Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Trader Joe's Baingan Bharta

On the surface, I seemed like a fairly normal kid growing up in most respects.* Let's see...loved Nintendo, did alright enough in school, had a paper route, got skiddish around dogs ever since a German shepherd bit me hard on the buns on said paper route, like swimming and biking, got in a few fisticuffs with the siblings, etc. But deep down, I knew I wasn't like most other kids I knew and heard about. It wasn't just my charming good looks, expansive intellect, and abject humility but also...I liked veggies. A lot. And not just the typical ones like carrots and corn and all that. Peas? Green beans? No problem. Spinach? More please! Broccoli? Okay, let me put a lil' cheese on it and you got yourself a deal. I even liked lima beans on the very few occasions my mom ever made them. Still, there were two veggies I can recall from growing up that I can't remember ever having and being somewhat scared of due to the playground horror stories of my second-grade classmates: Brussel sprouts and eggplant. Never had them, and I wasn't about to go beg my Ma for them either. In the coming months I'll be confronting Brussel sprouts** for the first time when our home garden ones are finally ready to go (late bloomers and we got started late to boot) and kinda looking forward to it. As for eggplant, it's still a work in progress. I've had it only a couple times that I'm aware of it, and while not overly minding it, I haven't been the biggest fan, either.

I guess that's why I was a little apprehensive to try out Trader Joe's Baingan Bharta, aka "Authentic Indian Eggplant Curry." Both Nathan and I have had some great luck with TJ-themed Indian dishes, so it wasn't that part. It was that scary word "eggplant." I truly didn't know what to expect, and so this hung out in the freezer for a couple weeks until I finally worked up the gumption to stuff into my man bag before another day of living in my cubicle.

After zapping it for about five minutes, it was finally done, and it definitely smelled good. And man, is it aromatic. There's the usual Indian season suspects of turmeric, coriander, garlic and cumin that a lot of depth to the flavor and spice of this dish. Appearancewise, the Baingan Bharta pretty closely resembles a plastic tray of brownish mush with some little green things that I presume are teeny bay leave bits here and there. As for taste, it's pretty good, and it tastes like all those seasonings listed above and not much else. About the only things that made me remember it was eggplant was the squishy-squashy texture and the couple seeds floating around (sorry, diverticultis sufferers, another TJ treat you can't have). It was good enough that I made an effort to scrape out every bit I could without looking like too much of a lunchroom freak.

That's not to say it was perfect. In fact, there were two kinda major flaws. First, perhaps this is more my American sensibility than anything, but it coulda used some rice along with it. TJ's gives you some rice with other good Indian lunches, why not this one? Altogether, the Bharta seemed a little, well, incomplete. Secondly, hmm, okay, how to put this delicately...let's just say I had to take an additional short break that afternoon to answer a call, and it wasn't from the collections agency calling for the woman who used to have my cellphone number, either. I like to think I have a fairly strong stomach (after all, I ate these and was fine) but this caused a little mild tummy trouble. That doesn't bother me too terribly much, but that may for others, I presume.

I cannot vouch for its authenticity, as I really don't know what Baingan Bharta is "supposed" to taste like. That's okay, I think. Probably Trader Joe's didn't sign off on this dish thinking it was just like what is made right in Punjab...it's offered to the typical American consumer, you and I, to hopefully introduce us to a type of dish we may not otherwise try, and if we like it, seek out a better version. Next time Sandy and I go to an Indian restaurant, I definitely won't be so adverse to try it if I see it, thanks to this lunch. For a smallscale cultural awakening and an alright lunch, there's worse ways to spend about $3 somewhere, though I'm not sure how quick I'd be to run out and buy this particular version again.

Sandy's a little more veggie adverse than I, so she decided to sit this one out and leave this all to me. I'm thinking she'd like it if she'd try it out, but, eh, what can ya do. Based on the two issues above, but otherwise enjoying this tray o' goodness, I think something like double 3's may be in order...yup, sounds good to me. What about you?

