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Showing posts with label Indian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Indian. Show all posts

Monday, January 24, 2022

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Kitchari

Sonia and I both love Indian food and have been to numerous Indian restaurants in numerous cities, so I thought it odd that neither of us had heard of kitchari before this. Apparently, the way it's pronounced rhymes with "stitchery" or "witchery," and it's a dish frequently used for cleansing or anti-inflammatory purposes. Here's a good article on the subject.

We've seen these convenient microwavable pouches of Indian Fare from Trader Joe's before. Nuke for about a minute, dump on rice, and voila, an extremely cheap and easy Indian meal. 
The smell of this dish was wonderful straight out of the microwave. There was a rich earthiness under a fragrant spice blend including ginger, fennel, cardamom, and turmeric. Upon tasting it, we were both somewhat unimpressed. We both agreed it didn't taste as bold as it smelled, and we wished there had been more whole peas or beans or something to bite down on. The texture was quite mushy.


The split mung beans by themselves didn't do much for us in the flavor department, and the spice blend, though pleasant, wasn't as pungent as we'd hoped. We certainly liked it overall, but didn't love it by any means, especially when compared to the vast majority of amazingly flavorful Indian products we've tried from TJ's over the years.

But then I decided to do some internet recon on the dish. That's when I stumbled upon that article I linked to in the first paragraph. It seems like maybe kitchari is more of a medicinal dish than the typical wild ride for the taste buds that East Indian cuisine can often be. Apparently, it's mushy by design, and that makes it super easy to digest. Other properties of the mung beans help remove toxins from the digestive system. Also the spice blend is so mild that even young children and old folks can consume it, according to that article.


As fate should have it, my stomach had been upset for a day or two prior to trying the kitchari. And...as fate should have it, the kitchari helped. It helped a lot actually. I noticed an almost immediate improvement with my gastrointestinal grumblings.

So...if you're looking for a scrumptious Indian dish, click right here and scroll through 12 years of reviews. I'd put this one near the bottom of the pack if scoring on taste and texture alone, but I can't deny there are definite detox qualities here...and again, it's not bad tasting by any means. $2.29 for the single serving pack. It's not explicitly labeled as "vegan" for some reason, but I can't see why it wouldn't be.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Trader Joe's Indian Style Garlic Achaar Sauce

Why is Indian food so delicious? I don't think I've ever had an Indian dish I didn't like. My hypothesis: it's the spices and sauces.

This tasty new Trader Joe's brand condiment lends credence to that theory. It's piquant, potent, and fabulously flavorsome. However, I have to share the following: while re-familiarizing myself with achaar sauce via internet search, I came across another popular jarred garlic achaar sauce: Brooklyn Delhi. First of all, that's a freaking brilliant play on words—not a Brooklyn deli like a delicatessen, but Delhi like the city in India. Ha! I love it.

Anyway, I mused for a moment about whether Brooklyn Delhi could possibly be Trader Joe's third party supplier of their own achaar. No sooner had the thought entered my mind when I stumbled across a tweet from the founder of Brooklyn Delhi calling Trader Joe's offering a "cheap, watered-down knock-off" of her version. 

All I have to say is DANG, girl, if this stuff is watered-down, then your roasted garlic achaar sauce must be absolutely life-changing and I must try it as soon as I can get my hands on some.


Because "watered-down" was the phrase farthest from my mind when I first tried this product. It's so rich and flavorful. It's super garlicky, but there are also hot chili spices and a deep, earthy bite that's so unique. We put it on naan bread with some eggs and garlic-flavored goat cheese. Fan-freaking-tastic. It's honestly quite noshable with nothing but bread—the eggs and cheese just made it a complete meal.

This would go great with chicken, fish, shrimp, fries, appetizers...honestly it's probably easier to list things it wouldn't go with than things it potentially could. I wouldn't try it with desserts, I guess. It would ruin ice cream or cake, I suppose.


I'm excited to experiment with it. $2.69 for the jar. It's not a huge jar, but a little goes a long way. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegetable Samosa Burrito

I'm not into globalism as far as politics are concerned, but I must admit, when international cultures entwine, some pretty interesting and enticing culinary combinations result.

I'm thinking taco pizza, curried chicken salad, or Chicano hamburgers...or the fact that you can put sriracha on anything American and make it better. Fusion food. The only thing finer than one tasty tradition is two or more combined in the same dish. And now they're doing stuff like sushi corn dogs, kimchi quesadillas, and pierogi poutine...? What the what? I'll have to try those things some day...but until then, I'm glad there's Trader Joe's.

So it's a samosa...in the form of a burrito. Sounds good. If you use the microwave, this happy little lunch item goes from refrigerated to piping hot in just two minutes.


