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Showing posts with label middle eastern. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle eastern. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Trader Joe's Traditional Tunisian Harissa Paste

Everything I ever knew about harissa I learned from Trader Joe, which admittedly isn't all that much. We saw a decent harissa-based salsa some years back. And I vaguely remember trying some sardines packed in harissa during one of our short-lived podcast episodes. What is harissa? It's a spicy chili pepper paste that comes from the Maghreb region of North Africa. This item isn't shy about its origins. It's a proud product of Tunisia.

I remember liking the flavor and intensity of harissa, but I think this paste is a more concentrated format than either of my previous encounters with the spicy sauce. I like a good bit of heat with certain foods, but I definitely have my limits. Hopefully I'll be able to apply this paste so it's strong enough to enhance my meals but not to the point of pain. Let's dive in...

The harissa hits you up front with a rich, pungent fragrance. It's peppery, smoky, and faintly vinegary. There's a layer of oil around the edges of the jar, and a moderate amount of seeds can be seen throughout the mixture.

Flavor-wise, it's similar. There's a bit of garlic and coriander in the paste, but they're mostly overshadowed by the intense hot pepper flavor. I mean, this isn't the spiciest sauce I've ever had, but it's not for the faint of heart, either. I'd put it at the same intensity level as a jalapeƱo pepper—and definitely a good bit hotter than the gochujang sauce we looked at recently. You feel it in your mouth and tongue immediately, and over time it slowly warms your tummy internally.

So far, we've had it on chicken and fish, both of which worked really well. We've added it to plain hummus to give it a kick. And we've also put dollops in things like Asian-style stir fry. I've heard some people like to mix it with a bit of mayo to temper the spice level and add it to burgers and other typical American fare. Sounds good, but we haven't tried it that way yet.

$2.99 for the jar. Not a bad value considering it came from halfway around the world and it'll most likely last us a long time due to its potency. We're eager to experiment with it some more. Four stars from Sonia, four from me on Trader Joe's Traditional Tunisian Harissa Paste.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Trader Joe's Chicken Shawarma Bowl

Since this isn't the first shawarma product we've reviewed from Trader Joe's, I've given my spiel about chicken shawarma already. See: Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Thighs and Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Flatbread Wrap.

I found both of those products fell just shy of the mark for two completely different reasons, but neither was terrible, either. Roro's set the bar pretty high as my reference point for chicken shawarma. Trader Joe's has yet to offer anything truly outstanding in my book. But if they release 30 shawarma products this year, then you can bet I'll try all 30 and review them right here on this blog.

At any rate, I opted to heat this little bowl in the big bakey box rather than the microwave. It involves 40 minutes in the conventional oven, as compared to just five minutes when nuked. There's an arctic blast in effect as I compose this review, and we can use every Btu of heat we can get in the house right now.

In addition to shawarma chicken, we've got basmati rice, veggies, and a garlic sauce. None of the elements were particularly flavorful, nor did they approximate genuine Middle Eastern cuisine. Real shawarma bursts with the bright taste of yogurt and citrus, while this meat was dull and bland. The creamy garlic sauce was similar to the delightful Trader Joe's Garlic Spread Dip, but it wasn't quite as thick or delicious, and predictably, there wasn't nearly enough of it.

The chicken and rice was fine, texture-wise, though part of the appeal of real shawarma is the very thinly-sliced, nearly shredded format of the chicken, rather than bite-sized cubes. Also, I found the tomato pieces to be too large and squishy. I'm not a huge fan of raw tomato, though I'm usually okay when they're cooked like this. The spinach and peppers were hardly noticeable.

To call this a shawarma "fail" might be too strong a word. I'll call it another "missed opportunity." $3.99 for the single serving meal. Product of Canada..? Interesting. Stick to maple syrup, you Canucks. Two and a half stars from me. Three stars from the beautiful wifey on Trader Joe's Chicken Shawarma Bowl.

Bottom line: 5.5 out of 10.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Hummus

Well this stuff is clearly just Trader Joe's Chili Onion Crunch plopped on top of a traditional tub of hummus. That's not quite as weird as pickle flavored hummus or chocolate flavored hummus if you ask this guy, but it could still be considered "experimental" in nature, I suppose.

