader Joe’s ordinary beef variety meatballs. Each six meatball serving has only 140 calories, 45 from fat, and 13 whopping grams of protein.
How do such meatless balls manage such a feat? Through the magic of textured soy protein, of course.
To level with you, I generally react to this sort of psuedo-meat like a horse being lead up to Frakenstein’s castle. There’s something strange and unnatural about it that makes me balk. Meat I get. It’s easy to get answers out of meat. “Hey, what’s this meatball made out of?” “A bunch of dead cow.” That’s a straight forward answer. The answers are harder with meatless meat products, because all of a sudden I’m being tricked, right from the start. Nothing is what it appears, but instead a complex masquerade of strange technical processes meant to fool me into thinking I’m eating meat. That’s vaguely sinister – and such weird yet innocuous phrases as “textured soy protein” only make me nervous.
Textured soy protein or “TSP” is, in fact, kind of weird and sinister stuff. It’s basically the styrofoam of the food world, used since the 1960’s by the Archer Dale Midland company to pad out meat with filler material. It’s what happens when you heat soy bean flour to high temperatures that it melts, then is extruded from a nozzle as “a fibrous, insoluble, porous network that can soak up as much as three times its weight in liquids” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textured_vegetable_protein). Does that sound amazing? Not really, but they tell you not to ask about how sausage is made either.
That may sound like I’m being harsh, but I’m just trying to be accurate. In terms of texture and even, to a fair degree, taste these “meat”balls really are good substitutes for real meatballs. But to say, as Trader Joe’s does, that they’re a substitute for “any recipe” isn’t one I’d stand behind. Taken as a small asset in a larger dish, in a sloppy meatball sandwich say, they work beautifully, as they would for any vegetarian just looking to get a little variety in their diet. However, in a dish where the meatballs are showcased instead of hidden behind other, stronger flavors they’re unlikely to please the table.
Would I Recommend It: Not to meat eaters, possibly to vegetarians.
Would I Buy It Again: Not I, I’ll stick to TJ’s lean turkey variety.
Final Synopsis: Fake meatballs suitable for pasta but not soup.
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.
Trader Joe’s Gluten Free, Raw, Vegan Fruit Bars – (Apple & Strawberry, Apple & Mango, Apple & Banana, and Apple & Coconut)Posted: June 3, 2014
With the addition of Trader Joe’s Apple and [blank] Fruit Bars, they have added another participant to the already crowded Trader Joe’s fruit bar arena. How, I wondered as I picked these up, could Joe possible justify the existence of a third, no nonsense, “healthy” fruit bar?
There are, in fact, many similarities between these fruit bars and Trader Joe’s other fruit bars. Like its competitors, these bars are 100% fruit, with no additives of any sort. Does that mean we’re just talking about more fruit leather? No indeed sir, it does not! While Trader Joe’s other fruit bars all hopped on the fruit leather boat, these Gluten Free Raw Vegan Fruit Bars are another thing entirely.
Open up a pack and take a look. For starters, you’ll notice that they’re not all that flat. Each bar is a good half inch or more thick, with the heft and body of a candy bar. As you pick it up, you’ll notice that they’re not all that sticky either – you can wrap your fingers around any of the varieties without fear of peeling them away to the dreaded sensation of “sticky raisin fingers”.
You’ll notice another big difference as well – unlike TJ’s other fruit bars, these guys look minimally processed. Instead of a uniform fruit paste, each of these bars is visibly full of shredded fruit – be it bits of strawberry, chunks of banana, lumps of mango, or slivers of coconut. That same quality means that each type of bar actually feels very different in the hand. The Apple & Banana is probably most dense and firm, while the Apple & Coconut has a tendency to crumble as you handle it.
Which brings us to the taste. Apple goes into basically every fruit bar ever made because its pulp is simply excellent and binding things together. What that means is that you can expect all of these bars to taste at least a little bit like apple. The question is, how much does it taste like anything else?
Actually, before we even get into that, I’d better mention that these bars are surprisingly unsweet. To be sure, they are definitely sweet as compared to – for instance, dirt. But compared to any of the other TJ fruit bars I’ve reviewed these bars are much more muted. There is none of the light-up-your-tongue zazz you normally expect from these sorts of snacks. In fact, these fruit bars are less sweet even than the fruits they’re made from.
The reason for this, in part, is because of the unsulfured nature of the raw fruit that has gone into the bars. We’ve talked about the sulfuring process
before – and how it preserves the color and taste of fruit once it’s been dried. Without preservatives, and without the chemical changes that occur with exposure to high heat, these bars are essentially just shredded, dried fruit – and as such lose a good deal of their fruit’s original intensity.