Despite being a little stuffy from the excessive cold we're feeling here in the upper midwest, that familiar curry-esque samosa smell cut through the kitchen and piqued my appetite immediately. Sonia and I cut our burrito in half and ate it with some other leftover Indian food and rice. By itself, it would have been the perfect size for a stand-alone lunch or even dinner for one person.

There were big chunks of potato, cauliflower, and carrots, plus plenty of large whole peas throughout the dish. The texture of the veggies was just about perfect. The tortilla would have been a bit more crispy had we used the oven, no doubt, but we were fine with it being soft and supple. It's definitely a secondary element after the veggie chunks.


To me, "tomato chutney" doesn't sound particularly appetizing or exciting. But it tasted great. Just look at the ingredients list. There's onions, garlic, mustard, vinegar, white wine, ginger, paprika, turmeric and rosemary, just to name a few of the represented flavors. The taste was every bit as complex and bold as you might expect from those elements. It's a uniquely Indian flavor in the familiar format of a burrito. Would buy again.

$3.99 for the product. Four stars a piece from Sonia and me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Trader Joe's Misal Curry

I've always been fascinated with maps and geography. It's also interesting how places and groups of people got their names. I'm in awe that we can still refer to islands in the Caribbean as "the West Indies" based on the erroneous assumption that 15th and 16th century explorers found an alternate route from Europe to India.

"Man, I'm jonesin' for some authentic Indian curry. Let's try going in the opposite direction and see if we get to India faster." Great work, guys. You were only off by literally 15,000 miles.

Nowadays, we take frozen Indian food at the grocery store completely for granted, along with myriad other international cuisines. We truly don't know how good we have it. And I'm not saying that this dish or any of Trader Joe's other frozen selections are quite as good as anything you'd actually be served in India, or even a half decent Indian restaurant here in the states—what I'm saying is the accessibility factor along with the relatively authentic taste is something I'm truly grateful for, and it seems petty and frivolous to file any complaints at all about this miracle of modern convenience.


So for that reason, let's start with everything positive about this dish. It's vegan. That's good. I'm not vegan, but it's nice to not have to eat animals or animal products at each and every meal. It's actually spicy. Heck yes. So many curry products are totally lacking in the heat department. We're not talking five alarm fire type heat in this case, but there's definitely some kick to this curry. I'd put it just above half way on a spice-o-meter.

Finally, it's super easy to prepare. Six minutes in the microwave and you're good to go. It's not super fattening or calorific in the grand scheme of things, either. A lot of curry dishes can really pack a punch in that department.

The "brown rice" is kinda purple. I don't know if I've seen purple rice before. It tasted fine, although the texture was just a bit spongy. If you're not into beans, then the texture of the misal might not be your thing, either. Sonia thought the curry itself had too many "al dente" beans. Spongy rice and both squishy and firm beans made the texture my least favorite aspect of this curry. That might be a function of the beans used. There are "sprouted moth beans" and "white peas," neither of which I'm familiar with.


Some curries can be kind of sweet. This one isn't at all. It's earthy, beany, and spicy. Although there are multiple coconut ingredients in the product, I didn't taste much coconut at all.

It's actually a "product of India." I guess that makes it more authentic...? But also I'm not sure how we don't have the ingredients to make it in this country, or you know, at least in this hemisphere. For $2.29, it doesn't seem like the meal's cost has been influenced much by its trip around the globe. 

Score-wise, I think we're looking at something like double 3.5's.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Trader Joe's Spicy Chakri Mix

 
During my freshman year of college, Aerosmith released their Nine Lives album. My dormitory roomie, whom I'd known since high school, and his then girlfriend, were big fans. So they purchased the CD shortly after its release. On it was a track entitled "Taste of India." The opening lines of it went: 

"Gotta love the sweet taste of India. Lingers on the tip of my tongue." 

Like a good Christian roommate, my old friend changed the lyrics to "Gotta love the sweet taste of Nathan's mom" and would sing it that way when it would play on his boombox in our very tiny dorm room. We'd always have a laugh together about the lyric swap, as "your mom" jokes were in vogue at the time. 

But none of us were well-versed when it came to actual Indian food back then. In subsequent years, walking the streets of Los Angeles and Philadelphia with a bag of curry or channa masala take-out in my hand, my friends would often hear me mumbling "Gotta love the sweet taste of Nathan's mom" under my breath and would ask what the heck I was singing.


I gotta give it to Trader Joe's for furthering my experience with Indian food. Most of their Indian selections aren't quite restaurant quality in my opinion, but they're close enough that when you consider price and convenience, they're still a must-try in most cases.

This snack bag is a little different from the other Indian selections I've had in that it's a dry snack, rather than a saucy meal with veggies, rice, and tofu or meat. It has a spice blend that's similar to a lot of other Indian treats—curry leaves, turmeric powder, and rosemary.