By a quick count, this is at least the ninth variety of hummus we've reviewed on this blog throughout the years, not counting the hummus we made ourselves using Trader Joe's Organic Tahini and some handy dandy cans of chickpeas we had floating around in the pantry. In short, I love hummus and most other garbanzo bean derivatives.

And I guess I'll just cut to the chase and say I'm a fan of this new-ish product. Initially, I was gonna say there's not nearly enough of the chili onion crunch, but after inhaling about half the tub within a few minutes of having opened it, mi boca es en fuego and I don't know how much more of that stuff I could have handled.

So the heat level is acceptable. Spice-o-phobes beware. It's not super hot either. My tolerance just isn't what it used to be. It's got a nice chili onion chickpea flavor with a bit of a kick. Big thumbs up from both of us.

Complaints? There's not much crunchiness to be found. The crispity-crunchity factor is severely dampened by the soft mush of the whirled garbanzos and tahini, but the coolness of the hummus also helps temper the spice level, too.

$3.99 for the tub. Would definitely buy again. Four stars from Sonia. Four and a half from me for Trader Joe's Crunchy Chili Onion Hummus.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Trader Joe's Dukkah

Insert immature "mother dukkah" pun here. Or don't, you know, in case that sort of thing is beneath you. I get it. Not everybody is a forty-something man-child that still appreciates middle school toilet humor.

Ahem. I heard about this stuff a long time ago but never tried it until now. It's apparently a Middle Eastern condiment made with spices, nuts, and seeds. This particular variety has tiny almond bits and sesame seeds as the main ingredients.

There are two other types of seeds in the mix, but everything is pretty well pulverized into teeny tiny specks, rather than big crunchy bites. I mean, obviously sesame seeds are very small to begin with, but I don't think I've ever seen a whole fennel seed or anise seed, so I couldn't tell you what they look like normally.

Trader Joe's Dukkah basically looks like gravel, but it tastes pretty good. As you'd expect, it's seedy and nutty, but the spices bring a lot of flavor to the table as well. There's something almost licorice-esque about the taste. I guess that's the fennel. Or could be the anise. I guess they both vaguely taste like licorice, but spicier and with a whisper of something minty.

It's a complex taste that works well with olive oil. The little round container says to dip "crusty bread" in olive oil and then dip it in the dukkah. I tried it with plain pita chips and it made them significantly more interesting. I also tried coating some pan fried chicken breast with the dukkah. Not bad. Like breaded chicken, but with more flavor and texture. We'll try with salmon next.

$3.29 for the small cylinder. Would buy again, although there's just a tad too much licorice flavor to make it something I'd reach for on a daily basis. Four stars from the beautiful wifey. Put me down for three and a half for Trader Joe's Dukkah.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Kebabs

I don't know what made me pick these up on our last Trader Joe's run. They're not Christmassy or festive at all. I mean, I guess you could argue that the bag is red with green trim. That's sorta holiday-ish, no?

I probably picked up these Middle Eastern Style Kebabs because I love me some Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods. Also, maybe subconsciously, I knew I'd be watching the World Cup in Qatar and imagining I was there. Apparently, kebabs wrapped in pita are a popular type of Qatari street food. Yum.

And if they're half as good as this offering from Trader Joe's, then they'd be worth a purchase or two. Sonia's definitely a bigger fan of these ground beef kebabs than I am, but I'm not hating on them, either. Let's dig in.

Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Kebabs are made with seasoned ground beef, rather than lamb or a combination of both beef and lamb. That's a plus in my book. There are six long, skinny slabs of beef, almost like elongated hamburgers. We used the air fryer to heat them and needed an extra two minutes above what the heating instructions asked for.

Sonia repeatedly remarked that she couldn't believe that the meat had been frozen just a few minutes earlier. It had a texture very similar to that of an American burger, with some bread crumbs mixed into the ground beef. She also adored the peppery, garlicky spice blend. I was thinking they needed just a tad bit of help to put the flavor on par with something close to restaurant quality.

We plated them up with salad and hummus, along with authentic Middle Eastern pita bread. Okay. You got me. It's not even pita. It's a low carb Mission flour tortilla there in the picture. But it served the same purpose and worked remarkably well. I added a piece of havarti cheese to my kebab pita tortilla sandwich thing and made a tasty Latin-Scandinavian-Middle Eastern fusion dish.

