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.
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.
I never would have guessed raw cabbage and cooked bulgur could be so tasty, and yet here I have my proof in Trader Joe’s Vegetable and Grain Country Salad.
Let us first commend this hearty and delicious salad as a study in the art of simple, elegant salad making. The salad is skillfully tossed together from 4 simple components – a bed of shredded cabbage, a scattering of garbanzo beans and a few select cherry tomatoes embedded in a dense field of moist bulgur. Raw shredded cabbage is ordinarily hard to make palatable, but in this instance it works as crispy counterpoint to the yielding, flavorful grain. Add a few choice spices, and you’re left with a rich, sumptuous salad that smells enticingly of the middle east and fills you up without weighing you down. It does, however, lead us to our first question. Bulgur – what is bulgur?
Bulgur. This is not a word the average American runs into on network TV or his daily paper. It sounds fashionable, in that return-to-the-past sort of way, maybe the sort of thing peasants in medieval Italy were stabbing Cypriots with pikes over. “Unload your mule of my bulgur, varlet” was probably a common cry somewhere at sometime.
In actual point of fact, bulgur is a Mediterranean crop – a high fiber grain, related to wheat but looking and feeling like couscous and with a lightly nutty flavor. If you’ve ever had tabbouleh, you’ve had bulgur, (a phrase which is as fun to say as it was to write). Bulgur is somewhat in vogue nowadays due to the fact that it cooks up like white rice, but with more protein and fiber, and a lower glycemic index.
This leads us to our second question. Where does Trader Joe’s get off calling this a salad?
Being made mostly of grain, it’s pushing the definition of salad further than normally tolerated. It would be just as accurate to call this a pasta dish with a side of shredded cabbage. Not to mention the absence of a salad dressing. Has there ever been an actual salad-type salad that you can eat without a dressing? Top scientists say no. Except maybe in the case of pasta salads, of which this is almost certainly one, which I suppose negates the entire point of this paragraph. Never mind, let’s move on.
Although possibly a bit unorthodox, there’s s nothing to regret about Trader Joe’s Vegetable and Grain Country Salad – simple parts that come together in a tasty, well-designed medley of refreshingly unusual tastes and textures and exotic smells.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, to anyone who is at all curious about salads or bulgur.
Would I But It Again: A little carb heavy as a salad, but tasty as a side dish, so yes.
Final Synopsis: A resounding yes to the question, “Does bulgur taste good as a salad?”