In some ways, it's not a far cry from a Tex-Mex snack mix. The smell is pretty similar and the heat level is comparable, also both styles are super crunchy. There are tiny balls, skinny sticks, peanuts, and those big long pieces that look like the spines of small animals, and each element is super crispy. Looks like all the pieces are made of chickpeas and/or rice, other than the peanuts, of course. I really do wish the peanuts were larger and more plentiful. The peanuts on the cover art are huge compared to the tiny ones I found in my mix.


Other than that, not too many complaints. It's a convenient, exotic snack that's got a decent flavor and a little spicy kick. It would be great on salads or maybe even mixed in with other Indian dishes. I'd even try it with other international cuisines. I'm thinking this would be great on top of Pad Thai or even in wonton soup...? 

It's salty, nutty, and moderately oily. I still think it would be much stronger with more peanuts. But hey, I can always add my own, right? $2.99 for the 7oz. bag. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Trader Joe's Mini Spicy Pumpkin Samosas

It's an important distinction to make: these are spicy pumpkin samosas, not pumpkin spice samosas. Pumpkin spice samosas would be weird and maybe even a little gross. Hopefully even you pumpkin haters can set aside your disdain for the fall gourd and consider giving these a try...that is, if you like Indian food.

Because the spice blend here isn't ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and clove. It's cilantro, garlic, ginger, and turmeric. Yes, I'm aware ginger is on both lists, but the order in which it falls within the list is significant. It's a background flavor here, not the main attraction. These samosas are a little sweet, too, but they're not "pumpkin pie" sweet, if you know what I mean.


In addition to real pumpkin, Trader Joe's Mini Spicy Pumpkin Samosas have paneer cheese and sweet potato within them, too. To tell you the truth, I wasn't sure if that combo was going to work, but it definitely did. Both Sonia and I were fans from our first bites.

We've always loved Indian food. After Mexican, Indian is probably our favorite type of international cuisine. There's a sweet, spicy, savory curry essence to these appetizers that works oh-so-well and is oh-so-unique. It's a harvesty kinda flavor, but it's also unmistakably East Indian-inspired. The heat level is mild to medium—enough to enhance the flavor but not enough to cause any discomfort to someone who enjoys spicy foods.

Like other Trader Joe's samosas we've tried, the breading here is crispy, flaky, buttery, and delectable. It might be a little on the oily side, but it adds to the richness of the flavor. The only complaint I can think of is that I wouldn't have minded some kind of chutney in a little packet on the side for dipping. I know, I know, I always make that same complaint, but a bit of chutney as uncommon as these little apps might have made them even more delicious.

$3.99 for 12 mini samosas. Four and a half stars from Sonia. Four from me.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Trader Joe's Shrimp Tikka Masala


I don't know that I've ever had a tikka masala dish that I've disliked. Just from Trader Joe's alone, we've seen chickenpaneer, and vegan varieties, all of which were thumbs up. Shrimp is one of my favorite foods and always has been. As long as it's cooked properly, it's pretty hard to mess up shrimp, so the bar is set pretty high for this dish already. 

Like most of you, we haven't been eating out much lately. So I guess if anything, that lowers the bar a tad and makes us appreciate near-restaurant-quality microwave meals even more than usual. Hopefully we're giving this Shrimp Tikka Masala its fair shake. 

Anyway, Let's dive in.

I feel like they almost wanted to go with a flippable tray, a la those yogurts that come with mix-ins, but with the shrimp and sauce being flipped into the bed of cumin rice instead of cookie bits getting flipped into a bed of yogurt. The tray isn't quite that flexible, so you're left flicking the shrimps one by one into the other side. Fair enough.


There are about 8 or 10 small shrimp swimming around in a red sauce. For a frozen meal, their texture is about what you'd expect. Shrimp doesn't fare particularly well in the microwave, in my opinion, and these specimens were no better or worse than I expected—just a tad more chewy than steamed or fried shrimp would be. 

The sauce is a "mildly spicy tomato sauce" ...and that's what it tastes like. It's not particularly bursting with Indian spices or heat. It's a wee bit more complex and interesting than, say, tomato soup, but it struck me as being significantly less flavorful than any of the previous tikka masala dishes from Trader Joe's.

The rice here isn't the classic basmati rice we see in most of TJ's Indian food. This is "cumin rice." It's plain white rice...with some cumin seeds and coconut oil. So...pretty much just plain white rice.


I polished off the tray easily enough. Never gagged. Never grimaced at the flavor. But it didn't inspire any moments of bliss or euphoria, either. 