I was more than pleased with the overall taste after the cheese and hummus came to the rescue. The kebabs would have been even more delicious with tzatziki sauce. Or maybe some garlic spread. Perhaps zhoug sauce? Any or all of those would have been very welcome in my international meat wrap creation.

Sonia likes the kebabs just the way they are. She has promised to buy more on her very next visit to Trader Joe's. I don't blame her. They're good. I just can't quite muster the same level of enthusiasm for some reason.

$6.99 for six kebabs. Two patties each was more than enough to fill both Sonia and me up for dinner. Four and a half stars from the beautiful wifey. Three and a half from me for Trader Joe's Middle Eastern Style Seasoned Ground Beef Kebabs.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Flatbread Wrap

Chicken shawarma...yummm! I've ranted on here before about my love of Lebanese chicken shawarma. Oh how I miss Roro's. So any time I see something called "shawarma" at Trader Joe's, I have to pick it up and see if it compares to that scrumptious slow-roasted, perfectly-seasoned dish from a hole-in-the-wall in SoCal.

So I'll just start with the good news first about this happy little snack wrap: there's LOTS of tzatziki sauce. Who could have seen that coming? If there's one thing TJ's likes to skimp on, it's condiments and sauces. By my estimation, there's twice as much tzatziki as you need here. There's literally more tzatziki by volume than chicken! It should have been called Trader Joe's Tzatziki Sauce Wrap with Shawarma Chicken.

The tzatziki is creamy, tangy, and savory to the max. It's great, so I'm not complaining...about the sauce. But I WILL complain about the rest of the wrap...because, like, WHERE'S THE BEEF? Er...I mean where's the CHICKEN? and the LETTUCE? and the ONIONS? Where did they go? You can see from the pic they're more than a little sparse for the size of that pita wrap—which was fresh and delicious and plentiful, by the way.

The shawarma spices I'm used to were lacking on the chicken, I think. It was hard to tell because there was so little of it. So let's look on the ingredients at which spices were used to season the chicken. Ah. That explains it: the number one "seasoning" listed is "potato starch." Potato starch isn't really a seasoning by my reckoning. Further down the list I see paprika and garlic powder. That's more like it. Should have loaded the meat up with those a bit more.

On the plus side, however, the chicken was cooked to perfection and wasn't stringy or chewy at all. It was absolutely spot-on texture-wise, which made the lack of seasoning and lack of quantity all the more frustrating.

Also, I must point out that I've never heard of eating cold shawarma before. I guess you could heat the meat in the microwave or something and put it back in the wrap for a hot sandwich kind of deal. There were no heating instructions, and this product was in the area with ready-to-eat cold sandwiches and stuff, so I assume they just want you to eat it cold. It was fine that way, I guess.

This product was good enough that I'd pick it up at another Trader Joe's location just to see if there's the same dearth of meat and greens. The sauce makes up for the lack of shawarma spices in terms of overall flavor, so that's not a deal breaker. I just want my wrap to be full next time. Sonia agrees. Three and a half stars from her.

Three from me.

Bottom line: 6.5 out of 10.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Vegan Tzatziki Dip

I was highly skeptical about this condiment.

I've never been a fan of vegan cheeses. I honestly think I've had more consistently edible vegan fake meat than vegan cheese or vegan dairy in general. Sonia and I both love our dairy products.

Likewise, I love me some tzatziki sauce, so I was curious how this would turn out, curious what they'd use in place of yogurt, curious if they'd be able to mimic both the taste and texture of that unique, tangy Middle Eastern sauce.

Just as I suspected, the flavor is nearly identical to traditional tzatziki, but the texture is somewhat different. The taste is full of dill and tangy citrus flavors, with notes of garlic and pepper in the background. There is a creaminess there, too. But it's not quite like dairy cream. It appears they used an alternative that's made of coconut oil and potato starch. Yikes! That's a weird combo to replace Greek yogurt, right?

But you know what? It works. It works in terms of flavor—somehow it doesn't taste like coconut or potatoes. It really tastes pretty darn close to actual tzatziki.

Now the texture is another story. To me, it's significantly thicker than the traditional stuff. It's a bit starchy, too, but still there's this quality that nearly imitates actual thick yogurt. And in the end, unusually thick tzatziki isn't really bad at all. It's easier to get a bunch of it on your falafel or veggies or pita or whatever you're eating it with. It comes out of the tub in little globs. It's much less runny than traditional dairy tzatziki. It's honestly weirdly good that way. I don't know what the dairy equivalent might be. Like maybe...what if they made tzatziki with cottage cheese instead of Greek yogurt?

