Salad can mean a lot of different things, of course. Perhaps it's a simple bed of greens and some light dressing. Maybe there's a flower-shaped radish around or it's heaped with croutons and Bacos (ugh) or it's every veggie in the book. Know what a traditional-style Pittsburgh salad is? Take lettuce, tomatoes, onions and other assorted veggies, toss together, then top with a half metric ton of cheese and a large mitt full of fries, top with some type of meat (sometimes steak, I prefer buffalo chicken) and then drowned in dressing (ranch or bleu cheese, usually, for me)..delicious, though not exactly healthy, and it renders the consumer immobile for about three hours afterwards.
A faithful reader on our Facebook page (if you're not a fan yet, why not? Click the thingy at the bottom!) tipped me off to the TJ's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad, which sounded both delicious AND healthy to me. Like other really long named items, I'm just going to shorten this to the TJMRQCS from here on out. On a solo shopping trip, I got two of these, one for me and one for Sandy, with the intention that we have them for a work lunch, and for $3.99 each, not a terrible deal.
Let me tell you: I love this salad. It's tasty in pretty much every way possible. Open it up, and the bowl is literally packed with baby spinach which is crisp and leafy and fresh, with some carrot strings and diced onion. That's it for the veggie portion of the salad - simple yet fresh and tasty, and there's a deceptively copious amount of it in there. The mango? It's aside in a little cup, chopped up and ready to go on, and firm and sweet. Perfect. The red quinoa? Lots of it. It tends to tumble down towards the bottom, of course, but while kinda easy for the palate to skip over, it's there serving its role perfectly, adding some weight and merit to the whole package. And the chicken? I'll admit, it looks a little funky at first, kinda like it got marinated in lemon-lime Gatorade, with nary a noticeable explanation for its isotopic appearance on the label. Read the back a bit, or channel your inward intrepid food adventurer like me and just chomp on down, and you'll realize it's yellow curried to add a rich flavor dimension. And unlike other TJ dishes that tend to skimp on the meat, there's a pretty good, I'd even say appropriate, amount. And lastly, the coconut chile dressing...man. It kinda caught me off guard the first time I sampled it. You see, it starts out sweet and mellow, like coconut milk, with some mango (and perhaps lime) flavor, bordering on almost too sweet, before it drops the people's elbow with a load of chile-laden spice that I wouldn't have anticipated. It's absolutely fantastic tastewise, though it's kinda like slightly-watery mayo in its composure, so it plops instead of pours. I suppose you can dip your forkful instead, but when you also have quinoa, that makes it a harder task to complete successfully. That's the only minus I can think of, because on the whole, I can quantify the TJMRQCS as one of the best salads I've ever had, at least in the prepackaged variety. And naturally, because of the leafy roughage, lean protein, and grainy goodness, the salad is filling and will keep you going all day.
So...what did Sandy think? Wish I could tell you exactly. I'm almost certain she would've loved every bite of it, as the only potentially undesirable bits would be the onions that she could easily flick aside and carry on. Sandy took hers to work, and somehow, for some reason or other, forgot to eat it... *smh*...shame shame. I guess the preschool fish sticks were just too tempting for her, and since she has this fairly strict and sensible rule about never eating something past its supposed "best by" date, the window for her to try it this week has unfortunately passed. Doh. Fortunately for me, Sandy brought it back home, and since I lack such a strict and sensible rule, and hate for such things to go to complete waste, I had a bit of it with my lunch today to remind myself yet again how good it is. It was only two day's past its best-by date, and still impeccably fresh and not one bit funkified, so don't judge me, alright?
I think I've decided that TJMRQCS stands for more than just Trader Joe's Mango, Red Quinoa and Chicken Salad. It also stands for "Trader Joe's Made Russ Quite a Craziscrumptilicios Salad," because that they did. I can give it only the slightest of knocks for the dressing's consistency, and given how minor an offense that is when weighed against the whole, it seems only right that we have a new entrant into the "What's Good at Trader Joe's" Pantheon.
Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons