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.
We’ve talked about Trader Joe’s reduced guilt offerings before. In fact, we talked about one earlier this week. As I mentioned then, the problem inherent in “low cal” versions of fattier food, is that they tend to negate themselves. In general, if I’m going to eat a creamy, sugary, salty brownie or whatever, I have steeled myself to the fact that I’m blowing my diet, if at least for the moment. But I’m willing to do it, because it tastes so damn good. Or I at least hope it tastes that good. The problem with our reduced guilt guacamole, or whatever, is that by taking out all the fat and sugar, you’re taking out all the stuff that makes it taste so good. The result is that I’m left sitting there, scooping watery psudeo-guac into my mouth, still getting fat, just not as quickly, but not enjoying myself nearly as much.
So almost always when I see the “diet” version of an otherwise unhealthy food I immediately assume I’m not going to enjoy myself. However, there is a tricky little bit of math here. On the graph of healthfulness vs. tastiness, every now and then there’s a diet food that manages to fall just on the right side of the curve. The “Inner Beans” snack we explored yesterday managed to do this (debatably). Can Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Chicken Salad do the same?
To cut to the chase – no, it doesn’t. This new salad is a classic case of close, but not quite. And really, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Often times these “reduced guilt” formulations offer underwhelming health benefits like “15% less sodium!” or “Now only 72% fat by volume!”. Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Chicken Salad swings for the fences, offering an insane reduction in both calories and fat. On the label it proudly states that this chicken salad has 85% less fat and 60% fewer calories than their regular chicken salad. An 85% reduction in fat and less than half the calories – from 19 grams of fat per serving to 2.5, and down 250 calories to 100. That’s insane. You’d think you’re getting a tub with about a teaspoon of chicken salad in it but nope, they’ve filled it all the way to the top.
How did they achieve this miracle? In this case, the answer is they took out all the mayonnaise and replaced it with low fat greek yogurt. It’s a bold, crazy move – and it doesn’t really pay off. While the calories might be reasonable, there’s not tang or zip to the salad. Instead it just tastes flat. The chicken is there, the chopped vegetables are there, but there isn’t much beyond that. The result is something that tastes like a chicken vegetable soup without enough salt in it.
For some people this is probably not a deal breaker. If you’re looking for an interesting cracker topping, or a healthy side to have with lunch this will fit the bill. For me,however, this chicken salad just isn’t quite interesting enough to justify future purchases.
Would I Recommend It: Yeah… I guess so. Healthy chicken salad is probably worth a nod.
Would I Buy It Again: No, I thought it was a little too mushy and boring.
Final Synopsis: A very low cal, if bland, chicken salad.
Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner’s Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette.Posted: January 15, 2015
When I reviewed Trader Joe’s first entry in the Complete Salad series, the Harvest Blend Salad, I didn’t expect them to bring a second salad onto the scene so soon. No on could be more delighted than I, then, to see Trader Joe’s Baby Spinach Complete Salad sitting on the store shelves.
Their first, pumpkin intensive salad had it all – a hearty selection of green, seeds, interesting veggies, and pumpkin infused croutons all tied together with a good dressing. While that’s by no means unique for Trader Joe’s, what was new was the serving size – a mountainous 14 oz all packed up in one big bag. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I’m a man who enjoys a big, plate filling, entree-level salad, but even I declare these giant Complete Salads to be too big for a single sitting. It’s a true concession by Trader Joe’s to salad lovers who just can’t get enough of that Trader Joe’s goodness.
While the portion size is certainly equally impressive, the Baby Spinach salad attempts a much different flavor profile than the Harvest salad. The keywords here are “light” and “refreshing”. The tart cranberries, sweet pecans and tangy blue cheese all make up the grace notes to the huge bed of leafy baby spinach and light and zesty vinaigrette. The berries, nuts and cheese crumbles come in good sized portions, but not so much that they drown out the springy, leafiness of the spinach greens or high, bright notes of the vinaigrette. I’ve never been a big fruit vinaigrette fan, and if you aren’t either you might want to consider tossing the included pouch and using some of Trader Joe’s own Champagne Vinaigrette, or your own favorite, instead.
