Trader Joe’s “Tteok Bok Ki” KOREAN SPICY RICE CAKES


“This dish, a mainstay of Korean street food, begins with cylinders of tender, chewy rice cakes (think mochi or gnocchi) cooked in a spicy-umami, savory and sweet sauce….”

(update summer 2022: its been MIA for awhile (NYC)

I confess when I saw these for the first time in the frozen Asian food section at Trader Joe’s recently I got pretty excited. Because Tteok Bok Ki is a Korean dish that I am pretty crazy about and have eaten plenty of. In case you’re not familiar with it already, Korean “Tteok Bok Ki” (pronounced Tok Boke Kee) is a hugely popular typically Korean dish, comprised of consisting of soft, super chewy rice cakes in a tube shape that are cooked in an addictive spicy, sweet red sauce of Gochugang (Korean red pepper paste), brown sugar, sesame oil, sesame seeds plus other seasonings and it has lots of Umami. So of course I had to try Trader Joe’s version, which says “Product of Korea” on the package. Having now tried it while I can’t say of course that it’s the best I ever had still it’s fairly good and tasty enough to recommend you give it a try. We had it for dinner and really enjoyed it, especially as I fixed it up a bit with a few ingredients (see below). Inside the package are two bags, one containing white rice cakes and bag of sauce which the instructions tell you to thin with a cup of water. I made them in the “Traditional Preparation” style written on the package. I don’t see the point of making the “crispy” style as they will be covered with sauce and not crispy after that.

TIPS: I found that the recommended 1 cup of water they state seems like too much. The sauce came out a little thin and this sauce should be pretty thick, to really coat the rice cakes. So the next time I make these I’ll reduce the water to 3/4 or even 1/2 cup for a thicker sauce. You can always add a few tablespoons of water if too thick. Also be sure to stir quite a bit as it cooks, as this also thickens the sauce from starch released by the rice cakes.

Another TIP: To make it more authentic I added a some things and suggest you should too. At the very least add a few hard boiled eggs which is the way it’s typically served in Korea. Add the eggs into the sauce so they cook for about 5 minutes in the sauce to get a bit imbued with it (cut them in half when you serve). Also, in Korea the dish might have thin “fish cakes” in it. If you have an H-Mart near you, you can get these type of thin fish cakes or other add-ins. As I didn’t have any, I improvised with something I had in the fridge which was some TJ “Baked Tofu”. That kind of worked for texture and another element plus additional protein. I sliced the tofu thinly in the style of those aforementioned fish cakes. I also threw in a bit of fresh cilantro (Pak Chi) and that worked well too for flavor and color. I gave them a little drizzle of Sesame Oil just before serving. Chopped scallions are very typical as well so add some. If you happen to have a box of Gochugang in the fridge, adding in a tablespoon or two during cooking couldn’t hurt for maximum authentic Korean flavors.

The final dish turned out quite tasty and made a nice dinner for two of us along with some good Kimchi – or just make a salad. It was not very spicy. If you add a few things (even just a few hard boiled eggs and chopped scallions) it turns this basic package from a side dish into a lunch or dinner. The TJ package goes for only $3.79 (1 lb). If you get Tteok Bok Ki in a Korean restaurant it could easily cost triple that price, though of course the one you get at a restaurant is likely be better. However if you fix this up a wee bit this can turn out pretty decent. So given how convenient this frozen TJ version is, I will surely buy this again (update: we have already) It’s a real treat of Korean textures and flavors. In future I may get those fish cakes at H-Mart which are optional but will really make this into a more authentic Tteok Bok Ki. I love that Trader Joe’s is carrying more and more Korean foods. Now if Trader Joe’s could only improve their source of the mediocre meh KIMCHI they carry (sigh, its better than nothing). H-Mart has great Kimchi. Just sayin’!

AS-IS the package is GLUTEN FREE and VEGAN.

Optional TJ list for shopping: eggs, cilantro, scallions, toasted sesame oil, baked tofu…

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/tteok-bok-ki-071551

TJ’s CHIPOTLE BLACK BEAN DIP


“A zesty dip with hearty black beans and the smokey kick of chipotle peppers”

UPDATE Spring 2022 : ITS BEEN DISCONTINUED!!

(For the archive…..)

Trader Joe’s CHIPOTLE BLACK BEAN DIP is delicious. I think this could even be one of their best products. It’s one of my favorites in any case and I try to always have a jar in the panty… It’s that good. It matches especially well with tortillas, or any of TJ’s excellent chips especially corn. It matches perfectly with TJ’s Organic Corn Chip Dippers. The Chipotle Bean Dip gets a spicy back beat from two kinds of chiles, chipotle and ancho chiles, which give this a slightly spicy heat level plus a tomato-y undercurrent. This dip is terrific as-is on its own but it’s also good as an ingredient. When I make quesadillas or tacos, I sometimes spread a little of this on the tortilla before cooking them or just serve some on top or on the side when I plate them. Naturally this is way healthier dip to put out for people compared to dips which have loads of calories / fat like a sour cream or cheese based dip. You can even mix a jar of this with a half can of the refried black beans which will make a nice side dish or a less spicy but still tasty dip, depending on the ratio. If you find this dip too thick, just mix in a teaspoon or so of lime juice, vinegar or water and thin it out to your liking. A jar of the BLACK BEAN DIP is $1.99 for 12 oz.

