Trader Joe’s GREEK CHICKPEAS with parsley and cumin


Absolutely great pantry item. For out of a can, this is really tasty. Trader Joe’s describes this as kind of a “deconstructed hummus” as it has many of the same ingredients in it as hummus does. In fact I served it alongside with hummus and even put some of this on top of the hummus which is a typical serving style, to have some whole chickpeas on top. The flavors in this are really good, they have lemon, parsley, cumin, garlic and black pepper and the seasonings have permeated inside the chickpeas so they are way more tasty than if you just poured on sauce. My only small complaint is they used soybean oil instead of olive oil to cut costs. However this is easily fixed with some of your EVOO. I poured off most of the sauce and added a nice glug of good Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which did improve it. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice too while you are at it, which will brighten it up so it tastes like you made it yourself. This would be great for say a picnic too. We ate it as a side dish with some Falafel. Good match. Or add a can on top of salad to add some bean protein.

A can is $1.99. PRODUCT OF GREECE.

I would buy this again.

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/greek-chickpeas-with-cumin-and-parsley-060205

Trader Joe’s ROASTED GARLIC HUMMUS


Of all the different kinds of hummus Trader Joe’s sells, I wanted to try this one for awhile. When I finally tasted it, I was very pleasantly surprised at how good it is. In fact the ROASTED GARLIC HUMMUS just became my new favorite of all the hummus I tried. It just has that little extra something from the roasted garlic which makes this a standout for me. It’s delicious and has just the right amount of the mellow roasted garlic flavor that blends perfectly with but does not overpower the overall flavor of the hummus. It was $1.99 for years but has gone up to $2.29 (8 oz) Yes, all of TJ’s hummus has gone up, sigh! Try this with TJ’s PITA CHIPS which are go great with hummus or eat the hummus with your favorite chip, crackers, or warm naan or pita bread.

NEED SOME SERVING IDEAS….?

Trader Joe’s SHAKSHUKA STARTER (bring your eggs)


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Ever hear of SHAKSHUKA ? It’s become kind of cool and trendy in the US. Shakshuka is a popular dish all over the Middle East and North Africa, consisting of peppers and onions in a spicy tomato sauce in which eggs are poached in the sauce. Eaten with fresh pita / bread, it can be breakfast, lunch or dinner! It’s delicious and one currently see’s it in trendy restaurants around the US.

In this version found in TJ’s frozen section they have come up with a “Shakshuka starter” kit meaning this is the base sauce to which you add at an egg or two to finish it, and possibly some other things optionally. I took the package, ran some hot water on the bottom to loosen it up and then slid the contents into a pan (personally I like to cook with fire, I’m not big on microwave). I used my trusty, small black cast iron pan. Add 2 tablespoons of water, cover the pan and cook for about 6-7 minutes till nice and bubbly. When ready, make indentations with the back of a spoon, and carefully slide the eggs into the depressions. If you are talented, you can crack your eggs directly in. If not crack them into a little cup first, then pour them in. Whatever you do try not to break the yolks. The runny yolks will be important to the final dish. Put a cover back on the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Ideally we want the yolks runny. Well at least I do. I also added some cubes of Feta Cheese sprinkled around the top before covering the pan, which adds some great flavor.

Take off your cover and tuck in. You can bring the pan to the table and eat it right out of the pan – typical for shakshuka – or carefully spoon it with the whole egg onto a plate. Drizzle on some very good virgin olive oil, maybe add some chopped parsley, and break the yolks so they run all over. Mop up the eggs and sauce with a spoon and lots of bread like Pita bread (or Naan). This amount is only 9 oz, so say one portion. So you should probably make one for each person. YUMMY!

OPTIONS: you can sauté up some more red peppers and garlic in olive oil if you like and add them in. As noted, cheese such as FETA is very nice addition too. Something spicy like HARISSA, BOMBA, OR GREEN DRAGON sauce to give it some kick is a must IMO. This is not spicy as is. It’s only $1.99. Worth a try.