This Baby Spinach salad is of classic construction, but it’s not the most amazing salad you’re ever going to have. Between the two, I much prefered the bygone Harvest salad, with it’s richer nuttiness and pumpkin tones for an overall more substantial eating expereince. That was a meal, whereas this Baby Spinach salad is more of an accompaniment to a meal. This point is very much driven home by the fact that there is no protein of any sort included with the salad. It’s refreshing, a good palette cleanser, but not an entree in it’s own right.
And that’s just fine – taken as a side dish, this salad delivers on all accounts. It’s a strong, workman like salad that’s unlikely to offend anyone, and is even given a bit of needed elan by the addition of fancy candied pecans. If you’re having company over, or just want to serve something with your chicken, this salad can easily serve 3-4 in style. If you’re looking for a quick meal in and of itself however, (as suggested by TJ’s “Quick Meal” emblem on package) plan on bringing your own meat to the table.
Would I Recommend It: Yes as a side dish, no as an entree.
Would I Buy It Again: Sure – it’s perfect for dressing up a dinner.
Final Synopsis: A salad kit that has everything you need to feed a whole table – except for the protein.
With Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons we have another strange and daring pumpkin offering. As a salad lover I was quick to pick these up. As any true salad connoisseur knows, the combination of textures in a salad is almost as important as the combination of tastes. The simple addition of a crispy little crunch, whether it be croutons, baco-bits, or a handful of seeds, can elevate a salad from merely good to truly excellent. As such, I’m always on the lookout for a tasty new texture to touch up my tossed salads, and I was both pleased and surprised to see that Trader Joe’s ongoing season of induced Pumpkin Psychosis extended even so far as the world of croutons. What surprised me ever more, however, was that despite having never so much as dreamed of such an outrageous idea as Pumpkin Croutons in all my life, I had actually already made them a week earlier. That said, I did only make them by accident.
Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons are – in fact – made from the very same stuff as Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread. I rather enjoyed the cornbread, which I thought quite seasonal and tasty even if it wasn’t particularly pumpkin-y, however despite enjoying it, I didn’t enjoy it quite to the tune of an entire bread pan worth. As a result of my obdurate bachelor tendencies, the remnants of the cornbread were left out on top of the stove for two or three days. The result, I came to discover, was an accidental pan of Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons or, more precisely, just one gigantic crouton.
Given the shared origin, you might expect the two to share many attributes and that is, in fact, the case. The pumpkin cornbread croutons taste a lot like the pumpkin cornbread – both are strongly redolent of pumpkin, sweetened by sugar, and spiced with traditional pumpkin pie spices. Surprisingly, in fact, the croutons are even sweeter than the cornbread. Trader Joe’s promises that each crouton is like having a bite of pumpkin pie, and while it’s not that sweet it’s not too far off either. This is a fact that makes these croutons unlike any I’ve had before. Most croutons are salty and savory, dusted with garlic, rosemary, cheese, etc. These croutons go in a very different direction, not just with the sweetness, but with the strong pumpkin flavor as well.
In fact, the sweetness opens these croutons up to a variety of uses normally limited only to bread crumbs. Perhaps most brilliantly, Trader Joe’s suggests using them as stuffing for your turkey. While this is probably one of the better ideas anyone has ever had, Trader Joe’s also recommends using these naturally sweet breadcrumbs for bread pudding, or even dipping them directly into pumpkin butter. I haven’t tried any of these myself yet, and while they sound somewhat dubious, the sweet, pumpkiny taste might actually make it work out.
These are the sorts of taste combinations that don’t seem like they should work at all. At least in the case of the salad Trader Joe’s actually pulls it off. The croutons are the same ones TJ uses in the very delicious Harvest Blend Salad, where they work perfectly. While there certainly are salads and salad dressings these croutons would clash with, they actually pair quite nicely with a wide variety of salad mixes – from ceasar salads, to BBQ chicken salads, to just a simple garden salad using a nice vinaigrette.
Would I Recommend These: Yes, they’re surprisingly tasty.
Would I Buy Them Again: Yes, if just to try out the turkey stuffing idea.
Final Synopsis: Sweet and savory croutons with a variety of uses.
Well, well, well – here’s something new. Trader Joe’s is something of a salad master, filling their shelves with enough varieties to keep even the most jaded vegetarian happy. However, TJ’s salads have previously only appeared in two forms – assembled and disassembled. You could either pick up one of their many, varied salads-in-a-tub, or buy a bunch of salad fixings and make your own. What TJ’s has done here is something new – well, new for Trader Joe’s anyway.
Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Salad is a complete salad kit, uncombined, and served in a bag. Other grocery store chains have offered salad-in-a-bag for years, even as TJ’s steadfastly followed their own course. Why this sudden change in policy? Perhaps it’s another symptom of the recent pumpkin madness. Certainly this salad mix features a respectable array of pumpkin-derived products- it’s conceivable that in the fevered actions of the countless panicked food packers rushing to meet Trader Joe’s insane pumpkin product quotas they simply ran out of plastic bins and had to start shoveling salad into bags instead.
While this salad may not be in a little plastic box, have no fear – it’s every bit as good as Trader Joe’s more established salad offerings. The kit begins with nice mixture of baby lettuce, baby spinach and baby kale – supplementing these tender greens with some crunchy broccoli and cauliflower. Into this strata you have the options of mixing in a pouch of dates, raisins and roasted pumpkin seeds. Not content to limit a harvest salad to merely pumpkin seeds, TJ ups the pumpkin content with some of their Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons (yes, made of the same Pumpkin Cornbread we already looked at). The dressing itself is also pumpkin derived – a sweet and tangy pumpkin vinaigrette. While this isn’t a combination of words that seems like it would result in a very good salad dressing, the salad actually pulls it all together. The vinaigrette is thick, and sweet with the taste of ripe pumpkin, but still acidic and zesty enough to highlight the greens – like a pumpkin flavored raspberry vinaigrette.
I wouldn’t want to try a pumpkin vinaigrette on too many other salads but here, with the pumpkin seeds and pumpkin croutons to add extra dimension to the pumpkin taste, the result really is a remarkably “harvest” tasting, and tasty, pumpkin salad. Surprisingly, pumpkin itself doesn’t make an appearance in the mix. That doesn’t detract from the salad, but it seem like an obviously missing ingredient. If you happen to have some of the canned or roasted squash on hand there’s no reason you couldn’t throw some in and really amp the salad up.
That said, if there’s anything I didn’t like about this salad it’s the sweetness. Between the dates, raisins and sweet vinaigrette the salad teeters on the edge of being too sugary. The natural mellow sweetness of pumpkin works in the salad’s favor here, as it folds these additional sweet flavors into itself in a way that works overall. All the same, if you usually avoid overly fruity dressings on your salads, you may want to give the Harvest Blend Salad a miss as well.
What surprised me most about this salad, however, wasn’t any of the components – it’s how generous the portions are. Most salads-in-a-bag are puny little excuses for a salad. For a guy who prefers huge, plate-sprawling entree salads I find these pre-packaged portions utterly below my notice. Not so here. For only $3.99 a bag, Trader Joe’s packs 14 ounces of salad into each bag. That means make sure you get a damn big bowl ready if you plan on pouring it all out at once. Trader Joe’s says it’s enough for 4 side salads, which is probably true, but it also makes for one mondo entree salad if you’re looking for a quick, easy, and health lunch to pick up.
While many of Trader Joe’s pumpkin based products smack of novelty and little more, this salad works because of its pumpkin content rather than in spite of it. This is one product that I’ll be sorry to see go at the end of Pumpkin Season.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, so long as you don’t mind some sweetness in your salad.
Would I Buy It Again: I can visualize it clearly, even now.
Final Synopsis: A massive salad-in-a-bag mix that does pumpkin salad right.
There are a lot of Trader Joe’s salads to like, a a lot of different reasons to like them. Some, like the Bacon and Spinach Salad, are decadent tongue-pleasers. Some, like the Country Salad are a good hearty meal. Some, like the Quinoa and Squash Salad, are simply intriguingly different. But of all the Trader Joe’s salads I’ve had, Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken salad has been the most purely refreshing.
I’m an avowed salad lover. It’s not unheard of, for instance, for me to eat 10 salads in a week. The issue I find facing me most often, the true concern of the salad lover, is in balancing heartiness with healthiness. It’s all too common to run into salads out there which load on the cheese and bacon and heavy cream dressings, and end up being and end up at a monstrous calorie levels. On the other hand, there’s also the issue of the super light, salad – a collection of lettuce leaves, free of any protein source, that cost $13 and contain 150 calories. Somewhere in the middle, and oh so rare, are the salads that balance a good meal with nutritious content. There are a rare handful of these kingly salads, even at Trader Joe’s, and this Lemon Chicken Salad is one of them.
Most of Trader Joe’s salads are simple and straight forward – here’s your bin of greens, here’s your dressing, go at it. Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken Salad, on the other hand, plays it a little more subtle. It isn’t a salad so much, as it is a light entree built around a sub-salad – in this case a chicken salad.
We start out with a good portion of chicken salad, packaged in a small tub inside the salad itself. This is the cornerstone of the dish, and it successfully carries the day. Lean white chicken breast is zested up with lemon and a touch of black pepper and melded together with just enough mayonnaise. There are a lot of ways to screw up a supermarket chicken salad, but Trader Joe’s version is not just edible, but flavorful and delicious.
Added to the bed of seasonal greens (romaine, chard, argula, etc) and this would make for a fine, refreshing salad by itself – but things get taken up a notch with a welcome portion of crisp grapes and apples that provide fresh, sweet bursts of juicy flavor. This fruity sweetness is itself a perfect pairing with the citric zing of the lemon chicken and not only alternates flavors, but makes you think about how you’re eating the salad as you eat it. That’s not a big deal but it’s a nice touch.
Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and, divinely, red onion, although not referenced in the title, all make appearances as well – bulking up the body of salad as well as laying the ground for a scattering of decadently sweet, candied walnuts. All of this is topped off with a light and zingy champagne vinaigrette that buoys the salad up and brings out the flavors of each part, a refreshing touch to the end of a refreshing meal.
At 400 calories per container, 18 grams of carbs, and 22 grams of lean protein it’s a tremendously well balanced salad as well – as healthy as it is filling. The nutritional profile, along with the variety and interactions of the many flavors, makes this one of the most enjoyable salads I’ve had form TJ’s – and a prefect option to turn to when the thought of heavier salads seems oppressive.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this salad strikes just the right balance between healthy and hearty.
Would I Buy It Again: Without a doubt, this is a good ol’ salad.
Final Synopsis: A light, refreshing salad that still fills you up.
All salads are chock full of vegetables by definition – but Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad really hammers that notion home in a robust new way with this aggressively vegetable laden cud fest. And I mean that in the nicest way possible.
I love a salad that takes the salad formula in strange new directions, like the Artichoke and Hearts of Palm Salad, but I also have a great deal of respect for the classic salad formula pulled off right. Trader Joe’s Harvest Salad with Grilled Chicken is one variation of that classic salad formula, huge hearty salad where the sheer robust presence of veggies completely eclipses the meat. It’s the perfect palette cleansing salad – a return to the roots of what a salad is meant to be: huge mouthfuls of hearty, filling veggies served on a thick bed of lettuce. Which isn’t to say the salad is so straight laced that it doesn’t dabble in absurdity. Case in point, the huge, uncut green beans laid out front and center on top of the whole shebang. “Are we really supposed to eat these?” and “Why did Trader Joe’s do this?” are a couple of the reasonable questions you’ll immediate ask yourself. It’s not like Trader Joe’s doesn’t have sliced green beans. We know you have those, Joe. No, these green beans are here on purpose, to convey a message – and that message is that you’re going to need a knife just to eat the vegetables in this salad. It’s boldness and simplicity intertwined – a masterful representation of Trader Joe’s high salad artistry.
The “eat your veggies” message is further hammered home by the choice of a creamy dijon dressing. Dijon? Certainly. Creamy? Not so much. It’s a fairly loose dressing actually, more like a vinaigrette than a heavy sauce and, more importantly, the acerbic dijon works like a vinaigrette, accenting and highlighting the chewy greenery instead of obscuring their flavor under thick, overpowering emollients.
To be sure, there are non-vegetable elements in this salad, the titular chicken, along with some cubes of white cheddar cheese and half a boiled egg, and it’s these touches that make the salad work. Vegetables for vegetables sake can quickly become boring – but the charbroiled taste of the chicken meat and thick cubes of cheese break up the homogeneity with sudden bursts of fatty flavor.
