Trader Joe’s “SPICY JOLLOF SEASONED RICE MIX”


Trader Joe’s “SPICY JOLLOF SEASONED RICE MIX” with dried tomatoes, onion and garlic

There was actually a little controversy across the internet when this product first came out, as some viewed this as a bit of cultural appropriation on Trader Joe’s part. What is JOLLOF RICE ? It’s a very famous African dish eaten widely across parts of West Africa, especially Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and The Gambia. Even in Africa the dish has a little controversy. Whose version is the best? Is it Nigerian or Ghanaian – or Senegalese where it has a different name (Tchebu Jen) ? The dish is considered the national dish of Senegal where it’s Thieboudienne or Tchebu D’jen. (The word “Jollof” is an English variation of the word “Wolof” which means both a language and a people/tribe)

In my lifetime, I’ve eaten many many plates of authentic Senegalese Tchebu D’jen in many African restaurants back in the day when there were a dozen African restaurants on 116th Street in Harlem when the street used to be known as Petit Dakar . I love this dish and variations of it. Taste a real version of this dish if you ever have the chance. An authentic “JOLLOF RICE” (aka Party Rice, aka Tchebu Djen) from Nigeria, Ghana, or Senegal is an amazing dish. It’s complicated to make with a number of ingredients, another reason that Trader Joe’s coming out with this “instant” version caused a wee bit of controversy on the internet. The mix was developed by a Nigerian family here I believe.

Here’s my take. Out of the package, this is a far, far cry from an authentic African Joloff Rice. I fixed it up when I made it. It has some potential if you fix it up to make something better, not close to what your Nigerian granny would make but something semi-OK and better than just making this package as is.

Here’s my suggestions on how to fix this up: In a large pot, put a tablespoon olive oil and butter (you probably don’t have Palm Oil which is best) Stir in a huge tablespoon of tomato paste. Cook for 30 seconds and add a chopped up tomato, 1/2 a chopped onion, 4 cloves of garlic minced. Cook 2 minutes, then add your cooking liquid (water, but chicken or veggie broth would be better). 3 cups as the package says is a lot. I reduced to about 2 3/4 cups as the veggies have water. Add a few carrots and a 1/4 cabbage. Boil for 5 minutes. THEN add the package of this “JOLOFF RICE” mix. Add some Smoked Paprika and as much as you like of some spicy mix of PERI-PERI, BOMBA, or ZHOUG . Once it boils lower to a simmer and cook covered for 20 minutes. Turn off heat. Let it sit 5 minutes covered to absorb all liquids. When you are ready, serve rice with vegetables on the side/top, and serve some of those spicy sauces on the side for people to adjust to their tastes.

Tchebu Jen is made with smoky dried stockfish in the broth and served with fresh fish. I ate it with some fish on top (smoked sardines and salmon) Other ideas are serving this with grilled chicken or maybe grilled SHAWARMA chicken.

TJ’s SPICY JOLLOF SEASONED RICE mix is $2.69 for an 8 oz package.

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/spicy-jollof-seasoned-rice-mix-070883

“Originating in West Africa as far back as the 14th century, Jollof rice is more than just an esteemed and storied dish, it’s a cultural force of its own. It’s served as the inspiration for countless recipes across the African diaspora, including jambalaya and gumbo. It’s even sparked a friendly (if not, at times, heated) rivalry between a handful of nations regarding who makes the best version. If you’ve ever had the chance to try it, you know exactly why it’s remained such a vital part of African cuisine for over 700 years.”

TJ’s Nori Komi “FURIKAKE” Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning Blend


RAVE

PRODUCT OF JAPAN

Trader Joe’s FURIKAKE Japanese multi-purpose seasoning

“Furikake” is so typical in Japan you’ll probably find a shaker of it next to the salt and pepper in most any eatery, as well as on most people’s kitchen table at home. So what is FURIKAKE? Furikake is a seasoning made up of finely chopped dried seaweed (Nori) along with sesame seeds and other flavors (even sometimes tiny whole dried fish!) Japanese will sprinkle furikake on rice to to enjoy the combined flavors, and it is really delicious on rice. However one can use it elsewhere too. Besides trying this on rice, sprinkle some furikake over some grilled fish (salmon!), or chicken, meats, on top of eggs, noodles or a bowl of ramen. It’s really versatile and goes with so many foods, all of which is why Trader Joe’s calls its “multi-purpose seasoning”, it really is. This TJ version of Nori Komi Furikake is a basic version containing sesame and seaweed. In Japan they make lots of kinds with different flavors (like dried salmon and other fish, shiso leaf, green tea, wasabi, sour plum, etc) Here is some on Amazon with 8 different kinds (and its crazy expensive, yikes!)

https://amzn.to/3HSE1V6

You know those times when you have “nothing to eat” in the house?? Well say you at least have rice; eggs and this jar of FURIKAKE… Top a bowl of rice with a fried but still runny egg, and sprinkle a liberal amount of Nori Komi Furikake over everything. Mix it all in with a spoon. Voila! EASY. YUMMY. DINNER. This is a great simple, satisfying dish. You should try it, period. (BTW in Japan where you can get can get super fresh eggs, they even crack raw eggs into the hot rice, aka GohanTamago).

