Every now and then, after Trader Joe’s comes out with a particularly weird or goofy food product, I get to feeling a little bit superior to Trader Joe’s – sort of like they’re my wacky next-door neighbor.
|What it is:||A hummus like spread made from|
|Price:||$2.99 for a 8 oz. tub|
|Worth it:||Yes. A delicious hummus substitute.|
“Pickle-flavored popcorn, TJ?” I’ll think to myself, shaking my head, “You’re just lucky I love you so much, you big goof!”
And without exception, every time I start to feel this way, Trader Joe’s turns around and absolutely embarrases me with a product that is elegant, nuanced, and grounded in a rich culinary tradition that I’ve never even heard of.
“What d’ya got this week, TJ?” I ask, sauntering into the store, “Another wacky popcorn flavor?”
“Actually,” Trader Joe’s casually informs me, “This is muhammara – a middle eastern condiment similar to hummus but made from walnuts and pomegranate juice. A product of ancient Syria, of course. Ahahaha – no, don’t try and pronounce it, you’ll just make yourself look silly.”
Yes, today we’re reviewing Trader Joe’s Muhammara – a delicious, hummus-like spread with a cool, dark red color and a smooth, gently earthy, mildly piquant taste.
Unlike hummus, that can taste a bit grainy or mealy due to the garbanzo beans it’s made from, muhammara is a blend of walnuts, roast red peppers, pomegranate juice, olive oil and bread crumbs. While that sounds like it would result in a weirdly lumpy or heterogenous texture, it couldn’t be more smooth and velvety – perfect for veggie dip, cracker spread, or pita filling.
The taste itself has quite a bit of the mildness of a red pepper roasted to softness, and only a subtle touch of the nuttiness of walnuts, and even less of the tart pomegranate flavor you might expect. In fact, muhammara is generally made with pomegranate molasses, much more similar to the pomegranate syrup we made up than mouth puckering pomegranate juice. As such, the muhammara also has an understated touch of sweetness to it that makes go down particularly smoothly.
Despite never hearing of it before, I enjoyed the hell out of my muhammara. It was good with pretty much whatever I tried it with, and made an excellent “before dinner” snack with just a handful of Triscuits I had at hand. I’ve always been a little bit ambivalent on hummus – which generally ears out it’s welcome with me after a few bites. Muhammara has all the qualities I like about hummus, the soft spreadable texture and cooling, snackable taste, with an added edibility and improved texture.
As you may have guessed from the walnuts and olive oil, muhammara shares hummus’ high fat content – but thta’s simply the nature of the beast. Buy a tub, enjoying it moderation, and you won’t regret it.
Would I Recommend It: If you like hummus, give this a try.
Would I Buy It Again: I do think so.
Final Synopsis: Just like hummus, but a little tastier.
Oh, Trader Joe’s your salads are so uneven. Sometimes your salads are so good that I do little dances in my kitchen, and sometimes they simply fall flat. Trader Joe’s Gorgonzola and Walnut salad seemed like it was going to land in the first category, but ended up squarely in the second – rather bland and generally unexceptional.
How do you go wrong with such a simple concept? This salad has the fewest ingredients I’ve seen in basically any salad ever. They are, all inclusively, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes, gorgonzola and walnuts. Five ingredients, that’s it. Such a pure, simple recipe, such a confident delivery – it’s enough to make you think those few ingredients are actually enough to make the salad taste good. It’s enough to make you think that gorgonzola and walnuts by themselves will be enough to make you sit up and go, “Yowza, I can’t believe this salad!” This, my friends, is not the case.
Gorgonzola has been served alongside walnuts since time immemorial, for the very good reason that they pair well. You’d think these two would be a delicious meal in and of themselves, salad or not. Splash a little zingy balsamic vinaigrette on that, mix with some greens and you’d think we’d be talking about a definite winner. The fact that this salad actually tastes so plain and uninteresting is rather perplexing.
The problem here lays in the cheese. When you think of a nice gorgonzola, you’re probably picturing something like a rich, aromatic wedge of veined bleu cheese. This istandard gorgonzola, the most popular kind, is known as gorgonzola piccante or gorgonzola naturale. It is this type of firm, crumbly, strong tasting gorgonzola that isn’t packaged in this salad. Instead, we are dealing with lumps of gorgonzola dolce, or “sweet” gorgonzola. This is your option B among gorgonzolas – a softer and much, much milder cheese.
I’m quite boggled as to why TJ’s went for this mild variety. The stronger gorgonzola naturale would have melded deliciously with the nutty bitterness of the walnuts and the acidic pop of the balsamic dressing. Instead, the mild gorgonzola dolce fades into the unimpressive wallpaper of the lettuce and cabbage. The overall effect is that you’re left with a salad that never really seems to get started.
