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, December 5, 2011

Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup

There's a cookbook that Sandy and I own that we're both kinda squeamish about and very hesitant to use. Strangely enough, it was a wedding gift from our pastor.* Its name? "Intercourses," and yes, that is a double entendre. Aside from being full of artistic and, umm, interesting yet tasteful photos of food and people**, is all sorts of information about food and its various uses besides filling your belly, along with some recipes. One short chapter is devoted to black beans. Now, it isn't cited, so I'm not sure how true this is, but according to the authors, around the year 400 AD an edict went out forbidding nuns from eating black beans because for those "avowed to celibacy, black beans were bad news." Aside from making one randy, they also allegedly have something to do with fertility, and have been used as a symbol as such going back centuries.

Now, Sandy and I enjoy our black beans, but I'm pretty sure that I speak for both of us when I say it's for reasons completely unrelated to any of the above. First of all, they're tasty. Secondly, there's a lot of dishes that we enjoy that quickly and easily incorporate them into a satisfying meal. And of course, with all their fiber and protein, black beans have a lot of health benefits that shouldn't be denied. Anything else they do is extra credit in my book.

I guess if any black bean product had any chance of sweeping us off in a torrid love affair, it'd be Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup. You see, it's Latin-inspired, so it sounds a little exotic, a little mysterious, and definitely Antonio Banderas-y. Interpreting it differently, Latin is the origin of all of the world's Romance languages, though in seventh grade it really wasn't apparent what was sexy about sentences like "Britania insula est."***

Anyways back to the soup...not to go all Yoda on you, but whisk us off our feet it does not. I mean, it's okay and all, I guess, and not a bad option, but that being said, I'm not a huge fan. First, and this is ticky-tacky, to get it out of the box, it doesn't really pour. You have to squirt the soup out, and that's just plain weird, and something that I have a minor hang-up about. Squirt boxes, squirt bottles, etc, just aren't my thing. I don't know why. Tastewise, it's pretty nondescript to be honest. You taste a little bean action, before being hit with a wall of black pepper (the last ingredient listed so supposedly the least used...yeah right) before it mellows out to a kinda beany/milky finish. The cumin and garlic and everything else? Don't really taste it, to be honest. It's all smooth and creamy, too, which some may like, but I'd prefer actual beans in there.

Don't get me wrong, it's not a terrible soup. In fact, I'd say it makes a decently tasty pairing with a grilled cheese sandwich for a simple, hearty meal on a cold winter day. It's just I guess my wife's homemade soup more, with whole and pureed beans, and flavor perhaps evened out better by using chicken or veggie stock as a base and not water like Trader Joe's. Sandy makes hers with marginally more effort than heating up a pot of this soup-in-a-box, and hers tastes at least ten times better. I guess hers is what I'm used to, and however unfairly I'm using hers as a measuring stick for the Trader Joe's soup. I can't vouch for the TJ's authenticity, but can say it was a good buy ($2 or $3, misplaced the receipt) and it lasted us two meals.

I asked Sandy what she thought about it. She took the opportunity to kinda half-glare at me, and utter a semi-halfhearted, "I don't know, 3.5 or 4" which I took to mean the lower of the two. To be fair, it was as she was working on some take-home reports from her work, and right before she was going to run out for her usual Monday night babysitting gig, so I can't blame her for being too unenthusiastic, but it just goes to show that she wasn't too impressed either. "It's yummy but I like to have actual beans in my soup," she offered. I agree. It's decent but lacking something, whether it be real legumes or a little extra flavor to finish it off better. It's not the worst black bean-based Trader Joe's offering, but it's not the best either (that's still TBD). I'll go with a 3.

Bottom line:
Trader Joe's Latin Style Black Bean Soup: 6.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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*Apparently it's his standard wedding gift. "The burritos in it are great," he says with a wink.
**For some reason a certain episode of Seinfeld comes to mind. Believe me, the book is much classier.
***Yes, I know. Different meaning.

2 comments:

  1. No need to apologize... Homemade is always better!.

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  2. I tried it with a little microwave rice cooked with a combo of water and tomato juice (I know, weird right?) and it gave it a great balance. Plus my husband doesn't enjoy black beans, so I enjoyed having something I didn't have to share, but was easy for me to make for just me.
    BTW - love your blog - we were temporary transplants in Farmington PA last year so love hearing your Pgh perspective too!

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