In all in all, it’s very well done – but that’s not to say it’s a must buy. Trader Joe’s put this salad together with one point in mind, to remind you about vegetables. If you’ve forgotten about vegetables, you’re sure as hell going to remember them as you sit idly chewing on a big mouthful of corn kernels and green beans, really tasting those flavors at their most basic. And while that’s an important message, it has its time and place. If you remember vegetables quite well already and enjoy them frequently in your day to day life, you might appreciate one of Trader Joe’s more subtle or unusual salad over this bruiser. If, on the other hand, you need a palette cleanser, a vegetable side dish, or simply want to wipe the slate clean after a long sojourn among fast food, you couldn’t do better. As daily meal in itself, however, you might find that this salad tends to side a little too closely with the roughage.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, this is a fundamentally good salad.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, the next time a need a simple, serviceable side salad.
Final Synopsis: A hearty garden salad that highlights the vegetables.
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.
Many a good salad have I reviewed from Trader Joe’s, but always am I on the prowl for more – ever hunting, never satisfied. So it was that, in my endless roaming, I cam across Trader Joe’s Honey Glazed Miso Salmon salad – an Asian-style salad with pretensions to greatness, but which settles merely for good.
Before we dig into this salad, it’s important to note which version of Trader Joe’s Honey Glazed Miso Salmon on Salad Greens I’m talking about. Running contrary to the feeling of friendliness and openness that Trader Joe’s cultivates is their shadowy, behind the scenes operations. The goings-on of Trader Joe’s corporate offices are famously private – cloaked from all public scrutiny due to orders straight from the owners, Germany’s ultra-private Albrecht family.
Despite the rather sinister tone all this evokes, Trader Joe’s seems to be a mostly a force for good – at least in the supermarket world. One way that it continually surprises me, however, is through the continual reformulations that TJ’s is carrying out invisibly, beneath our very noses. Last month I found myself staring rather blankly at my old friend Turkey Bacon, not sure who he was anymore. The packaging was the same, the product copy was the same, but these were undeniably different strips of meat – leaner and with a different, less tasty, flavor profile. Can I prove that this was a reformulation? No, I have no proof, nothing beyond my own vanishingly subjective experiences, and Trader Joe’s won’t comment. Is this how the hegemony convinces us that our protestations are merely symptoms of madness? By replacing our bacon? Time will tell, I’m sure.
Rather more noticeably is the face lift that the miso salmon salad in question went through. A previous product of the exact same name but of totally different formulation used to sit on Trader Joe’s shelves. This previous iteration, in addition to having different packaging, was served over lo mein noodles and had an inferior salmon. The version I’m reviewing today has no noodles and a better cut of fish – overall a change for the better.
There’s a lot to love in this salad actually – salmon, first of all, is a wonderful salad accompaniment. Not only is it flavorful and healthy, but it flakes easily under the fork, a highly desirable quality for a fork-only food. That said, salmon can be a difficult fish to do right – doubly so when you’re packing it cold into a refrigerated salad. Trader Joe’s does a reasonable job delivering the salmon here. It’s a generous hunk of fish, and clearly some love went into the cooking process, in particular the miso-honey glaze. The miso honey glaze is nearly as good as it sounds, a sweet and tangy drizzle of flavor that gives your taste buds a pleasant zing. That said, the salmon itself is somewhat on the bland side, possibly over boiled. In any case, it’s the glaze you’ll notice, and the salmon passes by more or less as wallpaper.
The rest of the salad delivers a similarly satisfactory experience. “Matchstick” vegetables simply means that everything has been julienned into long veggies strips, strips that include such elegant additions as daikon (a mild Japanese radish) among the carrots and broccoli. The slivered almonds are also a nice touch, giving a bit of toothsome crunch to the proceedings.
The biggest problem, for me, was the salad dressing. The honey ginger vinaigrette included with the salad wasn’t bad – but I found it too oily, and tending toward bland where it should have been zingy. Not a death stroke, certainly, but a problem in that it’s hard to find a good dressing to pair with the honey-miso salmon. Apart from this one little misstep, this salad was a welcome change of pace to the chicken dominated salad fare that makes up most of Trader Joe’s other selections.
Would I Recommend It: Yes, but bring your own dressing.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes, and I might try TJ’s Asian Sesame Seed Dressing with it next time.
Final Synopsis: A good, Asian salad with average salmon on it.