No vegetable has seen a resurgence in recent years like the Brussels sprout. Sure, the per person consumption of broccoli has increased more than 400% since 1980, but people always kind of ate broccoli. Brussels sprouts, on the other hand, have been shorthand for universally reviled food since before WWII. In fact, as recently as 2008 a survey conducted by Heinz Corp. found Brussels sprouts to be the most-hated vegetable in America. Yet in the last few years a strange new, pro-Brussels sprout zeitgeist has arisen in America. Suddenly they are a tasty treat to be found on your dinner plate, no longer regarded as cheap, unpleasant-tasting leaf wads. No one’s fool, Trader Joe’s has made tracks to capitalize on this resurgence, and has brought to their shelves their new Trader Joe’s Roasted Brussels Spouts just in time for the holiday season.
Personally, I’ve long been enjoying the tasty crunch of raw shredded Brussels sprout in Trader Joe’s excellent Cruciferous Crunch Collection, and while that’s all well and good I’ve been avoiding them in their whole, steamed form for many years, thanks to some truly unpalatable encounters with them in my childhood. Yet when I saw them presented in the produce aisle the other day, looking so demure in their minimalist wrapping, I couldn’t resist the urge to pick them up again and see if we couldn’t reconnect.
Normally, I probably wouldn’t have been willing to do this if it wasn’t for that one magically word in the title, “roasted”. The roasting of Brussels sprouts has been the magic key to their reappearance on dinner tables everywhere – that and the generous addition of crispy bacon, onion, pine nuts, etc. The old-fashioned way of boiling Brussels sprouts goes hand-in-hand with their ill reputation. As a cruciferous vegetable, the sprouts contain heaps of the compound glucosinolate which, while beneficial to the body, will stink like rotten sulfur when boiled too long. By roasting a Brussels sprout you avoid all this unpleasantness while retaining the nutrition and enhancing the taste.
Trader Joe’s Brussels sprouts come pre-roasted and ready to eat – sort of. Although they’ve been pre-cooked you’ll need to re-heat them, either by steaming them in their own package in the microwave, or sauteeing them up on the range. Steaming them is more likely to bring out that unsavory glucosinolate, so get out the frying pan if you really want to have a tasty meal.
So how do Trader Joe’s Roasted Brussels sprouts do? Rather well, actually. This is a classic what- you-see-is-what-you-get food product. Although the sprouts have been nominally roasted in olive oil with salt and pepper you won’t taste any of that in the prepared dish. It’s for good reason that TJ exhorts you to “season to taste” twice on the package. The sprouts themselves are fine examples of their cultivar – firm yet yielding, with a mild, vertiginous taste. They’re basically what you want, but they’re not going to blow anyone away just by themselves.
The easiest way to make these sprout delicious is to dress them up with another splash of olive oil and S&P, but if you’re willing to put a little more elbow grease into it, you could consider this recipe with bacon: , or this one with Parmesan – just make sure that you reduce the cooking times to adjust for the already cooked Brussels sprouts.
Finally, I’d like to break into a long digression here about the fascinating history of the Brussels sprout – as perhaps implied by the strange syntax of its name – but the world fails us here. Brussels sprout are apparently named as such simply because Brussels, Belgium was known for growing a lot of them. That shows a lack of imagination that riles me to no end – but I suppose it’s the hard to spell name we’re stuck with.
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, if you have a good idea for how to cook them.
Would I Buy Them Again: No, but I’d gladly eat them if served.
Final Synopsis: A fine bunch of roasted Brussels sprouts.
Back when I reviewed Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning I was delighted to discover it was one of Trader Joe’s hidden gems. Easy to overlook on shelves full of peppercorn grinders and rock salt, this South African style seasoning is imbued with a whole different dimension of flavor – the savory, rich taste of smoked meat.
When used on hamburger, steak, chicken, or anything you might like to barbecue, it’s a killer seasoning that brings to the fore the richer, meatier flavors hidden in any meat – a little magic touch of South African umami.
Of course Trader Joe’s would be Trader Joe’s if they could just leave it there. Which has lead, apparenlty, to Trader Joe’s throwing this seasoning designed for meat onto potato chips with the new Trader Joe’s Potato Chips with South African Style Seasoning.