Would I Recommend It: Not this one, no.
Would I Buy It Again: There are too many delicious salads at TJ’s to waste time on this one.
Final Synopsis: A perplexing cheese failure wrecks what could have been a great salad.
Trader Joe’s Prune Walnut Log
Prune and walnut log – wow! I dropped the half-hearted purchase I was going ti make myself write about this week and snatched these up as soon as I saw them, standing boldly forth as they were, like a proud, squat dwarf, on the lower-middle rack of the fruit & nut aisle.
These just appeal to me on so many levels. It’s like Trader Joe’s designed them specifically for this blog. I mean, where to begin?
Well, to start, they’re in log form. Nothing comes in log form! Not since the 50’s ended and consumers across America suddenly realized they were decorating cottage cheese with rings of pineapple that had been dyed green by quasi-lethal food additives. There’s really not much lower than the lowly log when it comes to food formats – even loaf has at least a few positive denotations (i.e. “meat-” and “- of bread”). But no, no one as ever said “Mmm, that log is delicious! Hew me off another slab, will ya?”
Take the name itself. It falls squarely into that three letter, central vowel set of monosyllabic utterance that just don’t sound appetizing, words like “gut” and “gob” and “wad”. Etymology aside, there’s just nothing appetizing about extruded food cylinders.
“Ready for some homemade turkey dinner?” hard working Mom asks.
“Go put your head in a vise, you slag,” chirp the youngsters, “We’re playing Gameboy!”
“But boys,” Mom teases, a twinkle in her eye, “it’s been extruded into cylinder form.”
“Log? For dinner? Yipee!”
In a flash the family has gathered around the table, digging with gusto into the uncannily smooth tubular masses that lay heavily upon their plates.
No, I’m sorry, it just doesn’t happen that way. Logs are unnerving and strange, and very few foods are acceptable in log format. Festive holiday cheeses and jellied cranberry sauce and, as far as I’m aware, that’s it.
Now then, what kind of log are we talking about? Why, it’s prunes. I mean, prunes, seriously? Amazing! Is there any food product that can conjure up images of loosened bowels more efficiently than prunes? I submit to you that there is not. And finally, on top of all of this, we have walnut, to which I am fairly indifferent.
So things are looking pretty dire for the ol’ prune and walnut log right from the word go. The packaging, light and cast of translucent, Lunchable-esque plastic, announces that it is “An Ideal Cheese Companion” right smack in the center, in a font larger than the title of the food itself. Serving suggestions are occasionally brazen in their placement, but I’ve never seen one that actually supersedes the contents of the package itself. I pick up a pack of Trader Joe’s Spanish Cheese Tapas Sampler to pair with the log. I may be bringing a roiling cloud of prejudices to the table, but I’m fair dammit. If the log demands a cheese coupling, than cheese it shall have.
Upon peeling back the cling film of the prune and walnut logs I am startled and thrilled. The log has been subdivided among the four quadrants of it’s container, this I knew from before. What I didn’t know was that each section was also pre-sliced into three round discs. I pulled back the cling film on the cheese sampler. To my mounting delight I find that each of its three wedges have been pre-sliced into four triangular planes. All the sudden the game has turned upside down on me, as if a secret geometry of the universe had sudden revealed itself. 4 x 3, 3 x 4. I’m staring at 12 slices of each, perfect pairings for each other, as if preordained by the invisible hand of Providence.
Is this log tasting going to be perfect? I wonder giddily.
To cut to the chase, three quarters of a page in, yes – the prune walnut log is delicious. I have to hand it to the clever boys over there at Trader Joe’s for the slicing gimmick. In one deft swoop they turned the most unappealing aspect of the log into a boon – simple access for easy pairing without having to bother with a knife or the generally gross look of a nut-studded fruit log.
The prune-walnut slices go very nicely with their cheese counterparts – the starchy sweetness of the prune paste benefiting from the clean, nutty crunch of the walnuts, both of which go very nicely with cheese. To my own astonishment I have to recommend this as a ready-to-go party tray or sophisticated snack plate for the sort of get togethers where people look at their food before stuffing it in their gobs (book circles, say, instead of NFL games) . Not too shabby, logs. You’ve turned me around.
Would I Recommend It: To anyone who enjoys fruit and nuts with their cheese, which should be everyone.
Would I Buy It Again: I would gladly trot this out for book club, were I ever to attend one.
Final Synopsis: If you like complex tastes that you can layer on a cracker, this log is right up your alley.