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.