It’s an innovation that could go either way. On the one hand, we live in an age of out-of-control potato chip creativity. Bold, daring and, some might say, insane flavors of potato chips are not just possible to find, but aggressively marketed from supermarket shelves. 10 years ago about the most “out there” chip you could find was jalapeno. Nowadays you can dabble in the sorts of epicurean excess that would have made Nero take note. Chicken & waffle flavored potato chips, mac & cheese, wasabi ginger, balsamic vinegar & rosemary, – even cappuccino, by god, cappuccino! It’s an age of snack madness, and one that Trader Joe’s is clearly unafraid to get in on. Already they’ve weighed in on with their non-standarad Beurre Meuniere Popcorn. Throwing a meat seasoning onto potato chips is almost tame by comparison.
So we can’t doubt the boldness of Trader Joe’s resolve or vision – the question is, does this seasoning actually go well on potato chips. The answer, sadly, is no.
The same qualities that make the South African Smoke Seasoning so savory on meat work against it here – it’s simply too salty and strong tasting for the simple potato chips. Divorced of a meat base, the seasoning has nothing to work off of. The result is sort of like throwing a handful of the seasoning directly into your mouth. It’s not that the taste of the seasoning is bad, it’s simply overpowering. When used on a grilled steak or hamburger, the smoke seasoning simply blends in to the complex profile of the flavors at hand. Here, on its own, it has the very strong taste of bratwurst, or as one taste tester put it, “burnt hot dog”.
How much you’re going to like these chips, then, depends on how much you like that heavy, bratwurst taste, without getting the juicy bratwurst bite. This wouldn’t be as much of a dealer breaker if it wasn’t for the strength of the taste. Trader Joe’s isn’t mincing around here – each chip is blasted with a full on shot of seasoning that is close to overwhelming. These chips are best not eaten by the handful, but slowly, one by one, or not at all.
For me the intensity of the flavor simply didn’t work together very well. Between the serious saltiness, and the heavy seasoning these chips tended to overshadow whatever I was eating them with. When your potato chips taste more like hot dogs than the hot dogs themselves, it’s generally not a good thing.
The chips may not work very well as chips because of the seasoning, but what if they were the seasoning. That barely coherent thought is what lead me to cook up the recipe below – country fried steak, with crushed potato chips instead of breading.
Trader Joe’s South African Style Seasoning Potato Chip-Fried Steak
- 2 steaks, about 1/2″ thick
- 1 cup flour (any sort, I don’t care)
- 1 cup pulverized Trader Joe’s African Style Seasoning Potato Chips
- 2 or 3 eggs, beaten
- About a 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- Maybe a delicious gravy?
- Pulverize the hell out of your chips. You can do this with a food processor, or by putting them in a baggy and smashing the hell out of them. (This is the most fun part of the recipe.)
- Spread the flour around in one dish, and the potato chip dust in another dish.
- Have the eggs ready in another dish or shallow bowl.
- Dredge the meat on both sides in the flour. (This is the third most fun part of the recipe)
- Dredge the meat in the potato chips dust, followed by the egg, and finally in the potato chips again. (This is the second most fun part of the recipe.)
- Repeat these steps with all the meat.
- Place enough of the vegetable oil to cover the bottom of a skillet and set over medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully add the meat.
- Cook each piece on both sides until golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.
- Serve the steaks (with some of the delicious gravy?)
Notes: This recipe delivers a crunchier steak than you might otherwise get, and the African Smoke Seasoning lends it’s helping hand, giving it a robust, BBQ sort of taste.
Turning chips into the seasoning instead of just adding the seasoning directly might be considered taking the long way around, and that’s a fair criticism, but dammit we live in the world of the Mini Waffle Stick Maker and Segway. If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing in an unnecessarily, silly way.
A delicious gravy is bound to help these steaks out, but that’s beyond the purview of this post.
Would I Recommend It: Not unless you usually feel your brautwurts aren’t brautwursty enough.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t think so.
Final Synopsis: Trader Joe’s excellent south african style seasoning should stick with meat instead of potatoes.
One thing that Trader Joe’s cannot be accused of lacking are options is the dried fruit department. I’m endlessly charmed by the lengths and methods TJ’s will go to in order to bring us a fourth type of dehydrated apricot, or a new way to make banana chips.