Sonia's a big fan. She likes it better than traditional tzatziki and promises she'll buy it again. Four and a half stars from her.

$3.99 for the tub. Although I'm a fan, I can't say it'll replace dairy tzatziki for me completely. If I were vegan or lactose-intolerant, I'd be all over this stuff every time I stepped into a Trader Joe's. Three and a half stars from me and an overall thumbs up.

Bottom line: 8 out of 10.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Trader Joe's Garlic Spread Dip

"Garlic ambrosia."

No, not fruit salad with marshmallows, ambrosia. Ambrosia, as in the food of the gods, ambrosia. Lemme tell ya, she's not wrong. And, as reader DogMaTX pointed out, it's very similar—if not identical—to the garlic spread from Zankou Chicken. Thanks to both of you for the heads up on this product. I feel like at least one other reader brought this to our attention on our Facebook page, as well.

It's a creamy, smooth condiment that spreads like mayo or cream cheese. I'd say the texture is right in between those two, in fact: slightly thicker than mayo, slightly thinner than cream cheese.

And it doesn't fail in the flavor department either. It's garlicky—very garlicky, but simultaneously not overpowering somehow. Where raw garlic brings a heavy staccato "punch" of garlic flavor, this spread causes a gentle "wave" of garlic to wash over your tongue. It's just as powerful, but there's a little bit more of that "mmmm" factor and a wee bit less of that "whoa!" effect.

It's strong enough that you don't need to use a ton on your food, but at the same time, if you do choose to slather it on in great quantity, it still enhances the other flavors and doesn't bury them completely. We had it with tuna sandwiches, pizza, and falafel. I know it will go well with chips, chicken, fish, and other Mediterranean dishes, too. Can't wait to experiment with it. It's a fine addition to TJ's legacy of delicious condiments.

$2.99 for the tub. Vegan. Four and a half stars from me. Four stars from Sonia.

Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Trader Joe's Falafel Mix

It's been seven freaking years since our review of Trader Joe's Heat & Eat Falafel. Seven years. Goodness.

I'll spare you the spiel about how and when I discovered falafel since I covered that in the previous review. Suffice it to say that I like it, and both Sonia and I thoroughly enjoyed Trader Joe's frozen falafel offering. So how does this mix n' fix variety square up? Read on.

Shelf-stable and affordable at just $2.99 for the whole package, this mix can mix it up with the best of them in my humble opinion. The spice level was just about right, and at least when fried, the texture isn't quite perfect, but close enough to justify featuring this product as the centerpiece of a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean meal, as well as repeat purchases in the near future.

Check out the pic of the mix just by itself (left).

 When something looks this much like sawdust, my expectations automatically go down. Not necessarily because it will, in fact, taste like sawdust, but because my overactive, neurotic brain will insist that it is sawdust. Fortunately, the next step—the "just add water" step (right)—looks slightly less like sawdust and more like a gritty, hummussy paste, and the final step after frying looks shockingly like normal falafel.

I feel like the product is just a little more inclined to fall apart while being eaten than other types of falafel, but if it's being served in a pita, that's really not an issue. We had it with pita bread, this excellent Trader Joe's brand tzatziki sauce, and some hummus. It's satisfying and filling, and it's got a nice nutty flavor. Of course, when fried, the extra olive oil helps out with the taste.
We did try making a batch in the oven, too. It's nothing to complain about, and it's a little less calorific that way, although you do have to coat them with oil before baking them. I'm sure they pick up significantly more oil when fried. Frying them also improves the structural integrity of the product somewhat. From the oven, it's just a tad too dry for my taste.

Both preparation methods involved a one hour period for the mixture to set. Sonia thinks the frying would have been a lot simpler with a deep fat fryer, while she simply made them in the skillet.

Sonia insists these turned out better than the aforementioned heat and eat style falafel. I think I liked the heat and eat ones just a mite bit more than these, but we both agree that this product is a better value overall, making three large batches of about nine falafel balls each. The box claims there are nine servings of three balls each. Our serving sizes tended to be larger than just three falafel balls—we ate four or five in a single sitting, but there are easily, at minimum, four to six meals-worth of falafel in the package, even for larger appetites.