Here’s a NY Times piece on Shakshuka by Melissa Clark with her recipe (may need registration to read)

Trader Joe’s ZHOUG SAUCE (SPICY!!!!)


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Trader Joe’s ZHOUG SAUCE is a deliciously spicy traditional Yemeni / Middle Eastern green hot sauce. When they describe it on the package as “very spicy” in this case TJ’s is not kidding. This is VERY SPICY, as in knock-your-socks-off level of firey heat. So if you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen –  however you can “tame” Zhough a bit easily as I mention later and still enjoy it in moderation for a great flavor addition.

ZHOUG is a thickish super green, herbal paste made from cilantro, jalapenos and red chile flakes, wonderfully seasoned with garlic, cumin and cardamon. Zhoug sauce is simply one of the the most bloody wonderful and unique condiments you may ever taste. I’ve put it on just about everything you can think of…chicken, tofu, eggs, fritattas, pasta, fish…. you name it. You can’t go wrong with this on just about anything you put it on, it will make you smack your lips, oh yeah yum, wow. I suspect it would be good on shoe leather. Now, you will probably use this in small amounts, just a few dashes, as its so spicy, and a little goes a long way, especially as-is out of the box.

Frankly this was even a bit too spicy even for me, kind of a rare statement. So unless you are a total chile-head, capsaicin obsessed, death-head sauce freak, you might even want to “tame” this sauce a tiny bit, as I tried and did easily. I just added some olive oil and lemon juice to cut down the heat ever so slightly by dilution. It was still excellent this way. I also use it mixed into greek yogurt (or regular yogurt) with great success. Yogurt and Zhoug are a very good combo and make a wonderful, easy creamy green Zhough variation. Adjust the ratio of yogurt to zhoug till its perfect for your personal taste. I actually like the Zhoug tamed a wee bit. As is out of the container just a few small dollops is enough to make your mouth on fire. Again if you’re a chile-head,  you will love it, so pour it on.

You will find TJ’s ZHOUG SAUCE in the refrigerated section, in an 8 oz container which is $2.99. Frankly this is a steal (but don’t tell TJ’s lest they raise the price) Seriously you should try this. Its a Top-10 TJ product IMO. It’s carrierd in the refrigerated section.

ZHOUG matches wonderfully with grilled SHAWARMA CHICKEN!

And if you want to try your hand at making ZHOUG yourself here’s a DIY recipe for it I found online

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/diy-trader-joes-zhoug-sauce_n_5b96758ce4b0511db3e480d0

 

Trader Joe’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS


Trader Joe’s SHAWARMA SEASONING BONELESS & SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGHS

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(update: still a Rave but a Rant for price increase since I first wrote this from 4.50/lb->$6.50)

I rarely buy meat or chicken already marinated and packaged. I normally just make whatever marinade or seasoning I want. However when I first saw TJ’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs it caught my attention mainly because I so love Shawarma, I decided to give this a try.

In short, not only did I really like TJ’s Shawarma Chicken Thighs more than I expected to, the fact is I liked it so much I have bought it again and again. Super tasty. So if you don’t want to read this whole piece and just want to know if these are worth buying, the answer is yes. If you want to know more, read on dear reader.

SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are quite flavorful, having been deeply imbued from the “Shawarma spices” used which include: “Onion, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, turmeric, annato, parsley, lemon, vinegar, rosemary…”

These are convenient to have and easy to cook. Pretty much just toss them into a pan to grill, and in less than 20 minutes you can have a tasty dinner ready with the addition of a few sides (rice/grains, veggies, naan?) The unopened package can easily stay a week or so in the fridge. They state much longer but personally I find TJ’s “good until” dates are way too generous. Naturally one can also freeze the package. If you do, I suggest a slow 24 hr defrost in the fridge.