However, even I was surprised by Trader Joe’s Crispy Crunchy Jackfruit Chips. For one, it’s weird to see such a massive fruit in such a tiny bag. The first time I encountered jackfruit in real life, I was shocked and a little taken aback, that fruit could get so big. How big is it? Big enough that I was momentarily afraid I had been shrunk to the size of bug. A fully mature jackfruit can be up to 3 feet long, weigh up to 80 pounds, and grow in bunches on trees – meaning they straddle the line between fruit, and natural hazard.
Your average jackfruit could kill a horse if it happened to drop at the right moment, helped along by the fact that they are covered in spiked, armored plates – as if Nature decided to stop screwing around after this pineapple thing. It’s rare to find a fruit where two, stacked on top of each other, could beat me in a fight.
Despite its relative obscurity here in the West, jackfruit has been a staple in India and South East Asia for thousands of years thanks to its size, resiliance and versatility as an ingredient. Like papayas, jackfruit are used for much more than simply a sweet snack. It is roasted, added to soups, fried into cutlets, mashed into kati and otherwise eaten all over the placed. In fact, jackfruit is so adored that it’s the National Fruit of Bangledesh. It’s not surprising, then, that Trader Joe’s got the idea to dehydrate them into chip. After all, that’s been a popular snack throughout South East Asia for many years.
In their natural, raw state the jackfruit tastes something like a banana crossed with a very mellow mango. By drying jack fruit out, Trader Joe’s reduces this flavor profile greatly. Regardless of the exotic origin and taste of jackfruit, what we’re encounter here is basically a nice-sized banana chip. It may be a hint sweeter, and there are subtle tones of mango and pineapple hiding in the background, but these more exotic flavor are not nearly pronounced enough to over power the starchiness of the chip. It’s the size and softness of the jackfruit chips that makes them most different from banana chips – each piece is a mouthful, and they yield rather more pleasantly to the tongue than the brittle banana chip.
One other thing the jackfruit is famous for is its trade mark odor. Fortunately lost during the dehydrating process, the fruit is generally described as having an unpleasantly overripe musk often compared to smelly feet.
Overall, it’s only subtle touches that set these jackfruit chips apart. If you’re a banan chip fan, these will be interestig to pick up by comparison. If you’re looking for a fresh new taste, however, something exotic to tingle the tastebuds, Trader Joe’s Cripsy Crunch Jack Fruit chips aren’t going to blow you away.
That left me a little disappointed, but not defeated, so I went looking for a recipe that could give second life to this otherwise limited snack chip. I may or may not have found it. The recipe below is for traditional jackfruit bonda – a type of small, South Indian snack dumpling. Ideally you make these by grinding fresh jackfruit into a paste but, dammit, we just don’t live in an ideal world. Until TJ’s starts stocking their shelves with smelly, 80 pound monster fruits, I guess I’ll just have to make do with their jackfruit chips instead.
The concept behind re-purposing this recipe is to somehow reconstitute the dehydrated jackfuit chips with a bit of water (or juice) in order to create a paste. This paste is then, conceivably, used to cook with. Unfortunately, my food processor couldn’t manage the task and I was left with an unusable slurry. Next time I’ll try taking a mortar and pestle approach, and pulverize the jackfruit chips before trying to reconstitute them – so stay tuned for that!
In the meanwhile, if anyone has more luck with this recipe, please share with us in the comments!
Impossible(?) Jackfruit Bondas (using dehydrated Jackfruit chips)
- 1 cup of dehydrated jackfruit chips
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup farina or semolina (cream of wheat will do)
- 1/2 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 tsp of fun exotic spices (Recommended options: a mix of dried ginger and cardamom, with a pinch of salt and black pepper, but really you can get crazy with this part)
- oil to fry with
- Somehow grind jackfruit chips into a fine paste (maybe with a mortar and pestle?)
- Combine jackfruit paste, sugar, farina, coconut and spices.
- Let sit for 15 minutes
- Roll into small balls (about 1/2 the size of an egg, or so)
- Heat up a frying pan, fill with oil, and start frying the suckers.
- Eat them bonda up!
Notes: Real bondas should be made with jaggery and rava – two Indian ingredients that I barely understand and can’t get into here. Instead, I substituted brown sugar (for the jaggery) and cream of wheat (for the rava). Both of these substitutions will probably piss off anybody who makes real bondas, so be careful.
Would I Recommend Them: Not really, these weren’t much better than banana chips.
Would I Buy Them Again: I have to! I’m not resting until I figure out this bonda recipe
Final Synopsis: Like banana chips, but a little softer and a subtly more exotic tasting.