Few things are more tempting and decadent than a thick and creamy dip – and the king of these is no doubt the Spinach Dip. There is no party or social gathering that can’t be improved by the addition of a good spinach dip. Rich, cool and savory, even a mediocre spinach dip can elevate a humble tortilla chip to heavenly levels.
|What it is:||Low calorie spinach dip|
|Price:||$3.99 for a 16 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes. Healthier, and still tasty.|
Of course, as is usual for anything that tastes so good, spinach dip is terrible for you. Loaded with lethal levels of fat, spinach dip is the sort of condiment designed to test your willpower to the utmost. Perhaps just a nibble, you think, maybe just a chip or two… We all know where this leads – into the grasping, inescapable current of a spinach dip whirlpool.
Fortunately, Trader Joe’s has come to the rescue with their new Trader Joe’s Reduced-Guilt Spinach & Kale Greek Yogurt Dip – another entry in their line of “reduced-guilt” dips. We took a look at their reduced guilt chunky guacamole and reduced guilt chicken salad before. Both delivered uneven results. As is so often the case for “diet” foods, it’s easy to make a low-fat, low-cal food product, it’s just hard to make it taste any good. “Reduced-guilt” products walk a dangerous line. You have to sacrifice flavor in order to be healthy, but stray too far to one side or the other and you end up with something pointless and stupid. Healthy, but too bad tasting, and no one will eat it. Good tasting, but not particularly healthy, and you might as well just get the full calorie version.
In this case, Trader Joe’s manages to walk the tight-rope perfectly. This Spinach and Kale dip isn’t quite as delicious as the real thing, but it’s damn well close enough. A rich mixture of kale, spinach, water chestnuts, red peppers, carrots, green onions, garlic and even a little mayo create a colorful flavor pallete that makes a satisfying, full-bodied snack for crackers or chips.
Whenever you sub out sour cream for plain greek yogurt, as TJ’s has done here, you’re going to lose a little zip. That’s still the case here. After a big bite of this dip, you’ll notice it’s missing a little something on the tail end – a touch bland where it should be a touch zingy. That’s just the unavoidable cost of keeping the fat content under control. Fortunately, the blend of other vegetables and seasonings pep the dip up, compensating for this flatness fairly well.
And boy is that little bit of blandness worth it. Trader Joe’s normal spinach dip has 70 calories per serving, 60 of those from fat. This greek yogurt dip has less than half that per serving – 30 calories, 20 of those from fat.
All in all, that’s a pretty good trade off. No every “reduced guilt” product is worth it, but this dip is an exception to the rule.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, healthy and tasty!
Would I Buy It Again: Sure – this is a winner.
Final Synopsis: Low cal spinach dip worth the price.
Trader Joe’s is no stranger to slaw based salads, so their new all-slaw salad might be unprecedented but isn’t a surprise. Like their broccoli slaw, and Chinese chicken salads before it, Trader Joe’s Rainbow Slaw Salad is a big pile of shredded veggies. What’s different about this version is the riot of colors and flavors at play.
|What it is:||Lots of veggie slaw|
|Price:||$3.49 for an 11 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes – healthy and refreshing|
Slaw has always been the laziest form of salad. Unlike some of Trader Joe’s rather well thought through salads – like the very pretty Grain Country salad – a slaw salad doesn’t have to worry about presentation or what to layer where or even freshness of produce, a slaw salad just runs everything through an industrial dicer and dumps the resulting shreds into a single, undifferentiated pile. Like “dump pies“, the result might well be tasty, but they don’t really impress anyone.
However, Trader Joe’s Rainbow Slaw Salad bucks this slaw trend. By combining a variety of colorful and tasty produce Trader Joe’s has produced a slaw salad that’s actually worth talking about.
Take one look at the Rainbow Slaw Salad and you’ll immediately notice two things – one, that this is a lot of slaw we’re looking at, and two, that it really is very colorful. At the very least, we can say that Trader Joe’s has fully delivered on the “rainbow” and “slaw” parts of the salad. In this case, the myriad of bright colors comes from the many colorful veggies that go into this really massively vegatatious salad. Said vegetables include cabbage, sweet onions, kale, celery, mustard greens, corn kernels, and every color of carrot from the aptly named Carrots of Many Colors. All julienned up together, the result is a truly rainbow-hued mix that ranges from pale yellow, through greens, yellow and reds to vivid purple.