Upon cutting the bag open (*carefully!) you’ll immediately smell those nice Middle Eastern “Shawarma” style spices used. *Be warned: turmeric and anatto in the marinade stains everything it touches so I recommend using tongs or a fork to remove the chicken. Your fingers and your cutting board will get stained orange (you can clean board with diluted bleach solution, and just wash the fingers). Any fat you see still on the chicken will melt off during cooking and it keeps the meat moist so I don’t trim it. I do put a few shallow slashes in the thickest parts of the thighs to help even them out with the thinner part to cook more evenly. You can blot the chicken a bit with a paper towel to dry them off (optional). I actually sprinkle on a few more spices (Smoked Spanish Paprika, Everyday Seasoning, Ajika, another sprinkle of ground cumin, etc) as more dry spices on the surface will make it brown up even more.

Chicken cooked halfway, with added onion and garlic
Cooked, sliced up and put back in the pan (with some arugula)

COOKING: I usually grill the chicken in my cast iron pan (or use a non-stick pan). I add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil (or oil/butter mix as the butter adds flavor and browns well). Your kitchen will smell great cooking these from all those nice Middle Eastern spices. Cook on medium for 7-8 mins until deeply browned on one side, then turn. TIP: I let the thighs cook without touching or moving them until they get a really nice sear (as you can see in the picture) Optional, but added sliced onion and garlic about half way will make for great additions for the chicken (and possibly green/red/yellow peppers).

When first side is done, flip and cook another 6-7 minutes. If you can grill these on a real grill with wood or charcoal of course they would probably taste even better. Baking in the oven can work too for 20 minutes on high. You could even bake this as a Sheet Pan Supper with veggies for an easy one-pan dinner.

This marinade is not spicy so if you want a little heat just add something like Bomba or Zhoug goes especially well with these, with a bit brushed on at the very end and/or served on the side after cooking. Cooking veggies in the same pan on the side (onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes…) is good and tasty.

Broiling? I tried cooking the thighs this way once but they gave up a lot of liquid that collected at the bottom of the pan so I kind of keep my pan grilling as preferred method which seems to seal in juices. Chicken thighs are great because they are harder to overcook – unlike boneless breasts which can dry out easily (side note – you can check my method for juicy boneless chicken breasts –) : (juicy chicken breasts).

Shawarma chicken, served on TJ’s Garlic Naan with Tzaziki, and veggies. Super yummy!!

When the chicken is done, rest them 3 minutes before slicing them up (resting meat keeps it juicy). Put the sliced chicken back in the warm pan with any cutting board juices and mix with the grilled onions if you made some. Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or arugula perhaps for color plus a squeeze of lemon are good.

SHAWARMA SANDWICH ASSEMBLY – warm your naan or pita. Place some chicken down the center, top with sauce (TJ’s TZAZIKI sauce is perfect). Top with veggies. To eat, fold gently and eat like you would a taco, or just use a knife and fork

As mentioned I find these go great with TJs’ “ZHOUG” spicy sauce which matches well for a Middle Eastern flavor. Or mix Greek Yogurt and Zhoug together 50/50. You can serve the chicken many ways but sure a great way of course would be as a SHAWARMA wrap with Naan or other flatbread. Use flatbread, warm pita or TANDOORI NAAN (it’s perfect for this) or even TJ HABANERO LIME TORTILLAS as a wrap …. add chopped veggies (tomato, cukes, shredded lettuce, scallion, parsley…) Top with sauce, a tahini or yogurt garlic sauce (tzaziki sauce worked great). A little messy to eat but oh so good. Your family will love them. Basmati Rice on the side, or as a bed, would be a great match with this.

Another one: this a DIY version from scratch on whole wheat pita bread with sauce and veggies

Shopping list : Shawarma Chicken, Tzatziki, Naan or Pita, onion, garlic, veggies…..

The second dish I made with these chicken thighs was to use them for Chicken Tacos / Fajitas. Despite the cultural melange (middle east and mexico) these work great for Tacos. Sidenote: Of course you already knew Lebanese migrants had a big part in Mexican food culture and created the famed Tacos Al Pastor, right? Green Dragon hot sauce with it’s tomatillo and cilantro flavor made them perfectly Mexican on our tacos.