Trader Joe’s Nori Komi Furikake contains: white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, nori (seaweed), salt and kelp powder (yup, more seaweed!) Seaweed of course contains glutamates. Glutamates have “Umami”.

Personally I have to have Furikake in our pantry at all times. A jar will last some time (you can keep in the fridge too). You’ll find it in TJ’s spice section and it is really worth checking out. A jar is $2.49. At a Japanese grocery it would be twice that. Want more info and ideas: check this link, even how to make your own!

TJ’s CERTIFIED ORGANIC THAI JASMINE RICE


New Products: Trader Joe’s ORGANIC JASMINE RICE

Thai Jasmine Rice is wonderful, one of the tastiest kinds of rice varieties out there, alongside Indian Basmati. TJ’s has had regular Jasmine rice for a long time, and that one too is quite good. Recently however they introduced an Organic version if that interests you. The package states it’s CERTIFIED ORGANIC and “Product of Thailand”. Importantly, TJ finally has cooking directions and ratios on the package which seem correct (I have found some printed directions on rice are way off!) On this package they list using a 1:2 ratio, meaning 1 cup rice to 2 cups water and cooking the rice for 15-20 minutes. This is a good starting point for you to use. Now I rinse Jasmine rice very minimally, maybe just once instead of the standard 2-3 time as I want to preserve as much of that jasmine aroma as possible. It’s organic and as far as I can tell, quite clean, you don’t have to go overboard washing this and washing out some flavor. Washing rice these days is mostly about removing excess starch anyway, not cleaning it of debris. Make sure you drain the rice for 10 minutes too in a colander to keep your rice/water ratio on point. If you find your rice too mushy then next time reduce the water slightly. Let it sit too after cooking for 10 minutes. ORGANIC JASMINE RICE $3.49 (2 lb bag)

DIRECTIONS: Bring two cups of water to a boil in a pot with a very tight lid. Add a little salt. Add 1 cup of rinsed, drained rice. Cook 10 mins on medium heat, then reduce heat to the lowest possible heat and continue cooking for 5-8 minutes. Then turn off heat and let it sit for 5-10 minutes with the lid closed. Fluff rice and optionally add a little butter.

BTW where do you store rice? I have taken to keeping it in the fridge if there’s space – otherwise in a dark cool pantry in a zip lock bag.

TJ’s CALROSE RICE (Med. Grain Asian/Japanese)


For years I have bemoaned the fact that Trader Joe’s carried a number of types of long grain rice – Thai Jasmine, Indian Basmati – which are all terrific. However the one thing TJ’s didn’t carry (until now) was short grain (aka “Asian”) rice. Well finally they do! OK technically Trader Joe’s Calrose rice is a “medium grain” rice however the reality is it’s an Asian type rice, grown in California. Seeing this Calrose rice for the first time made me so happy as it meant I no longer have to trek for rice at H-Mart or other Asian supermarkets, lugging a 20 lb bag of short grain rice back on the subway!

So what is CalRose rice exactly? (Cal as in California). See the link below for complete info.

https://www.allrecipes.com/article/what-is-calrose-rice/

Maybe you have seen Kokuho Rose rice, or Nishiki? Both are brands of Calrose rice grown in California for the U.S. Asian rice market. Nishiki is an especially popular brand among Japanese people in the US.

One thing I need to point out however are the directions written on this package need some adjustment. I think TJ’s directions saying “simmer for 30 minutes” is crazy and wrong: cook rice for 30 minutes!?! That’s about twice as long as one normally cooks white rice. If you follow the instructions written on the package I think you will end up with overcooked, mushy rice. See my correct instructions below:

HOW TO COOK CALROSE RICE (on stove top). You need a heavy pan with a tight fitting lid. Wash 1 cup rice gently in one or two changes of water. Drain the rice 15 minutes in a colander. Put drained rice in the pan with 1 1/4 cups of water (ie, a little over 1-1 ratio) with a little salt*. Cover and cook on med. high heat. Set timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes check rice quickly. You should see most if not all of the water gone and a few holes in the rice. Turn heat to lowest setting and cook covered for another 6-7 minutes. After this time, just turn off heat. Don’t open the lid! Leave rice covered 10 minutes. It should be perfectly cooked. You can fluff it a bit with fork or chopsticks. Taste it. If you really think its not done put on low heat for another 4 minutes with a teaspoon of water added. (*I add a little bit of salt to rice however my wife (Japanese/Korean) never adds salt.)