While I can't shaft it too badly, I'd put this near the bottom of the tikka masala pack and maybe even near the bottom of the list of Trader Joe's Indian food in general. That's not to say it's bad in any way. There's just a laundry list of other outstanding Indian foods at TJ's that I'll reach for before I pick up this particular selection again. Sonia sat this one out, citing an upset tummy as her reason for non-participation.

$3.49 for the single serving meal. Ready after 5-6 minutes in microwave.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry

Despite all proceeding evidence to the contrary, I really thought this was shrimp.

Maybe it was just a weird random parallel pescaterian universe portal that let me see this, but I really thought I read this as "Trader Joe's Fiery Shrimp Curry," not "Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry." I was on a solo parenting trip, so no witnessses. And it being a hot day, with no plans to go right home afterwards, and this being a frozen entree, it made a purchase unwise at that time. I thought about taking a pic, but TJ's doesn't really like that, and I've bent enough rules in the past by recording a podcast there, so I relied on my old, thought-to-be-rustproof memory. I'll just tell Sandy to get it next time she goes. No biggie.

Well...no shrimpy. Internet searches and calls to all the area TJ's confirmed. It's chicken, not shrimp. It's still an acceptable protein, of course...but it ain't shrimp.

It's kinda too bad, as the chicken in the new TJ's fiery chicken curry is kinda the weak point. Not that I reasonably expect high quality pollo from a frozen dinner that cost $3.49. But I'd expect better than what I got here. The package states upfront it's chicken breast AKA white meat. Now, I have no real problem, generally, with dark thigh meat, but when you expect a few choice-ish morsels of white meat but get only three of them, and about three dense, grisly dark meat pieces it kinda throws you off. It'd be more acceptable if somewhat expected.

Everything else? On point. Gotta give it to TJ's on the sauces for their frozen dishes, particularly the Indian ones. This curry sauce is awesome. Coconutty, sweet, layered, peppery, fiery, spicy, with intensifying and lingering heat....yes to all of those. It wasn't too spicy for either Sandy or I, but could be for some of y'all out there. If the sauce were sold separately as "fiery curry sauce" we'd buy again and again and probably prop it to our pantheon on here.

Turmeric rice is turmeric rice. Helps fill out the meal and soak up all the sauce. Nice work, rice. Represent.

Still, with this being chicken and not shrimp I feel an opportunity got missed. And lo and behold I'm not completely crazy. The term "Goan-inspired" made me Wiki up some info, and, well, look: "Goan food is considered incomplete without fish." With some high quality shrimp, and even at a mildly increased price point, this dish could be a real absolute winner that'd help make up for a rare shrimp miss on TJ's part. Oh well.

The fiery chicken curry is definitely repeat purchase worthy if for no other reason than to get another hit of that tasty tasty sauce. Love it. Makes a perfect microwavable meal for my heavily birddogged no-less-than-28-but-absolutely-no-more-than-32-minutes lunch break for me. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Fiery Chicken Curry: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, July 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Yellow Tadka Dal

For a few months in high school, I worked at my local Boston Market. It was an okay job - first and foremost, all the free cornbread I could ever want - but man, there's a few things that, close to twenty years later, kinda stick with me. Like the barrel of some sort of acid used to "clean" all the rotisserie skewers. Gross, hold your breath when walking by. Or how my assistant manager there regularly lit up while in the kitchen...during dinner rushes...while prepping food. That "smoked" turkey on the menu wasn't false advertising.

But another Boston Market memory came to mind while prepping Trader Joe's Indian Fare Yellow Tadka Dal. You think all the side dishes there were freshmade? Bahahahaha, that's hilarious.  Nah, all the mashed potatoes and green beans and mac n cheese and whatever else was bagged and either steamed or boiled before being brought out...

...which is exactly how I made this Indian dish, in only a slightly more traditional method than nuking in our microwave. I literally submerged the package, as shown, in a boiling pot of water to warm up this shelf-stable lentil stew-like dish. I guess it's only weird if it doesn't work.

The tadka dal certainly works, as far as my tongue can ascertain. I can't tell you how authentic it is or isn't, but I can tell you both Sandy and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Tadka dal, if you're not familiar, is a fairly common spiced lentil dish in Indian cuisine. What we both enjoyed most was the warm, welcoming "glow" of the spices. I'm not sure how else to explain it. While somewhat spicy, it wasn't straight up heat, but there's not a complex depth to it either. It's not the same as other spices that you'd expect from, say, a tikka masala. Curry plays a part, but I'd wager on it being a bit heavy on the turmeric, which is just fine by me. You can see how yellow this stuff is.

The lentils are, well, lentil-like. What is there to really say about them? But they add earthiness and body to the creamy tomato broth base. There's enough lentils that it didn't even really seem all that tomato like, so that's a plus in Sandy's book. She might not even realize there were tomatoes in it until she reads this...I guess we'll find out. In any event, we both wish we had some naan to help get every last bit of the tadka dal into our belly.