Five stars from Sonia. Four stars from me.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Trader Joe's Cauliflower Tabbouleh

Despite my familiarity and affinity for most Middle Eastern cuisines, I've only had tabbouleh once before sampling this cauliflowerized version from Trader Joe's. I remember liking it all right but not becoming obsessed with it like I did chicken shawarma. Nevertheless, the "Levantine vegetarian salad" is very popular among various Middle Eastern cuisines, and is nearly as ubiquitous as shawarma, pita, and hummus in ethnic restaurants here in the US.

I like traditional tabbouleh just a little more than this offering from Trader Joe's, but not for the reasons you might assume. The primary difference between this tabbouleh and one you might find at your local Lebanese restaurant is that they've substituted bulgur wheat with cauliflower, rendering a product that is not only vegan, but also gluten-free. As a result, the taste is slightly less nutty—less bready, if you will. But both Sonia and I agree that the cauliflower affects the texture of the tabbouleh significantly more than the flavor. The whole dish is soft and wet to begin with, and if anything, the cauliflower makes it softer—but it also lends a sogginess to it that might be off-putting to some.

The flavor is nice and fresh, citrusy, and subtly oniony. This dish reminds me very much of pico de gallo, but with cold riced cauliflower mixed in. And like pico de gallo, this tabbouleh can be used with Mexican dishes as well as Mediterranean ones, or it could simply be served with tortilla chips as an appetizer. Tell your guests it's "Mexican-Middle Eastern Fusion," even if it's just because you didn't have pita bread on hand.

That brings me to my next point: like pico de gallo, this product is full of raw tomatoes. I don't remember the tabbouleh I tried long ago containing so many pieces of tomato, but I guess it must have, since they're one of the main ingredients in almost any tabbouleh recipe. I'm not a huge fan of raw tomato, and I'm sure I'd have appreciated the flavor a little more if there weren't so many in there. I did my best to eat around them and pick them out and give them to Sonia the tomatophile, who was happy to gobble them up by themselves or mixed in with the rest of the tabbouleh.

This product works as a side for Mediterranean foods, as a condiment for chicken dishes that might need spruced up, or as a dip for chips, crisps, or pita bread. I'm sure it would do well as a substitute for tapenade—you could surely use it to top off bruschetta. I'd throw this on top of burritos or nachos. Eat it with fish. I could go on...

Accessible to vegans, vegetarians, and the gluten intolerant, TJ's has provided a very versatile dish here. $3.69 for the tub. And yet another Trader Joe's cauliflower product gets the thumbs up from the WG@TJ's team. Three and a half stars from me. Four from Sonia.

Bottom line: 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trader Joe's Shawarma Chicken Thighs

During my days in Hollyweird, California, a Lebanese restaurant called Roro's was brought to my attention by a co-worker. Not only was it affordable and delicious, but it happened to be situated exactly halfway between my apartment and my place of employment. 

I walked to work in those days, so I could easily pop in and out of the tiny hole-in-the-wall establishment without having to battle chaotic L.A. traffic and the tragically undersized and congested parking lot of the building in question, which I fondly referred to as "Satan's Strip Mall" by virtue of its address at 6660 Sunset Blvd—not to mention the apparently demon-possessed folks who frequented the area. 

It was there I fell in love with chicken shawarma. I never got anything else. I ate it for lunch or dinner at least once or twice a week for a number of years.

Since then, I've tried chicken shawarma from a few other places. Each was tasty, but there will always be a place in my heart for Roro's. And if you live in the Los Angeles area, but have no desire to venture into the Dark Land of Mordor, AKA Hollywood, Zankou Chicken is a close second-favorite of mine for shawarma, with locations conveniently scattered about the Southland.

And then there's this stuff from Trader Joe's. I have mixed feelings, as does Sonia.

Flavor-wise this offering lacks the tang of the chicken shawarma that I'm used to. I'm accustomed to shawarma marinated in yogurt with a good bit of lemony zing. Most chicken shawarma recipes you'll find online include a significant amount of lemon juice, and while this product does include "lemon juice" in its ingredients, I think the citrus flavor gets lost under the rest of the spices. And, alas, no yogurt. There's almost an Indian spice flavor here. Maybe it's the turmeric?

It's not a bad flavor. It's just not quite what I was expecting.