Of course short/med. grain rice is naturally stickier than long grain rice, for one thing making it easier to eat it with chopsticks.

spicy tuna hand rolls

Oh and by the way this Calrose rice is not only for Asian dishes but excellent for other dishes, like Spanish rice dishes calling for medium grain rice, such as paella. You might even try doing a risotto with this TJ rice.

Trader Joe’s Calrose Medium Grain rice sells for $2.49 (2 lb bag ie, 1.25/lb) A typical price these days as rice has gone up in price a lot since a few years ago.

Can you make sushi with this? Yes! Or here’s something way easier than real sushi – serve this rice with Spicy Tuna (with mayo and Sriracha) and sheets of Nori (TJ’s roasted seaweed snacks) and slivers of cucumber for an easy sushi style hand roll. Need a recipe for Spicy Tuna? Here you go!

https://pickledplum.com/spicy-tuna-roll-recipe/

How To Cook Japanese Rice on the Stove (Video)

Trader Joe’s BROWN RICE MEDLEY


(UPDATE: UNFORTUNATELY THIS PRODUCT HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED !

So my original RAVE for this is now a RANT!) See the Comments section below

Trader Joe’s Brown Rice Medley – “A delicious blend of long grain brown rice, black barley and daikon seeds”

This is both healthy and a little bit of an improvement over just plain brown rice. It’s a tasty mix of parboiled brown rice plus two slightly unusual additions – black barley and daikon seeds. Who knew you can eat daikon seeds? I didn’t until discovering this product. We cooked up this rice blend and it got a seal of approval from both myself and my wife as it made an interesting, nutty tasting rice side dish. However I found Trader Joe’s instructions need a tiny bit of modification regarding liquid amounts. I suggest less liquid than they say on the package. So instead of the 2 1/2 cups they state I say try 2 1/4 cups of water or stock (to 1 cup of rice). For a ratio of slightly more than 2:1. Also if using just water, you should add a bit a salt. Butter is a good idea. Letting it sit (without peeking!) at the end for 10 minutes is important so all the liquid gets fully absorbed. Fluff up with a fork when done. Hitting this with a little more butter is a good too. Possibly some chopped parsley? Serve with your favorite main. Its $1.99 for a 1 pound bag. Worth trying. PS If you find it a bit too cooked for your tastes or mushy, the next time you make it reduce the cooking to 30 minutes (instead of the 35 mins written on the package). The brown rice in this has been par-boiled. Normally regular brown rice needs about 45 minutes.

NB: This post has gotten more Comments then any other post! A lot of people have written in to complain about this being discontinued. One reader found it available online (at a pretty steep price though). Read through the Comments for the details

TJ’s CARRIES BROWN JASMINE RICE AND BROWN BASMATI RICE– regular brown rice just takes 10 more minutes as this mix had parboiled brown rice.

HARVEST GRAIN BLEND IS ALSO GOOD AND THEY STILL SELL IT. ONE COULD MAKE BROWN JASMINE RICE AND HARVEST GRAIN BLEND AND MIX THEM TOGETHER.

I did find “DAIKON SEEDS” on Amazon. I don’t see why you couldn’t mix these into brown rice? Here’s a link to the product on Amazon

https://amzn.to/3IOdzxs

DITTO: Black Barley

https://amzn.to/3ceiNq3

Could you mix this up yourself? Might be worth a try!

Trader Joe’s RICE CRACKER MEDLEY snacks


These are very tasty, very crunchy cracker type snacks. I would say these are one of my very top Trader Joe’s products. I usually buy a bag whenever I am there.

A favorite snack food in Japan are SENBEI (pronouced Sen-bay).

Senbei are a variety of snacks made from rice which is baked into a crunchy cracker and come in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors. In Japan there are probably hundreds of kinds. I’ve been to special Senbei shops in Kyoto that are over 150 years old (the shop, not the snacks!)

These “Rice Crackers” that TJ sells are a mixed variety of typical Japanese Senbei snacks. The package says that they are Made in Thailand. If I didn’t see this I would swear these were made in Japan as they are exactly like Japanese Senbei, of which I am really fond of and have tasted plenty!