Speaking of wishing for naan...the tadka dal is really more a side dish, or at least in need of something else to fill out to a full meal. We went cross-cultural with falaffels, but at least have some rice on hand to serve alongside.

Bringing one thing back: make note of the "creamy" aspect. Yup, sorry vegan lentil-lovers out there, there's milk in the ingredients here. From what I can tell from a quick Google search, many if not most tadka dal recipes can be or are vegan. So there's a potential knock.

For $1.99, we were happy. It's definitely repeat purchase-type material for us. If this TJ's tadka dal were a side dish or option at an Indian buffet, we'd be happy. Just get it out of the bag before bringing it out. Double fours.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Indian Fare Yellow Tadka Dal: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 25, 2017

Trader Joe's Mini Chicken Tikka Samosas


I've always been a fan of not only chicken tikka masala, but chicken tikka as well—basically just boneless chicken with tandoori spices. And overall, I've been super impressed with Trader Joe's Indian offerings throughout the years. Plus, I love me some samosa-type appetizers...so purchasing this new-to-me frozen noshable was a no-brainer. And I'm glad I did.

The shells came out of the oven flaky and crispy, if perhaps a tad greasy. No need for pan-frying these puppies—they provided more than enough oil of their own. Taste-wise, the dough was extremely pleasant and flavorful, not to mention structurally-sound for hand-held snacking straight off an hors d'oeuvre tray or...you know, right from the baking sheet if one were so inclined. Note: that structural integrity guarantee does not remain in effect if one were to, say, cut the appetizer in half with a fork to share with a friend, or to, perhaps, take a picture for a blog or Instagram or what have you. In fact, cutting these little triangular morsels caused most of the chicken tikka filling to squish out onto the plate, which brings me to my next point...


The chicken tikka filling was good, but it's extremely shredded, to the point where it's nearly liquefied...okay, that might be a bit of an exaggeration. I guess I'm trying to say I wouldn't have minded some actual chicken bits, but that's nitpicking on my part. 

Also, the flavor was pleasant, but it just wasn't intense enough for me. The Indian spices weren't as potent as other chicken tikka offerings I've had. There was just enough spice to tell that this was, indeed, an Indian-inspired appetizer—but no more than that. I like my Indian food to boast strong, spicy, vivid tastes. This was a much more mild flavor here.

Sonia didn't seem to mind it as much as I did, but she immediately pointed out that as good as the product was, in her opinion, it would have been much better with a sweet, spicy Indian chutney of some kind.

Even though I'm able to point out a few things that might be labeled as "flaws" in this product, it's still pretty dang snackable. The true test is how long the tray lasts in our household of two after it comes out of the oven. In this case, barely 15 minutes. It could have had something to do with the fact it was close to lunch time, but we can't score this too harshly based on that fact alone. Again, we're looking at twelve pieces for just about four dollars, so it's a pretty standard value we've been seeing at TJ's lately.

I'll throw out three and a half stars here. Sonia will spring for four.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Korma Fish Curry

A handful of you might remember that not all that long ago, Sonia and I had been living without a microwave. We purposely neglected to replace it mainly to see how we’d do without it. But now that we’re living in our RV and traveling, we are now, once again, endowed with the ability to irradiate our foods from frozen to ready-to-eat in a matter of minutes—when we’re hooked up to shore power, at least. Oh, how I’ve missed you, nuked foods. May our romance blossom once again. For our reunion date, you prepared a delish fish dish for me. How sweet of you, Samsung MC1015BB.

This blog has explored quite a few different frozen, microwavable Indian products over the years. In my opinion, this is one of, if not the most consistent line of products Trader Joe’s has to offer. No, they can’t compete with a really good, authentic Indian restaurant, but considering the price and convenience, I’ve never found anything that compares.

This dish was no different. It’s the same basmati rice we’ve been seeing with most of these Indian meals. And of course, TJ’s curry is pretty consistently good. And the fish? Well, that was the wild card. Some TJ’s fish is spot on, and some…not so much.

But here we had a delicious white fish with a great taste and texture. Swai? It was soft, but not mushy, and it blended quite well with the thick, spicy curry. The packaging made the fish look like two or three “sticks,” for lack of a better term, but we got a large, triangular filet instead. If anything, it was more fish than I expected, just based on the picture on the box.



There’s a surprising amount of heat here, too, which Sonia and I both appreciated. The curry is potent, yet sweet, smooth, and coconutty. All three elements worked beautifully together, and we devoured our entrees quickly, wishing we had purchased another box or two to enjoy another day.