(note: price has gone up a few times since I wrote this!): TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are $4.49 a pound* The 1.5 lb package I bought was just over $6 and I got two meals out of it, with sides, so more than if you just bought plain chicken but not a bad deal. These are excellent to also use as the Chicken part of a dish, say a Chicken and Rice (brown the meat with onions, throw in rice, add broth, cook 18 minutes…) I made an Arroz Con Pollo kind of dish with this and it came out terrific! So TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are a good product and worth trying. These are a TJ hit. If you want to save money, naturally you could buy chicken thighs and add your own blend of “middle eastern style” spices for a marinade and leave it for a few days in the fridge.

(LINK) TJ’s ARCHIVED INFO PAGE FOR SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS

DIY SHAWARMA – IT’S CERTAINLY POSSIBLE TO MAKE THIS YOURSELF FOR LESS . Buy boneless skinless thighs and marinate with yogurt and shawarma spices (from 2 hours to up to 3 days) “Middle Eastern spices” – Ground cumin, fresh and/or dried garlic, onion salt, turmeric, black pepper, Ajika, Zhoug, Hatch Flakes... DIY Shwarma style chicken will be really good as well!

SHAWARMA SPICE MIX BLEND RECIPE here: https://mayihavethatrecipe.com/crazy-good-shawarma-spice-mix/

(LINK) Here’s A Recipe I found on TJ’s site with these for Shawarma Chicken Rice Soup

TJ’s sells other varieties of the marinated chicken thighs: HARISSA and LEMON & HERBS. Personally I found these other flavors aren’t as good as the SHAWARMA version. For one thing, they are way too wet) and I won’t buy either again.

AUTHENTIC CHICKEN SHAWARMA COOKING ON A HUGE ROTATING SPIT. MEAT THEN SLICED OFF. If you ever get the chance, try it!

TJ’s WHOLE WHEAT COUSCOUS


I always keep a box of this TJ Whole Wheat Couscous in my pantry as it’s incredibly fast and easy to make staple, quicker to make than for example rice or even pasta. It’s versatile, healthy, and tasty. Couscous (“koos-koos”) is a pasta-like grain made from wheat that is a staple in the North African cuisines of Algeria and Morocco. It’s even part of Sicilian cuisine!

Couscous is generally made out of semolina wheat. Trader Joe’s sells this whole grain version made from whole durum semolina. The box says PRODUCT OF FRANCE (yeah baby!) The French love couscous. I have lived in Paris where they have couscous restaurants almost like we have pizza places as there are so many people of Algerian and Morrocan origin.

One of the reasons I love couscous, is it its so fast and easy to make. It is ready in 5 minutes. Here’s the basic method: Put a cup of water in a pot. Bring it to a boil. Add Salt and Butter (or olive oil) Dump in a cup of this couscous (1-1 ratio). Turn off the fire, cover the pot, and let it sit for five minutes, then fluff it up with a fork. Thats it, done!

You can use couscous as a side dish, as you would rice or pasta. It really soaks up sauces or stews. Use it as a “bed” for your Main and add a bit of sauce on top. It’s a great base for a “protein bowl”. You can do other things as well with it like serve it as a salad or make a super healthy couscous tabouli salad hot or cold. A box of Trader Joe’s French imported Whole Wheat Instant Couscous sells for only $1.99 for 500 grams, (a bit over a pound). This is an excellent product to always keep on hand in your pantry and tryHere are some links related to peruse.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/simple-couscous-recipe-2355404

http://www.chefday.com/couscous-merguez

http://www.cliffordawright.com/caw/food/entries/display.php/id/58/

https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/232205/whole-wheat-couscous-tabbouleh/

https://food52.com/blog/22956-sicilian-couscous-alla-trapanese-recipe-history-behind-it

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