Trader Joe’s SHAKSHUKA STARTER (bring your eggs)


RAVE

Ever hear of SHAKSHUKA ? It’s become kind of cool and trendy here. Shakshuka is a popular dish in 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 SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS


 

Trader Joe’s SHAWARMA SEASONING BONELESS & SKINLESS CHICKEN THIGHS

It’s rare that I buy meat or chicken that’s comes already marinated in a package. I normally make any marinade or seasoning I would want myself. But I saw this package of “Shawarma Chicken Thighs” at Trader Joe’s and that sounded a little intriguing to me… ‘cuz I love me some good Shawarma! So I got a package for review. 

The short answer is I liked these a lot, way more than I expected to. The bigger answer is I have bought them a few times since. 

TJ’s SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are deliciously tasty, easy, and very convenient to have in your fridge, as they can stay for a week or more in the unopened package. For convenience’s sake, these are just dandy. Just open the package and throw them in a pan. 

First thing to know, removing the chicken is a bit messy, so be warned. First I used scissors to open the bag, then tongs to pull the chicken out of the bag. Sure you can do it with your fingers but don’t be surprised if they get a bit stained from the annatto and turmeric, as will your cutting board. Pulling the chicken out, you’ll immediately smell the nice spices. Simply blot the chicken a wee bit with a paper towel, and toss them in a hot cast iron or non-stick pan. Other ways to cook them? Under the broiler or on a grill, or bake them in the oven. I think these would work very well to make a great Sheet Pan Supper baked with some veggies. Grilled in a pan or broiled…these thighs can be ready in 15-20 minutes with almost no work.

TIP: You can put some shallow slashes in the thicker parts of the thighs to help them cook more evenly (I even put slices of garlic in the slashes at times… extra fresh garlic never hurts)

I grilled the thighs in a medium hot pan as suggested for about 7-8 minutes per side. I used a black cast iron pan with a teaspoon of olive oil added first. I let them cook without touching or moving them (important!) till they had a very good sear and were a deep golden brown on the bottom. Flip them over and cook for about another 7-8 minutes or so. So in as little as 15 minutes from package till plate, you have can dinner ready, with some sides… So. Really. Easy. If you have the option to grill these on a real grill, with wood or charcoal or course that would be even better I’m sure.

Our kitchen smelled wonderful while I was cooking these from all those nice “Shawarma” spices. The “shwarma seasoning” spices they use are typical Middle Eastern spices. TJ states “…Onion, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and parsley.” Of course you could add even more spices if thats your bag (fresh garlic, some more cumin, or something with a kick?) I frequently always add more spices, such as more ground cumin, a dash of Spanish smoked paprika, and especially fresh garlic. These aren’t spicy so if you want some heat just add some of your choosing. TJ’s Zhough Green sauce goes especially good with these, with a bit brushed on at the very end, and/or on the side after cooking. You can throw veggies in the pan (onions,  carrots, cherry tomatoes…) and cook those up too of course.

When the chicken is cooked to your liking, take them out of the pan, and rest them for about 5 minutes or so, before slicing them up to keep them nice and juicy – and save any nice juices of course and pour over when you serve them. It wouldn’t hurt to hit them with some fresh lemon or lime. A pat of butter is heavenly. They don’t need it but its a nice touch. I could have used a tiny bit less Sodium which is listed a wee bit high in the Sodium count on the package. Still they were not salty especially served with other food, and as I served the chicken over some basmati rice. As mentioned I found these go great with TJs’ “ZHOUG” Yemeni green hot cilantro sauce, which is quite spicy. It matched very well with those Middle East spices. Or even just some greek yogurt and lemon is a nice sauce. Greek Yogurt and Zhough mixed together is wonderful in the ratio of your choosing (spicy or just a little). Chopped fresh cilantro goes great with these if you like it, or just some parsley. You can slice up the chicken and plate with the juices. The nice thing about chicken thighs as opposed to chicken breasts are thighs are much more forgiving. Thighs stay juicy almost no matter what, and are almost impossible to overcook unless you really try hard, unlike boneless chicken breasts which are so easy to overcook so they are dry (mine? never! In a future post, I promise to tell my cooking technique for juicy soft boneless chicken breasts –) DONE: here it is (link)

How to serve the chicken? Any way you wish of course but a great way would be to make this into chicken SHAWARMA wraps of course. Slice up the chicken and put some SHAWARMA Style on some a flatbread, warm pita or TANDOORI NAAN (yes!) or the TJ HABANERO LIME TORTILLAS…. add some chopped veggies (tomato, cukes, shredded lettuce, etc) Then add some sauce, a tahini or yogurt garlic sauce. A bit of YEMENI ZHOUG SAUCE if you can handle the spice! (TIP: You can soften it up mixing with greek yogurt) Wrap it up and you have a Chicken Shawarma. A little messy to eat but oh so good. Your family will love them. Rice on the side, or as a bed is great.

BTW here’s an excellent recipe for a White (Yoghurt) Sauce for Shawarma:

The Best Ever Shawarma White Sauce

The second dish I made with these chicken thighs were to use them in Chicken Tacos and Fajitas. Despite the slight cultural melange, they were actually terrific as Tacos. Did you know that Lebanese migrants had a big part in Mexican food culture (Tacos Al Pastor)? They did! Some Green Dragon hot sauce with it’s tomatillo base made them quite Mexican on the tacos.

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 chicken but not a bad deal. A package can keep for quite some time in the fridge as they are in a marinade (a few weeks) or freeze them. These are excellent to use as the Chicken part of a dish, say a Chicken and Rice (brown the meat with onions, throw in rice, add broth…) I made an Arroz Con Pollo with these and it was terrific!

In sum the SHAWARMA CHICKEN THIGHS are a really good Trader Joe’s product and well worth trying. Would I buy them again? Absolutely, I have regularly. These are a TJ hit. Of course, you are paying a bit for the spices and packaging ($1 a pound?) So if you want to save a little money, naturally just buy chicken thighs and add some middle eastern style spices for a marinade on your own. 

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

  • UPDATE 1- Price increased since I first wrote this to $4.79/lb. (Jan 2021)
  • UPDATE 2 – TJ now sells two other varieties of marinated thighs: HARISSA and LEMON & HERBS

RAVE

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

 

THIS IS WHAT A REAL CHICKEN SHWARMA LOOKS LIKE COOKING ON A HUGE ROTATING SPIT…AND SLICED OFF….(if you ever get the chance, try it!)