At $3.49 per single-serving package, it’s one of the pricier microwaveable Indian products at TJ’s, but it’s worth it if you ask Sonia or I. Four stars a piece.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn

I wish I had something intelligent to say about Indian cinema and all the Bollywood classics that I'm sure exist. I simply don't. Closest I come is being able to say I was in the same room once or twice when Sandy was watching "Bend It Like Beckham" (I was probably writing a half-witted review, much like this one). And how representative that particular movie is of most Bollywood fare...I have no idea, because I don't know any better.

And I won't admit to knowing much about Indian cuisine, either. Most (okay, all) of my exposure has been either at Indian restaurants or the frozen food aisle at Trader Joe's, and how authentic that experience really is...I don't know, either.

But I can say I've eaten a lot of popcorn, and that whenever I've had any version of tikka masala I've loved it. Finally, those two classics have come together in Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn.

Ripping open our bag took some persistence and care. It probably didn't help we were pretty eager to chomp some down for a night of Olympics watching...but this was a tough bag to crack, to balance the force necessary without causing a popcorn micro-supernova. The payoff, though, was amazing - a big, aromatic cloud of cloves and cumin and garam masala, which quickly laid to rest how potent the seasoning might be on a simple popcorn base.

Potent is an understatement. My goodness. The best way I can explain it is a "happy heat." If you're a tikka masala fan at all, you know what I mean - it builds slowly but surely, with a lot of warmth, and it just lingers on and on, but it's never overbearing. I'm kind of amazed it comes from popcorn and not an actual dish with chicken or paneer and rice.

Combine all that with perfectly munchable popcorn kernels - solid, fluffy, crunchy, well popped, without many (if any) widows. It's a perfect snack. And it's been a long, long time since we've done this, but Sandy and I housed the entire bag in about an hour's time - that's what we get for keeping it within reach on the couch. And for once I can claim we were equally guilty.

To be honest, I'm trying really hard to think of anything even remotely critical to say about this popcorn, and I'm coming up empty. No deductions at all from these two American judges. And only $1.99. Perfect 10.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Bollywood Popcorn: 10 out of 10 Golden Spoons  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Trader Joe's Matar Paneer

Obviously, I was taking a risk here with Trader Joe's Matar Paneer.

I've braved both frozen and boxed Indian food from Trader Joe's, with more success than not. But look...it doesn't matter how cool and printy and no labelly and kinda retro the can looks, it's still a can. A can. Conveniently with a pop-top tab, I may add, so in the history of cans, this can is up there...but, still, a metal, shelf stable can, prone to dents and questionable-by-association contents.

But that's not even all. If you can't tell by the photobombs by Optimus Prime and a cheapie USB plug fan from Target, this was my work lunch one day this past week. So not only did I have to open a can of Indian food, I would then have to heat it in the microwave. I don't mean this in any sort of rude way, but I didn't want to be lumped with the guy who zapped some fish (never, ever do that at work) or the nice lady who scorched her popcorn.  I didn't want anything to smell too curry-ous if you know what I mean.

And then I would have eat it, and again, not to be rude, but deal with any potential, umm, after-effects while on the clock. I do enough on my own every day the toes the HR-visit line, did we really need to tempt it?

I did. And happy to report, the matar paneer passed every test. Rather impressively, I may add.

After just a couple minutes and a stir or two from the break room nuker, lunch was served. The aroma was surprisingly mildly fragrant - definitely some warmth with spices, but my cubicle neighbor's chicken fingers made its presence known more than my bowlful of Indian. Got a few compliments from those closest to me but that was it. Visually, the curry appeared soupier than it actually was - the peas and onions thickened up the tomato base more than expected, without seeming too swampy. With a little rice mixed in after a couple bites, the feel and consistency was just right.

And taste...my goodness. Is it authentic matar paneer tase? Look: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. I don't know. But purely on it's own basis, it's delicious. Plenty of the usual Indian spices - enough heat to help clear the sinuses a little, with a pleasant linger, but easy enough to cover up with a stick or two of gum afterwards. If you've had the paneer in other TJ's dishes, this is fairly like the others - softly firm, mild, a welcome bite, and there's plenty of it.

I'd say it's dang near perfect for a work lunch mix up from the norm - cheap (was it even $2?), easy (dump, zap, eat), quick, delicious. Just make sure you don't have an important meeting afterwards, and watch out for dribbling on the TPS reports. I'm going solo on this - Sandy wasn't entirely willing to take the risk until she saw how I fared - but sometimes with high risk, comes high reward. This is one of those times.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Matar Paneer: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Friday, August 21, 2015

Trader Joe's Indian Fare Jaipur Vegetables

Here's an item that's been in our cupboard for months and months and we might have forgotten about it, but last time we were at TJ's, they were handing it out at the sample counter. We liked it, so Sonia and I reminded ourselves to heat up the package we already had at home. And boy am I glad we did.

