Trader Joe’s Qunoa Duo with Vegetable Melange is the sort of healthy fare I turn to when the New Year rolls around and the scale starts broadcasting dire warning vis-a-vis my sexiness. I’ve touched upon the intricacies of quinoa before, but this is the first time I’ve really sat down for an all quinoa dish.
The big deal with quinoa, and the cornerstone of its popularity, is the fact that quinoa contains a balance of all nine essential amino acids, in other words it’s a “complete protein”. This is common among meats, but rare in the plant world which makes it a boon to vegetarians. While that’s not me, I was particularly excited by the notion that I would be eating both red and white quinoa at once. Two quinoas? They must be, like, wildly different right? Otherwise, why mix them together? Sadly, I was a let down to discover that red and white quinoa are practically identical. The only real difference is that red quinoa is a little more toothsome than white quinoa, and doesn’t clump as much.
Trader Joe’s Quinoa Duo combines the quinoas with cubed zucchini and sweet potato, tinged with a bit of tomato sauce. The result is about as strange as it sounds. I’ll be upfront with you, I didn’t much love this one. It’s not that I dislike quinoa – I like it just fine, sometimes I even love it, and it’s not that I dislike vegetable melanges either, I’ve had one or two from TJ’s that I’ve quite enjoyed. The problem for me came in the mixture of everything together.
Quinoa has a decidedly nutty flavor.This works well with the sweet potato, and reasonably well with the zucchini, but for some reason Trader Joe’s decided to put a french twist on the dish. This takes the form of a tomato flavoring that is mixed in with the dish – not so strong as to really stand on its own, just strong enough to sort of throw the other flavors off. It certainly makes for a complex taste, but to me it came across as more of a mess of flavors than a medley.
Really, though, how much you like this dish will come down to how much you like hot quinoa . Although the words “vegetable melange” are right there in the title, don’t come to this dish expecting much more than quinoa. The pseudograin-to-veggie tradeoff is something like 80 – 20, meaning for every big mouthful of quinoa you’ll get a couple bits of zucchini or sweet potato. That also means that, despite Trader Joe’s urgings to the contrary, this doesn’t make a very good main dish. Undoubtedly there’s room to find a good entree pairing here that will elevate the rather confused taste of the quinoa duo to a higher level, although I couldn’t tell you what that would be.
If you’re really interested in working this quinoa duo into your diet, I reckon the best approach is to disregard Trader Joe’s serving suggestions entirely. Cool down the quinoa after you cook it up, and turn it into a salad base. You can find one good recipie for just that on this blog. Mixed with the right combination of veggies and seasoning this quinoa duo can become something great – by itself, not so much.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, to undernourished vegetarians and adventurous salad makers. No to most others.
Would I Buy It Again: No, I wasn’t really into it.
Final Synopsis: Lots of good qunoia with a strange tomato taste.
The full name of this product, listed boldy on its label, is “Trader Joe’s Trader Joe’s Roasted Butternut Squash Red Quinoa and Wheat Berry Salad with Baby Arugula, Cranberries, Toasted Almonds, Goat Cheese and Honey Sesame Vinaigrette”, which also doubles as an exhaustive list of it’s ingredients. I know that Trader Joe’s has a thing for compendious product names, but this one crosses the line from “a mouthful” to “ridiculous”. Honestly though? This time, I don’t even care – because this is the most delicious salad I’ve eaten all year.
I’m an inveterate salad diehard. You can count on me to eat salad, as a meal, between 5 and 8 times a week. Someday they’ll pass a law so you can marry salad, and on that day I’ll finally be a happy man – all the more so because I’ve finally met my fiancee. World, say hello to Mr. and Mrs. Roasted Butternut Squash, Red Quinoa and Wheat Berry Salad.
Every single ingredient in this salad works in sublime harmony with every other ingredient to turn a cheap, $4.99 salad into a taste sensation. I can’t imagine who it was who thought to mix wheat berry with butternut squash et al, but that man earns my heart-felt thanks.
Let’s look at this master piece, shall we? The spiciness of the arugula is balanced nicely by the mild, soft squash, which is supported by the crunch of the red quinoa, the chewiness of the wheat berries, and the sweet tang of the cranberries. And that’s not even getting into the goat cheese, which is a world of flavor in and of itself. Finally, the pairing of the honey sesame vinaigrette is a perfect match for the rest of the mix, neither too sweet nor to vinegary.
Even better, the salad boasts a healthy profile for such a hearty, savory meal – 290 calories (80 from fat), 41 grams of carbs, and 10 grams of protein (without dressing). As always, once the dressing comes on the fat goes up. In order to keep it on the healthy side, consider only going half way with the dressing – the flavors of the salad will more than makeup for the lighter drizzle.
While the nutritional profile may not satisfy a strict dieter, the salad also packs a potent nutritional punch in it’s healthy whole grains – wheat berry and quinoa. Wheat berry is the name for a whole kernel of wheat, minus nothing but the hull. In conventional processing the nutritious germ and endosperm are stripped from a grain of wheat. By leaving the whole grain, the kernel remains packed with fiber, protein, iron, vitamin E and magnesium. Red quinoa is another highly-regarded whole grain (or grain-like seed, to be strictly accurate) that has exploded in popularity recently for it’s high protein, iron and calcium content.
I could go on and on about how much I liked this salad, but this one is better experienced than described. The interplay of the flavors pleases the entire tongue from tip to heel in a way much more expensive restaurant salads often fail to, and takes more risks with it’s composition than most restaurants dare dream of.
That said, my sole reservation is that this may not be the best salad for your fly-by-night salad dabblers. It is a complex salad for people who are tired of simpler concoctions. The appearance of the salad, for example, is either gross or gorgeous depending on where you’re coming from in life. The countless beads of partially sprouted red quinoa spread throughout the salad, along with the mushy wheat berries and soft squash, give the salad a slightly intimidating or off-putting look. My rule of thumb would be this: If you don’t like big gobs of stinky cheese in your salad then steer clear, to everyone else – dive right in.
Would I Recommend It: To sophisticated adult palettes everywhere.
Would I Buy It Again: I’ll buy it weekly, if they can keep it in stock.
Final Synopsis: The best salad I’ve ever had at Trader Joe’s.