Trader Joe’s Rainbow Slaw Salad with Honey Herb Dressing

Trader Joe's Rainbow Slaw

Kale and carrots and onions and carrots and celery and carrots and carrots

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.

3 star rankingRanking: 3 stars 

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.


The Breakdown

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.


Trader Joe’s Kale and Cauliflower Curry Salad

Trader Joe's Kale and Cauliflower Curry Salad

Yeah, this makes sense.

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.

Ranking: 4 stars 4 star rating

What it is: A kale, cauliflower, raisin and wheat berry salad.
Costs: $3.99
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.


The Breakdown

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 Kale and Cauliflower Curry Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Kale and Cauliflower Curry Salad – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Reduced Guilt Chicken Salad with White Meat

Trader Joe's Reduced Guilt Chicken Salad

Finally, a chicken salad that can reduce my guilt.

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.


The Breakdown:

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.

Trader Joe's Complete Salad - Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner's Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette

Did someone say they wanted MORE SALAD?!

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.


The Breakdown:

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.

 

Trader Joe's Complete Salad - Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner's Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Complete Salad – Baby Spinach with Cranberries, Candied Pecans, Miner’s Blue Cheese and Raspberry Vinaigrette – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons

pumpkin-cornbread-croutons

Pumpkin. Cornbread. Croutons. It reads more like a shopping list than a product.

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.

 


The Breakdown

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.

Trader Joe's Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cornbread Croutons – Nutrition Facts


Trader Joe’s Harvest Blend Complete Salad

Trader Joe's Harvest Blend Salad

Could you put some more pumpkin in that please?

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.


 The Breakdown

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.


Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken Salad

Trader Joe's Lemon Chicken Salad

A salad in a salad? Trader Joe’s gets meta.

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.


 

The Breakdown

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.

Trader Joe's Lemon Chicken Salad - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Lemon Chicken Salad – Nutrition Facts