It's really tasty. It reminds me of the filling in the Balti Pies we looked at not too long ago, though not quite as fattening and calorific. Obviously, there's no crust or chicken here, either. The curry is nearly identical to the Balti curry, though maybe a tad bit spicier. There are big chunks of peas, carrots, potatoes, and tomatoes. Plus, there's paneer cheese and cashews—two ingredients TJ's is no stranger to. They all blend together nicely flavor-wise, but I'd definitely say the taste of the curry is the dominant flavor here. And that's just fine with me, because it tastes great.

All of the other ingredients create a nice hearty texture. It's not just a homogeneous mush. There's plenty of each constituent part to keep it interesting. I wasn't particularly thrilled with the cashews, since they were slightly soggy. If they had found some magical way to keep them crunchy, then this already delicious product would have been even better. I suppose they could have separated the cashews into a separate pouch that you could open and pour into the mixture at the end, but that's just me being uber-picky.

And that brings me to my next point: the preparation of this product is insanely easy. You either drop the bag into some boiling water on your stove top for five minutes, or you snip the bag and nuke the contents for a minute or two. I heated mine in the microwave and poured it over rice, and bang! Instant meal. I don't recall exactly what the price is on this one since it's been so long since we purchased it, but if it's anything like the other Indian Fare products, it's probably in the ballpark of $2, which is a really good deal for what you're getting. No complaints here.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Trader Joe's Vegan Tikka Masala

It's never been the taste of vegetarian or vegan foods that's kept me from swearing off animal products entirely. It's primarily the cost and lack of availability of viable meat-free alternatives. And although arguments can be made that vegetarian diets may even be cheaper than meatful diets, we're a long ways off from being able to purchase meat-free corn dogs from the average street vendor or chickenless nuggets from the Mickey D's on the corner.

That being said, Trader Joe's is one of those rare places where meaty foods and meatless foods are pretty much on a level playing field. There are plenty of options in both camps, and strict vegetarians probably don't feel like they're missing out on all that much. This product is a prime example. TJ's is a great place for meat eaters to discover that Meatless Mondays won't kill them—or that they can be "part time vegans." In fact, we've already reviewed a vegetarian tikka masala dish on this blog, as well as a non-vegetarian one.

Like the previous two tikka masala dishes, this one has some amazing sauce. It's full of Indian spices and flavor, it's creamy, and it's mildly hot. It's almost as good as masala sauce I've had from actual Indian restaurants. The rice is your basic basmati—the kind we usually see in these frozen Indian dishes from TJ's—flavored with oil and cumin, and as always, it blends very well with the sauce and other elements. 

The vegan meat substitute was fairly neutral in flavor, which allowed the sauce to be the dominant taste of the dish. If anything, the vegan chunks tasted just ever so slightly soy-ish, with a breadiness about them as well. It wasn't an unpleasant flavor at all—on the contrary, it was delicate and satisfying, despite a decided lack of potency. 

Texture-wise, the meatless chunks did a decent job of imitating white meat chicken pieces, if but perhaps a mite bit more chewy—certainly not to the point that I would complain. In fact, I've definitely had actual chicken that was far more rubbery than this on more than one occasion. I should note at this point that I did heat my entree in the microwave, although conventional oven instructions are given. Even though I've become far more proficient at traditional cooking in the past few years, my rule of thumb is that if it comes in a plastic tray with clear film on top, I'll go ahead and nuke it...or if I'm really hungry and don't want to wait the extra 20 minutes. In this case, it was both.

$3.49 at our local TJ's, six minutes in the microwave, and a reasonable calorie count for tikka masala...this gets a thumbs up from me.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Trader Joe's Chicken Balti Pies

So if you've ever seen the movie Gandhi—or if you know your history—you're aware that the British occupation of India wasn't really something to celebrate. But a few good things did come from the collision of these two unique cultures. Now East Indians can enjoy pastimes like cricket and soccer, and Brits have added yummy foods like curry to their menu. These "pies" struck me as being nearly identical to Trader Joe's Steak and Ale Pies, another British-inspired delight. But in this case, there's chicken, carrots, potatoes, and a mildly-spicy curry sauce.

The curry here was tasty, but both Sonia and I felt it to be a tad blasé. We both agree the flavor was good—we just wish there were more of it. And we both could have handled a significantly greater amount of spicy kick. But as Russ notes in a soon-to-be-released podcast episode, the Brits are known for serving bland-ish food. Maybe full blown Indian curry was too much for the English, so they toned it down a bit.

The pie-crust-like breading was excellent. Sonia compared it to a flaky croissant. The carrot and potato chunks were large and plentiful and served a similar function as they might in a traditional pot pie. The chicken was also adequate, moist, and tender.