Very nice to look at – but what about the taste? Is that also nice? Well, yes – I suppose. The Rainbow Slaw Salad tastes good in so far as it tastes very healthsome and nutritious – you can really taste the vitamins and nutrients in each vegetable packed bite. To balance out the all vegetables/all the time approach, TJ’s has also seeded the salad with finely chopped bits of tart green apple, which pop up here and there to inject a bit of sweetness.
The honey herb dressing – a sort of sweet, seasoned vinaigrette, helps to add a lot of life to the salad – perking up the greens with a light zestiness that does a good job heightening the natural flavors of the mix rather than masking them. As I chewed away at mouthful after mouthful, I couldn’t help but feel like I was appreciating the subtle sweetness and inherent flavor of these so often sidelined vegetables in a whole new light. If there’s one thing this salad does well, it’s letting wholesome veggies speak for themselves.
On the other hand, it’s certainly not the most delicious Trader Joe’s salad I’ve ever had. In fact, if I’m being honest, it doesn’t even rank in the top 50%. Placed back to back with the Bacon and Spinach salad, or even the Arugula and Pimento Salad, Rainbow Slaw just feels incomplete. While I liked what it was doing, if I was hungry for slaw and vinagraette, I’d be far more likely to pick up Trader Joe’s Honey-Glazed Miso Salmon Salad which does a lot of the same things, just a little better.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, it certainly makes for a good side.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure, if I wanted to add some veggies to a meaty entree.
Final Synopsis: A healthy and light veggie salad.
There’s no way in hell this crazy combination of vegetables and spices should work as a salad – and yet it does, and does so beautifully.
|What it is:||A kale, cauliflower, raisin and wheat berry salad.|
|Worth it:||Yes, all this actually works.|
On the surface of things, you might expect a salad made from cauliflower, wheat berries, kale, canola oil and raisins to be a true disaster. None of those things seem like they should work well together – let alone when combined with curry powder – and yet the whole salad executes beautifully.
In fact, this is probably the most daring salad that Trader Joe’s has ever put out. On top of the eponymous kale and cauliflower, you also get a whole army of wheat berries, a scattering of big, sweet golden raisins, a liberal drenching of canola oil and, to top it all off, a “curry” salad dressing that isn’t actually curry flavored, at least not if you expect curry to be at all spicy. A better description would be “arid and pungent turmeric sauce”, because what it lacks in spice or complexity of flavor it makes up for in a potent turmeric punch. And the weirdest part is, I’d go back for seconds.
Honestly, no one is more shocked than me. I’ve been completely grossed out by a couple of Trader Joe’s more recent, “hip and daring”, salad developments – notable their divisive Kale and Edamame Salad, and their offensive bulgur and carrot salad nightmare. What is it that this equally out-there salad gets right?
For me, it comes down to one thing – the wheat berries. Wheat berries are nothing more than whole wheat kernels, and when soaked and added to salads provide a sort of satisfying, chewy toothsomeness and mild nutty flavor. In fact, one of my all time favorite Trader Joe’s salads – Trader Joe’s squash, quinoa and wheat berry salad – makes similar good use of this wholesome grain.
Although they don’t get top billing here, wheat berries make up the bulk of this salad – providing the binding agent that holds together the piquant curried cauliflower and intensely robust kale leaves. In fact, kale is more of an accent vegetable in this salad than the backbone. A few shreds of kale leaves hang out alongside the crunchy cauliflower – deep green, uncooked to the point of toughness, and tasting almost aggressively nutritious. If you’re looking for more roughage in your diet, this kale is eager to provide it.
The cauliflower is its typically mild and roughly textured self, but without the springy, soft wheat berries to pad out the bites in between the two vegetables this salad would be a much less tasty experience. Not to be overlooked, of course, are the raisins. Providing interesting bursts of sweetness to the otherwise beige-tasting affair, the raisins work brilliantly with the tumeric dressing and compliment the mild wheat berries perfectly.
Despite everything that’s going on in this salad, it’s not so much of a taste sensation as it is a texture experience. The flavors are bold, but not overwhelming. Far more notable is the vivid spectrum of textures that play across your tongue from bite to bite. If the thought of slippery wheat berries mixed up with strong ribs of kale makes you shudder, you’ll definitely want to give this one a miss. If you can get past that, however, this is a nutritious and wholly original salad perfect for shaking up your culinary routine.
Would I Recommend It: Cautiously – this salad isn’t going to be for everyone.
Would I Buy It Again: To my own amazement and surprise – I would.
Final Synopsis: There’s no way this outrageous salad should work – and yet it does.
Trader Joe’s Green, Beans and Grains could be anything, with a name like that. What it actually is, is a West African inspired curry-like, vegetarian dish. In this case, the greens are kale, the beans are garbanzo beans, and the grains are couscous. Also there are peanuts, which are technically legumes, but whatever. They don’t get to be in the title. These tasty components have been simmered up in a heavily spiced tomato based sauce that tingles and excites the tongue. Despite not having any meat in it, this dish manages to satisfy quite nicely – a result of the complex, savory spices as much as the hearty, filling beans and grains.
The strangest thing about the name that Trader Joe’s choose for the product, is that it falls so short of actually describing the contents of the dish in any meaningful way. “Greens, beans and grains” is so vague and non-specific that it hardly serves as a product title at all – greens, beans and grains can show up in so many dishes and so many combinations, that this title only obfuscates the nature of the dish rather than help you out in any way. It’s like if Taco Bell decided to call one of their dishes “Cheese, Beans and Beef” – it effectively signifies nothing and sows confusion. It’s a sort of anti-product name really, confounding innocent shoppers and muddying the waters of cognition with its nebulous semiology.
Here’s the thing – if the dish is so West African, as Trader Joe’s themselves claim on the side of the box, shouldn’t there already be a name that it’s known by? Trader Joe’s looooves attaching strange, exotic names to their food products, often without explanation, such as their Pa Jeon, Uttapam, Kouigns Amman, Dukkah… I could go on. Why not do that again here?
The fact is, Trader Joe’s has gone somewhat rogue with West African cuisine in this dish. The word “inspired” on the side of the box is meant in the same way that horror movies about ghosts that make people’s heads explode are “inspired” by true events. The germ of the idea comes from traditional West African dish maafe – or peanut stew. Traditionally maafe is made from peanuts, collared greens, tomatoes, onions and a selection of spices such as chili pepper, coriander, garlic and cumin. Trader Joe’s made the radical decision to swap out the collared greens for kale and, strangely, the peanuts for garbanzo beans, but the spices and the tomato and onion base are still there. It’s this tasty stock that makes the dish worth eating, as well as connecting it to its African roots.
Really, given how much the dish has deviated from its West African origin, TJ’s has shown remarkable restraint in giving the product a lackluster name instead of just sticking “Trader Joe’s Maafe” on it, and being done with it. That shows integrity, Trader Joe’s Marketing Department. Kudos.
It may not be, strictly speaking, a West African dish – but Trader Joe’s Green, Beans and Grains is interesting enough to make a strong case for its own existence in the frozen food aisle.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, it’s pleasantly spicy and reasonably healthy.
Would I Buy It Again: I very well might – this would be an easy way to dress up boring meat.
Final Synopsis: A spicy, West African curry – with couscous.
What this now – a Super Burrito? A Super Burrito with an exclamation mark and everything?! Oh wow, it must be like, the bigget, cheesiest, meatiest, most ass-kicking tube of molten sodium this side of the Taco Bell late night menu. Let’s just see what we’ve here – quinoa, kale, sweet potato… wait a minute – this isn’t a Super Burrito, it’s a Super FOOD Burrito. Gah! Trader Joe’s you’ve snookered me again! I’ve bought healthy, filling cuisine when I was hoping for a heart-clogging cylinder of refried beans and queso.
Actually, I suppose I can’t Trader Joe’s you for leaving the “food” part out of their Super (Food) Burrito. There’s little to nothing about quinoa, kale, et al. that inclines one to think it would make for a satisfying, quick and dirty microwaveable Mexican food indulgence. Ah, but how wrong we are, us’n who equate only ground beef and melty cheese sauce with good burritos. Trader Joe’s delivers a downright hearty, filling and tasty blast of spicy southwestern cuisine that, if I hadn’t been tricked into it, I’d never have bothered to try.
First of all, yes, you’re correct – there’s no meat in this burrito. It’s entirely vegetarian and vegan friendly, yet even meat lovers can find something to love in this nutritious tortilla wrap.
