If there’s one thing Trader Joe’s likes to do, it’s suddenly releasing jars of preserved Mediterranean produce with little or no instruction. The latest entrant is Trader Trader Joe’s Marinated Olive Duo with Lemon and Herbs, a vacuum packed bag of green and black olives muddled up with a strong shot of lemon zest and thyme – a combination that brings new levels of intense flavor to an otherwise familiar appetizer.
|What it is:||Strong, marinated olives with lemon zest and herbs.|
|Worth it:||Yes, if you’re making an anitpasto plate. Otherwise, no.|
Previously, we looked at Trader Joe’s Preserved Lemon Slices, and before that their various iterations of olives stuffed with almonds and peppers stuffed with olives. Aside from growing on the sunny shores of the wine-dark Aegean, these products are all united by the confusing lack of all instruction. Usually Trader Joe’s is pretty good about this sort of thing – giving you a little nudge on the packaging and suggesting that you maybe, you know, serve your Korean scallion pancakes with soy sauce and vinegar, or explaining why bamboo flowers are being served with your rice, or what have you.
No such luck here. Instead, I’m left looking at this cloudy bag of olives, straining the limits of my imagination in an attempt to integrate these into my daily diet. Martinis maybe? Should I put these in martinis? Again? The lemon zest whisper yes, but all the floating herbs and slices of red pepper say no pretty clearly. Can I cook with them, then? Maybe this is a sort of add on kit for the otherwise underwhelming Greek Cheese Spiral I reviewed the other day? All ready to spread on top of those folded cheese coils?
Native Greeks, the very ones who pack this product of Greece perhaps, surely have no such uncertainties – gobbling them down by the handful, stuffing them into their mouths one after another, and firing out the pits with machine gun-like efficiency, I’m sure.
Actually, as it turns out this sort of marinated olive dish is actually meant to be eaten as is – as an addition to an anitpasto platter, as an appetizer in of itself, or as a stand alone cocktail snack. This being a Mediterranean snack, these marinated olives can naturally be served up with some cheese, cured meats and, of course, wine.
If that sounds good to you, just make sure that you’re prepared for how very intense this flavor combination is. A briny olive can be overwhelming by itself, but combined with the bitter citrus bite of lemon zest and a pungent dose of thyme and other herbs, they become an entirely new beast. This is certainly not an appetizer to serve to the unaware or persnickety. Both types of olives in this duo – the purple kalamata and green chalkidiki – have firm, almost tough flesh, and come loaded up with that intense sodium punch you expect from a preserved olive.
On top of this we have a strong lemon zest – which tastes about as bitter as it does citric. The lemon zest does a lot to balance out the strong salty taste of the olives, but it also leaves a lingering bitter aftertaste that, while not unpleasant, definitely doesn’t invite binge consumption.
The titular herbs, though still strong, are understated in comparison. The ingredient label don’t provide a description of what seasonings go into the mix, but you can certainly detect thyme and rosemary and probably garlic. Not easy flavors to contend with, but certainly interesting ones.
The result of all these parts is a simple dish that is very strong, but also intriguing enough to invite a second and third tastes. In some ways, it’s a cocktail snack’s cocktail snack. They look nice, they’re compelling to try, but no one is going to need more than a small handful of them. It’s telling that the serving size is given as “3 olives” on the package. That seems about right – after three olives you’re about ready to move onto something else.
If you’re looking for something to pique your guest’s palettes, these marinated olives might be just what you need – the culinary equivalent of brash bit of trumpeting mid-concert. For more mundane uses, such as satisfying your afternoon munchies, you should look elsewhere.
Would I Recommend Them: Hesitantly. They’re not “good” so much as they are “interesting.”
Would I Buy Them Again: I doubt it. I’m not sure I or my friends are quite cultured enough to appreciate these.
Final Synopsis: A more intense olive for your appetizers.
And so we return to the world of stuffed olives, with Trader Joe’s Almond Stuffed Meski Olives. The last time we traipsed into these briny grounds was with Trader Joe’s Seriously Stuffed Peppers with Olives, Capers and Garlic which – now that I think about it – one, isn’t technically a stuffed olive but an olive which has been stuffed into something and two, didn’t actually involve brine. Damn, so close.
As the above paragraph may indicate, yes – I am currently drunk. Not just because it’s before noon on a Sunday, but actually and in fact for very important research reasons. You see, when I bought this intriguing sounding olive garnish I though there might be something really interesting going on with it. As it turns out, they are pretty much just olives stuffed with almonds – not too much to add. So to up the ante, as it were, I’ve been making martinis.
Unlike the stuffed peppers, or some of Trader Joe’s other stuffed offerings, I was relieved to find these weren’t packed in oil but just your standard salty, olive brine. Another relief was to discover that the meksi olives themselves are shockingly mild. When I think of green olives, I think of the pimento stuffed cocktail variety found, most frequently, at my grandmother’s house during get togethers. Salty little bastards that kick your butt after about one and a half olives.
In comparison, Trader Joe’s stuffed meski olives are gentle delights – briny, to be sure, but mild enough to munch away on by the handful. Certainly mild enough to be broadly appealing to party goers. Stick some toothpicks in these and I’d you’ll have yourself an intriguing hors d’oeuvre.
Whether this mildness of taste is a property of the stuffed almonds or not, I couldn’t say. In either case, they certainly make a nice accompaniment. The nuts are a touch bland, but they balance out the stronger flavor of the olive while lending it some considerable heft and crunch – something to really chew on, rather than pop in the mouth.
Overall, it’s a little olive revelation – I’d never considered buying olives as a garnish before, but I’d certainly think about picking these up again in the future.
Of course, when it comes to garnishes, there’s one other famous use for olives – the martini. Trader Joe himself suggests tippling it up with these olives right on the label – either as a cocktail garnish, or with the brine for a dirty martini “like no other”. See, it all comes full circle.
While TJ doesn’t go on to substantiate that last claim, I just so happened to have enough gin and vermouth laying around the house to consider putting that claim to the test.
So here I am, sipping on an extremely dirty cocktail, essentially attempting to savor olive brine mixed with a punishing liver toxin. It is only as I lift it to my lips that I remember, oh yeah, martinis are terrible. Or they certainly are the way I prepare them. 6 parts gin to 1 part vemouth, per the standard recipie, with 5 or 6 spoonfuls of olive brine. Simply terrible – like a punch straight to the liver. There actually seems to be more in the glass each time I sip from it. Hundreds of ounces of harsh gin (top shelf, Beefeater – absolutely murderous) with a sassy little olive flip.
If only I could stop drinking it. Of course, Momma didn’t raise no quitters.
At any rate, I subscribe to that school of thought which says, if a lot of people like something, but I personally don’t see any merit in it, I’m probably missing something. Maybe it’s just an acquired taste? and polishing off this glass will clarify my understanding? However at this point, three quarters of the way down, it seems unlikely. I suppose it doesn’t help that I prepared it in a big honking wine glass.
A dirty martini “like no other”? No, I’m afraid I can’t independently verify that. Brine-wise, this seems to be just as good as any other olive brand you might like to pick up. In terms of garnishes, however, I’d have to give it an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Would I Recommend It: Yes – a very gentle and tasty olive.
Would I Buy It Again: I never thought I’d say this about stuffed olives, but yes.
Final Synopsis: These olives are good, and I’m drunk.