One pie is extraordinarily filling. And it should be—because each serving has massive amounts of fat and calories, including a full 115% of your US RDA for saturated fat! Sonia was wise enough to eat only two thirds of hers and save the rest for another day. At around $5.99 per box, they're not super cheap, and if you want to cook them properly in the oven, you're looking at the better part of an hour for prep time. So these tasty little pies are a significant investment on your waistline, wallet, and schedule—at least as far as frozen convenience food goes. Am I glad we tried them? Heck yes. Despite craving a tad more heat, I really can't complain about the texture or taste. Four stars from me. 3.5 from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas

"Kofta." Now that's a cool word. I've never heard it until stumbling across Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas on my latest trip. Basically, a kofta is a Middle Eastern/Indian/ Mediterranean meatball, with different variations from different regions. Sounds good, and I was interested.  My wife Sandy, though? My goodness. She's not usually not one to get too excited about most meats - she's on record on saying she'd be vegetarian if she only liked vegetables more, and I've seen her be indifferent towards bacon, of all things - but lamb anything she's all over it. "I've just never have had any bad lamb," she explains. Granted, me neither, but most of my exposure to the gastronomics of the wooliest of farm mammals has been limited to gyros at Greek food festivals and an occasional dish here or there from either TJ's or occasionally out. I recall us making lamb roast a year or two ago for Easter, and being relatively unimpressed but not overly dismayed by it. Regardless, since I said before we go in it was her turn to find something tasty for dinner, once these koftas were spotted, there was no question what was going on my dinner plate that night.

Like most of TJ's Indian-inspired dishes, the real highlight to me was the masala sauce. It comes frozen in a side packet that you swish the meatballs around in once they're heated up. It was so good - a little heat, a little creamy, but so much flavor - I think I got a hot dog bun out to grab every last drop I could. If you've had their masala sauce on other dishes before, you know what I'm talking about. It's gooooooooood. I think I could put it on anything.

As for the lamby balls themselves...to me, eh. Without the masala, they tasted like a meatier-but-still-tender sphere of gyro. That's not a bad thing, but it was kind of unexciting in of itself. Heating them was a cinch - a couple minutes on the stove top while steaming in a little water was all they really needed. Other times we've gotten frozen meatballs, I've had to cut them in half mid-cooking so the insides would thaw to a less than rock-solid state without blackening the outside. No such issue here. Neglected to take a picture of the finished product, but each kofta was a couple bites each, with ten in the package (so about 50 cents each), so it seemed like a decent value to me.

Sandy, though? Score this as another big winner for her, enough that she unequivocally gave them a perfect five. For me, I'm not as impressed, but when (not if, "when") these come back to my place for dinner again, I won't be disappointed. Sandy gets some more lamb, I get some more sauce, and we're both pretty darn happy then. Definitely a winner dinner.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Lamb Koftas: 9 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Trader Joe's Vegetable Biryani

Up until Mr. Shelly's recent review of uttapam, it had been quite a while since we checked out any Indian food on this blog. So, to make up for lost time, here's a look at yet another Indian dish: Trader Joe's Vegetable Biryani. We saw it on the frozen section shelf, right next to the uttapam, and it looked too good to pass up. 

I've been to a handful of decent Indian restaurants, but I've never heard of biryani before I saw this dish. Maybe I just wasn't scouring the menu hard enough—I have a bad habit of sticking with my old standby's all the time: chicken tikka masala or some kind of tandoori. Although it often pays to venture outside of your comfort zone, you can never go wrong with the classics. So now my habit is to try the very inexpensive version of each new-to-me Indian dish at Trader Joe's, and then if it really wows me, I might dare order it when I'm out livin' large, spendin' G's at a fine dining establishment.

Note to self: order vegetable biryani next time you eat out at an Indian place.

Because this stuff is pretty awesome. For $2.49, we're looking at a dish that's in the same price range as a typical Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice meal, with similar fat and caloric content, but with way more uniqueness, flavor, and satisfaction. This meal is super-filling—but not uncomfortably so. It's packed with beans, peas, basmati rice, and meatball-sized vegetable dumplings. The dumplings and rice have the perfect amount of flavorful Indian spices. Nothing's too dry, nothing's too hard. It even has plump raisins to give it a nice sweet zing. The textures and flavors blend together beautifully, and the veggie and bean content is hearty enough to make up for the lack of meat. This entree is vegetarian. Not sure why it's not vegan, but it doesn't have that happy little "V" on it like some other Indian products from Trader Joe's. I'll let you vegan peeps read through the ingredients and tell me why it's just "vegetarian."

This dish is special enough to garner double 4.5's from the Rodgers clan. We're fans. Unless you hate Indian for some strange reason, we can't imagine you won't like this. And for the price, there's not much lost if you don't.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.