We’ve covered quinoa, that ancient psuedo-grain, several times before – but for all the health claims that swirl around quinoa one is certifiably true – it really does do a good job of filling you up. A mix of red quinoa and gold quinoa make up the bulk of this burrito, and while they bring their trademark pearl-like texture to the mix, they’ve been cooked long enough and well enough that there isn’t any coarseness to the burrito – each bite is smooth and almost creamy. This smoothness is helped along by the large, soft pieces of golden sweet potato that help the quinoa fill out the burrito. Again, these have been cooked to a pleasing softness and go down easy. Kale makes for the third big ingredient, but despite my fears, it was mild and hard to detect from bite to bite. Kale, with it’s high nutrient, vitamin and mineral denseness has a tendency to scare off all but the most health-food focused, but here it makes nary a wave – chopped and stewed into yet another mild, easy on the tongue ingredient.
What you do notice is the spiciness. The filling is spiced with aji amarillo chili sauce, made from the small, orangish and quintessentially Peruvian chili pepper, and the tortilla is seasoned with red pepper flakes. This gives the burrito considerably more spice than you might expect given the typically mild ingredients in the filling. Each bite delivers a little punch of fire that sears without burning and lends the whole affair some much needed spice that takes it up a notch in the flavor category.
I doubt I would have picked up this burrito if I’d suspected what was in it, but I’m glad I did. The flavors all play well together, the texture is even and smooth, and it cooks up in the microwave in about two minutes. This isn’t just a good vegan burrito, it’s a good burrito in general – and with only 44 grams of carbs and 18 grams of fat it’s a pretty damn healthy one too boot.
Would I Recommend It: I would – it finds a comfortable intersection between taste and nutrition.
Would I Buy It Again: It surprises even myself to say so, but yes I would buy this vegan burrito again.
Final Synopsis: A quinoa-based, vegan burrito that is actually worth checking out.
We recently looked at the shocking explosion in popularity of the humble Brussels sprout. I myself have never considered myself much of a Brussels sprout man, although I’m occasionally tempted into the dish when sufficient quantities of bacon and cheese have been introduced. I’m also not much of a kale man, although I can occasionally be convinced to enjoy it chopped – if there’s enough good salad fixings to go with it. Why then, did I feel compelled to pick up a bag of Trader Joe’s Kale Sprouts – a product that is, somehow, exactly what it sounds like. Some twisted nutritional madman, in a decaying castle on some storm bitten crag, managed to fuse these two unfavorably regarded members of the Brassilica family into one lopsided ungainly form – perfect for haunting the dreams of obstinate children forever more. Surely this tinkering can’t work out well, can it?
Fortunately, I’ve matured far enough beyond my own childhood dislike of strange vegetables to actually give this unusual new plant a try. What I discovered was a veggie that combines the best of both its parents into a new form.
Despite owing it’s ancestry in half to Brussels sprouts, kale sprouts don’t look all that much like those infamous green buds. Instead, kale sprouts look like little heads of kale. In fact, kale sprouts are often referred to by their other name, lollipop kale – downplaying the Brussels sprouts side altogether. Don’t be fooled though – despite their very kale-like appearance if you saw kale sprouts at the farm, you’d see them growing off the sides of long, vertical stalks – exactly like Brussels sprouts.
This mixed pedigree is reflected in the taste – the kale sprout taste is almost exactly halfway between kale and Brussels sprouts. Robust, nutritious, crisp, fresh, and slightly bitter with a hint of pepperiness. As a result, you can cook them in any of the ways you would consider cooking either. Kale sprouts can be cut in half and roasted in the oven like Brussels sprouts just as easily as they can be sauteed with a touch of olive oil and salt, like kale – or simply thrown on a salad.
While I expected to be underwhelmed by these guys as a result of that “middle of the road” phenomenon, I was actually quite charmed by the little morsels. I hadn’t known it before, but I guess I’ve always wanted my Brussels sprouts to be leafier and my kale to have more body. Trader Joe’s Kale Sprouts manage to do both those things at the same time. It’s like they scratch an itch I didn’t know I had. In fact, I’d say I found them easier to cook, and friendlier to eat, than either of its progenitors.
Kale sprouts are an excellent addition to your produce pantry, and a versatile tool for many meals, from a hearty side for meat dishes, to an addition to your salad bowl, to a simple saute. Unlike so many produce hybrids that seem to be made exclusively for novelty purposes – like the saturn peach, or pluot – kale sprouts actually fill a meaningful role in the kitchen. Let’s hope they’re here to stay.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, they’re handy, novel and nutritious.
Would I Buy Them Again: I would – they made me feel fancy.
Final Synopsis: A kale/Brussels sprout hybrid that combines the best of two worlds.