Bottom line: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons
*Dear friends and family members reading this, please note I used the qualifiers of "seemed" and "fairly." Share some dirt on me, be sure it'll come back on ya :).
**Or, as my neighbor calls this huge honkin' plants manhandling our raised bed out front, "Russell sprouts." Haha, never heard that one before...he recommends roasting in the oven with a little olive oil and salt. Any other recommendations? We're gonna have a lot of them.


  1. Loved the post, thank you! (And love this web site, which I discovered via NYTimes.com) For your Brussel sprouts, saute them up with a few cloves of minced garlic, soy sauce, pinch of sugar and fresh ginger. When almost done, toss with sesame seeds and a splash of sesame oil. I am telling you, addictive!! I always thought I hated Brussel sprouts, until I tried them grilled and then tried to replicate the flavors at home. I can eat two bags of TJs brussel sprouts cooked this way, by myself!! (Over a couple of days, but still!)

  2. As a matter of coincidence the first Brussel sprouts I had were from Trader Joe's! They sell them washed and bagged in the produce section. Here is how i do them...cut off the very end and then halve them. Microwave in a glass bowl with a little water for 5 mins. Then toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and cook in a pan over medium for 5-10mins depending on how big they are. Soooooo delicious, they get a little caramelized by the process and are so tasty. For the ones in your garden, I would recommend harvesting before they get too big, the little ones are more tender.

  3. I am a veggie lover as well. I was also out of the norm as kid. My favorite veggie was, and still is, spinach. I love spinach in just about every form. I also love, love, love Brussel sprouts. Egg plant are also awesome in a good ragu.

    Susan Cooper

  4. Brussel sprouts--shred them, saute in olive oil, and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, poppy seeds and butter.

  5. Nice blog idea! I wish there was a Trader Joe's near me. Do they have any good chocolate? I love chocolate. Proof is @ thechocoaholic.blogspot.com

  6. Thanks for the brussel sprout recommendations! I'm getting pretty eager to try them out. I'll be checking these methods out for sure!

    Does have TJ's have good chocolate? Do one legged ducks swim in a circle? Read all about this: http://www.whatsgoodattraderjoes.com/2011/07/trader-joes-dark-chocolate-caramel-with.html (cool blog by the way :))

  7. Since you like the TJs Indian dishes, any interest in reviewing the lamb vindaloo? I'm a little scared to try microwaved lamb...

  8. Hmm, microwaved lamb...tell ya what...I'll keep an eye out for it, ok? :)

  9. My 9 yr. old daughter is a lover of cauliflower and brussels sprouts...go figure!

  10. I love brussel sprouts...I see how others eat them, and understand why they stop. I cut the bottoms, and score them...steam them, then cut in half and saute with butter and a little olive oil. Add a little bread crumb to add some extra crunch, cook till slightly caramelized...SO DELICIOUS!

  11. You were probably "skittish" about dogs rather than skiddish, unless you skidded to a panicked stop a foot from its foaming jowls.

    Brussels sprouts: par boil in microwave, cut in half, saute a bit of bacon in pan, add sprouts, cook a bit, add chopped nuts (hazel, almond) and a squeeze of lemon (wintry); or saute in olive oil, add shaved parmesan and lemon (summery).

  12. I grew up eating Brussels Sprouts and eggplant (as well as artichokes and all the other Central California Coast goodies). The best Brussels sprouts of all: Cut into 8ths, saute in butter. Eat. Yum!!!

  13. Good catch there, Didi, and good recommendations too :)

  14. In the frozen section, try the TJ Pasta Italiano with Eggplant and Zuccini. Eggplant will never scare you again! Hint: crumble feta cheese on top just before serving.

  15. Baingan Bharta is normally eaten along with rotis or rice. Did youeat it plain al by itself?

  16. Just plain, which is how it came. Didn't have the foresight at 7am to snatch something else to go with it. Would've been better with some rice included like they do with some Indian dishes.