In the bag are a mixed variety of shapes and sizes as you can see in the photo here. There are both the flat cracker style ones, some short stick type ones, some plain and some coated with “nori” (seaweed). You don’t get more Japanese than these! There are even some of the typical spicy “Wasabi Peas” you probably have tasted, in this Rice Cracker Medley. Every different kind is tasty. My favorite ones are the biggest round crackers, which are a little thick and SUPER crunchy.  Trust me, when I say “super crunchy” you may not believe how “crunchy”, crunchy can be until you eat these. I’m talking LOUD, noises going off inside your head, you can barely hear, turn up the tv 10 notches, that crunchy, dig?

These rice crackers have a great deal of “umami“, the “5th flavor” that Japanese covet, and which every chef in America is currently interested in. These crackers go great with beer, they match well with cheese, or you can just eat them on their own. To me, they’re so good, I classify these as a “dangerous” TJ product – meaning a bag in my house can go really FAST between myself and my wife (who’s Japanese, aha!). I could almost eat a whole bag (but I don’t). If you try these you will probably also love them, and want to buy them every time you visit TJ’s. A bag costs $2.29, not a bad deal.

Trader Joe’s Kimchi Fried Rice


 

TJ’s Kimchi Fried Rice

Disclaimer: I only tried this at the Sample Station. In fact I confess the Sample Station is the locus where I usually gravitate to almost immediately after I enter Trader Joe’s. I check out if they have something interesting to taste that day, and of course to grab myself a little cup of free coffee. Don’t you? Truly the Coffee Station is one of the best things about Trader Joe’s, isn’t it? Every supermarket should copy them; going shopping would be much more fun.


Kimchi Fried Rice is a fairly new item and TJ’s seemed to be promoting it quite a bit. Recently it was the product “on sample” 2 or 3 times that I had been to TJ’s of late. What I found funny was they had a sign next to the samples: Its said something like, “Warning: Spicy! Try at your own risk! If you can’t take spicy food, be careful!” Then I tasted it and my first thought was “Huh? This is spicy?”. Seriously to me it was about as spicy as baby food (I can take the heat). I started discussing this disconnect of the “WARNING” sign with the TJ employee who was in charge of the Sample Station at the time. He was of the same opinion – the Kimchi Fried Rice is not spicy at all! He cracked me up when he told me however how many people actually complained “Jeez this is so spicy” after they tasted the Kimchi Fried Rice on sample. So many that they put up the “warning, spicy” sign!

So here is what I thought after tasting the Kimchi Fried Rice. My wife is Korean-Japanese. So I knows me some Kimchi Fried Rice (the authentic Korean kind). I adore it. I can even cook a decent version myself. So if I compare that taste to this stuff, I just have to say this is a pretty bland, insipid version. The two times I tried it was soft and fairly mushy, plus it had barely any kimchi taste; To me, its flavor profile was just weak, which I attribute to an industrial production of such a “homey” dish. For one, truly Kimchi Fried Rice needs real garlic flavor, as well as Kimchi. This barely even had any garlic nor Kimchi flavor for me. The real thing is a fantastic dish, and this? Frankly to my tastes perhaps it would be suitable for babies (ok maybe Korean babies). Now having said that – Trader Joe’s does have a decent “ethnic” fried rice. TJ’s JAPANESE FRIED RICE is actually pretty good. In my years,  I’ve eaten tons of both Kimchi fried rice and Japanese fried rice and know what these should taste like, and I can cook decent versions of both.

So, sorry Trader Joe’s but in my opinion your KIMCHI FRIED RICE is a big miss!

If you try it, also try the JAPANESE FRIED RICE next time and see which you prefer. Pretty much same as TJ’s another new “Korean” addition, Trader Joe’s Kimchi, which I found such a poor product I actually “returned” it! Perhaps those who don’t live in a city where you can buy real kimchi sold at a Korean market, might think “so this is kimchi, tasty”.  Actually if you had real Kimchi you would know this stuff is not even close to being as tasty as a real Korean-made kimchi – for example this brand (Tobagi) of Napa cabbage kimchi I get at H-MART supermarket on 32nd Street (Manhattan’s Korea Town). If you A/B taste tested this prepared kimchi vs. the Trader Joe’s version? It would be almost a joke, its just no comparison! Anyone who’s been to a Korean restaurant will know the real taste of kimchi. At $1.99 (10 oz) you can try TJ’s version and see for yourself. Let me know what you think.

RANT

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean...

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean cuisine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)