The texture is even further from my expectations. This chicken is much thicker and chewier than any shawarma I've ever had. The instructions do say to "slice" before serving—something we neglected to do with our first serving (pictured above). With subsequent attempts, we sliced it as thinly as we could, and I will say that the product works much better with smaller chunks of chicken, particularly when they're mixed with other Mediterranean foods. But still, there's just enough fat or gristle content in most pieces of chicken (at least in the package that we obtained) that it lacks the melt-in-your-mouth perfection of restaurant-quality shawarma.

All in all, the chicken still went well with Trader Joe's Apocryphal Pita and Roasted Garlic Hummus, as well as some tabbouleh. The meal wasn't unsatisfying at all, despite the product's shortcomings. I think I'd have enjoyed it far more if I'd never had good shawarma and lacked any expectations. It could be that TJ's offering mimics Turkish shawarma or some other regional variant of the Middle Eastern dish, while I'm primarily only familiar with the Lebanese version. 

Our package was $6.69, but price will vary by weight. Ours was one of the lowest-priced that we saw. We were able to get about four reasonably-sized servings out of it.

I'll be generous and throw down three and a half stars. Sonia gives it three and a half as well.

Bottom line: 7 out of 10.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Trader Joe's Zhoug Sauce

"Hooray for flu season!" - No One Ever.

Huzzah, Here it is again, flu season. I'm writing this review on Day 6 of a Tamiflu dosing regimen. Normally I wouldn't go that far, but poor Sandy had a confirmed case last week, and with small kids and their germs and whatever else in the house, I ain't taking my chances. We've been spared much of the worst symptoms, but the congestion and coughs and everything else...ugh. The temps pingponging between the 50s and 60s back down to the negatives surely isn't helping. We're also doing some nice home remedies...chicken soup, honey, hot tea, warm bathes, all that stuff...

And you know what else helps with those? Trader Joe's Zhoug Sauce. Seriously.

I'm not gonna sit here and purport to be any sort of zhoug expert. Heck, I don't even know how to pronounce it - zoog? zog? zawwwg? zowg? - and will admit it's my first go around. But apparently it's a pretty common concoction in Middle East cuisine - the package here says Yemen, some online sources seem to tie zhoug to more Israeli roots. Regardless, if I saw zhoug as a menu option somewhere I'd be reluctant to try it, but this TJ's take has me 100% on board with giving it a further try.

What TJ's zhoug seems most to me like is a cilantro pesto sauce with plenty of kick. That's really the other feel of the sauce - oily, herbaceous, and very, very green. No pine nuts or anything like that, though. It's not as overpoweringly cilantro-y as I thought it'd be, must be some conjuring in there somewhere.

Beware though - it's spicy. And that's an understatement. It's sneaky, though. It might not be on your first bite. And maybe not til your fifth or so. But out of nowhere - BOOM. It will get you. If it's enough to get abrupt notice from me, it's potent as all get out. It hit me on the first shot, with subsequent bites not nearly as powerful. Not sure if it's the jalapenos or chile powder or what - it's not a distinct enough of a heat to attribute the sauce, it's just plain HOT.

But yeah - that was a few hours ago at time at time of writing. And I'd be danged if my sinuses don't feel 100% better. Your mileage may vary.

Sandy and I devoured on crackers as a dip, but I think this would be good on most anything. Our dinner tonight was shrimp and cheese raviolis - that would have worked. Eggs, chicken, other noodle dishes, rice, dips, in a wrap - yes to all of those. It needs to be a little more even to score higher, but as is, both Sandy and I are pretty happy to have dropped the $2 on the tub. Give it a try, it's nothing to sneeze at.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Zhoug Sauce: 8 out of 10 Golden Spoons

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 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.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Trader Joe's Dolmas

Generally speaking, the month of January in Pittsburgh sucks. It's even worse this year, with the Steelers woofing the regular season and missing the playoffs, while the band of thugs formerly known as the Cleveland Browns are going to the AFC Championship Game. Ugh. I'm not talking any more about it. It's too depressing. And usually, that's what the weather's like in January out here - gray, cold, windy, days and days go by with no sight of the sun. Usually, it's pretty bad. Seasonal affective disorder? I totally buy into it.