Why aren’t the bars exposed to high heat? Because they’re “raw”, of course. The notion of raw food, and the ethos of rawism, is simply too big a topic to tackle in this post. One of the more interesting puzzles of only consuming raw food, however, is deciding at what temperature a raw food should no longer be considered raw. It’s generally agreed that the cut off for vegetables and fruits is between 104 – 120 degrees Fahrenheit (40-49 degrees Celsius). Presumably, these bars abide by that guideline, although there is no official “seal of rawness” yet, so really it’s anyone’s guess.
Which brings us back to the taste – just how good are these raw fruit bars? I’m happy to say that even though they are somewhat unsweet, they’re still quite flavorful. The guest fruit in each bar (banana, coconut, mango or strawberry) really come to the fore in each bite. The sugariness may be gone, but the appealing underlying taste of the fruit is still there, mingling pleasantly with the subtle, mellow apple taste. Essentially, you are getting the taste of the fruit without the sweetness. The Apple and Banana Bar, for example, tastes like a cooked plantain more than a ripened banana. The same applies to the coconut, strawberry and even the mango. You can recognize and appreciate the flavors with the candied sugariness common to many dried fruits.
Are these bars worth your money then? There’s certainly a lot to like about them. They give you a convenient way to keep your blood sugar up, a way to stay committed to your raw food diet, and can act as a substitute candy bar for dieters in need of a cheat. Then again, a regular piece of fruit does all of that just as well – and the fruit tastes better.
Really, it comes down to if you like everything about fruit except the sweetness, or if you’ve been questing for a fruit bar that won’t make your fingers sticky. If either of those qualities defines you, then you’ll want to pick up these bars. For everyone else, I’d suggest giving one a try, if for no other reason than the novel experience.
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, if you need a healthier alternative to a Snickers.
Would I Buy Them Again: I’d buy these before any of the other Trader Joe’s Fruit bars, just because they’re less sticky.
Final Synopsis: A hefty fruit bar that isn’t all that sweet.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sometimes you’re just hankering for something from Sardinia. Maybe the Big Game is about to come on, or maybe the kids are driving you up the wall? Times like these, nothing hits the spot like a little something Sardinian. Not only does Trader Joe’s Sardinian Parchment Crackers bolster the relatively anemic roster of the Sardinian products available from your grocer, but it also has the added benefit of sounding like the hotly contested artifact a dashing archaeologist might be racing Nazis for.
So it’s a great name – but what is a Sardinian Parchment Cracker?Well get ready for some excitement folks, because it’s very thin, flat, unyeasted cracker bread milled from semolina. In other words, a taste explosion. This might be expected given the origin of these crackers – invented circa 1000 BC by wandering shepherds trying to make a portable lunch. No bread lasts so well as a good, dry cracker, and so this it was that this simple, broad, flat snack entered the world.
Joking aside – Trader Joe’s Pane Guttiau is a good tasting cracker with some intriguing applications. In terms of flavor, these crackers are very close to saltines, only enlivened by a touch of olive oil and served much thinner. Much, much thinner actually. The more jocular name for pane guttiau is carta di musica or “music sheet” – either because these wafer thin crackers resemble wrinkled sheets of paper, or because they’re so thin that you can actually read a sheet of music through them. This is no exaggeration – I was able to see my hand through a sheet of pane guttiau, which is not something most crackers can brag of.
There are two main reasons you’re going to want to come to these crackers – for the size and for the texture. The taste, though good, won’t blow you away – it’s the huge 4-5” size of each cracker and their light, crispiness that lets you snack on these in a whole new way. You won’t necessarily be digging into a tub of hummus with these crackers – though you can manage it if you’re careful enough. Instead, they lend themselves to being layered with thin slices of salami and cheese, or dabbed with a nice tapenade and had as an antipasta.
There’s something really enjoyable and liberating about dealing with crackers this size. Instead of being forced into dealing with a set size of cracker out of a box, these parchment crackers allow you to easily snap off any sized section you want from the larger cracker. Nibble on a broken-off corner or stack a plate with multiple layers – the versatility of the pane guttiau is tremendous.
A final note, despite the thinness of the crackers, I found that Trader Joe’s packed a good number into each box. I wound up running out of things to put on the parchment crackers before the parchment crackers themselves ran out.
If you’re going to try these – get some good cheese and meats, some nice spreads, and enjoy a little free-form snacking.
Would I Recommend Them: Yes, particularly if you’re exhausted by traditionally sized crackers.
Would I Buy Them Again: Eventually, maybe when I have guests over.
Final Synopsis: These ancient, wafer-like crackers are a whole new way to snack!