Fortunately, though, Mother Nature cut us some slack this past weekend - sunny, clear skies. Temps in the 60s. Downright springlike, anyone reasonable would say. One of the best things about spring in Pittsburgh is the plethora of Greek food festivals around (lots of Greek Orthodox churches), so the warm weather started me thinking about them. Anything to give you hope, I guess.

So while there were none of those going on, I had to settle for one of my favorite Greek treats, TJ's style, with some Trader Joe's Dolmas. Normally, "settle" is a bit strong of a word, as they've done well with other Hellenic delicacies. But "settle" seems to be about right for these stuffed snackies. There's a lot that's good about them - the leaves are right; while a bit oilier than I'm used to, the texture's also about right - but, I don't know, they lack a little something. Particularly, it's a little lamb. Perhaps I'm a bit spoiled, but I'm used to having lamb meat in my stuffed grape leaves, and these have none. Interestingly, though, the package isn't marked "vegetarian", yet the ingredient rundown lists no meat product, except for potentially in the very vague "spices", which I presume means something like chicken broth in this case. It's an okay attempt - the rice tastes fine, with the right flavorings, albeit without pine nuts - but the word "okay" is about where I start and end.

I could offer Sandy a million drachmas, and she still wouldn't eat one of these, ever. The cold grape leaf wrapper just gets to her and she can't get past it. I hate doing the solo judge schtick, but she'd just give these a zero, and that's not even remotely fair. So, sorry, this is all on me. I'd buy them again for the $3 or so they cost for the teeny bucket of eight, as they taste alright enough and make a decent enough little snack that's relatively healthy enough. They certainly are filling for the two bites you get from each. But, in the end, they just make me a teensy-weensy bit more anxious for spring to arrive with all of its food festival glory. Something like a three sounds about right to me.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Dolmas: 6 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Trader Joe's Heat & Eat Falafel

Growing up in a small town in central Pennsylvania, there weren't a whole lot of food joints around that sold falafel. I think I was aware of its existence at some point in college, but I never tried it until I lived in L.A., where they had Lebanese chicken places all over the city, most notably Roro's and a chain called Zankou. Both restaurants sold falafel. I tried it. Tasty. I'm definitely a fan of the versatile chick pea (garbanzo bean) and I always have been since I discovered them at the local Bonanza Steakhouse salad bar at the age of six.

With falafel, though, the chick peas are mashed up with some choice spices, rolled into little balls and then deep fried. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it...

This particular Trader Joe's variety comes frozen, although I've heard rumors of non-frozen, fresh falafel from TJ's, too. They actually suggest you reheat these frozen ones in the microwave, although the oven is an acceptable method as well. Before I filled my pita pocket with them or put any hummus on them, I just tried one plain. Delicious!

We ate them with Trader Joe's Smooth and Creamy Spicy Hummus. Ah, hummus, another brilliant chick pea derivative. This product doesn't lie. I totally agree that it's smooth, creamy, and spicy—but not too spicy. Just right. The flavors in here mixed very well with the falafel.

The inner circle (you can see it in the photo) is where all the spiciness comes from. There are dark flecks of some kind of peppery stuff in there. I think it's dark matter. I certainly hope all dark matter tastes this delicious, because our universe is quite full of it. If all dark matter is just like this, once we start really exploring the depths of space, let me tell you, we're in for a spicy future...

OK, that was weird. I just got all astronomical on you. Mainly to see if you were paying attention. But also because I needed a little filler to extend this section of the review beyond the photo of the hummus. It never looks quite right when I post multiple pictures in one review...Whatever, I know I'm weird.

Anyway, back to the topic...Finally, we ate the falafel and hummus in these Trader Joe's Soy Pita Bread pockets. Again, the perfect compliment to the other flavors present. Soy pita is just as good as regular pita. To tell you the truth, I couldn't really tell the difference. Maybe because there's almost as much wheat in these as there is soy. They're definitely not gluten-free. Whattaya gonna do?

So to summarize, we have a trio of big winners here. Especially the falafel. And it's all vegetarian. Let's take our final looks:

Trader Joe's Heat & Eat Falafel. Sonia gives it a perfect 5. I give it a 4.5. Bottom line: 9.5 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Smooth and Creamy Spicy Hummus. Double 4.5's. Bottom line: 9 out of 10.

Trader Joe's Soy Pita Bread. Sonia gives it a 4.5. I give it a 4. Bottom line: 8.5 out of 10.

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