You have to try this dip with TJ’s terrific Organic CORN CHIP DIPPERS (or the Elote cousins) as the thick corn chips with this is a super combination. And AVOCADO of course! TIP – Gussy this up with cheese? Sure. Heat this up and top with grated cheese so it melts. Yum!

INGREDIENTS include: Water, black beans, bean flakes, onion, tomato paste, sugar, sea salt, chipotle chile pepper, ancho chiles, garlic, malic and citric acid, vinegar, spices, smoke flavor ….

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 GREEN DRAGON HOT SAUCE


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Trader Joe’s as you know carries a whole bunch of condiments and sauces, many being outstanding. It has quite a few hot sauces, most of which are VERY good. TJ’s Green Dragon Hot Sauce is one of my favorite Trader Joe’s items, along with Bomba and Peri-Peri and of course ZHOUG).

Now I would easily say Trader Joe’s GREEN DRAGON is a fantastic hot sauce and if you Google it, you’ll find it has many, many fans. GREEN DRAGON has far more fans than the TJ’s Sriracha (which while not bad is nowhere the equal of the original classic Huy Fong Sriracha {red rooster label) IMHO.

Trader Joe’s Green Dragon Hot Sauce‘s ingredients include: jalapeño, tomatillo, garlic, cilantro, vinegar, garlic, lime juice and habanero. It is spicy of course but not blow the roof of your mouth off spicy. This stuff has a lot of lovely flavors going on, it’s not simply “hot”With the above ingredients naturally Green Dragon can be viewed as a type of classic Mexican/South American style salsa. But it works with all kinds of cuisines and foods in particular I find Asian or Asian style food. When I’m making many Chinese or other Asian dishes I tend to use Green Dragon a good deal. Its very floral as it is made from fresh green chiles, herbs and aromatics. Used judiciously this sauce adds flavor to all kinds of dishes with a hint of spiciness. A few drops can go a long way in the flavor department, so you can use it a bit sparingly (unless you love heat, in which case use more of course!) For example a splash of this when you are making eggs, either in scrambled eggs, or on top of fried eggs… It’s great with egg dishes. I even put a few drops on something “boring” like cottage cheese (no really, try this combo on a toasted bagel – or on crackers which I have above) Cottage cheese with some GDS is boring no more. Toast up a bagel, top with cottage cheese, dot with Green Dragon; Thats one yummy breakfast. AVOCADO TOAST? YES! See below for a mini-recipe.

I just put some GDS in a lentil soup I had made and found it was perfect for that too, it added just that little bit of something extra that the soup needed. It is easy and fun to experiment with Green Dragon. Once you start trying it on different things, you will also discover, “umm, that works with this too”. Green Dragon sauce is one of my “always got to have in the fridge” TJ items! I never am without it and I keeps one in the pantry too, as I never want to come up empty. It’s a steal for $3.29 a bottle (18 ounces). In another Gourmet type store, something like this would be six bucks no doubt.

Avocado Toast: mash a ripe avocado up with salt, pepper, a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice then add Green Dragon to taste. Spread the avocado mixture on lightly buttered sourdough toast, a sliced brioche, a bagel, or any of your favorite toast. This is really yummy. Side note – add some into your guacamole, of course that’s also a fantastic match).

Trader Joe’s SWEET CHILI SAUCE


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Apparently this is one of Trader Joe’s most popular products, and not without reason. I know it’s one of my favorite TJ products, on my “gotta always have in fridge” list. As the name says, this is a delicious sweet chili sauce that is pretty much the same traditional Asian sweet and spicy chili sauce you will find at any Asian grocery. It’s both sweet and spicy but not crazy spicy, with a perfect balance of the two tastes plus garlic of course. This sauce is typically served with chicken in many Asian cuisines. I had been buying Chinese brands of this stuff for years whenever I went to a special Asian grocery or supermarket but now Trader Joe’s make a version of it so even more convenient, as we put this sauce on many things though its terrific with most any chicken. If you bought a store cooked rotisserie chicken for dinner, serving with this sauce will that roast chicken 10x as tasty. What else can you use it for. Really anything… Chicken sausages? Yes. Fish? Yes (in fact you can put some on top of almost finished broiled salmon and put it back for a minute for a sweet spicy glaze). Grilled pork. Sure! Eggs? Yes. Get it? Seriously I think there is little this would not be good on, except may ice cream.

Easy dipping sauce for dumplings: a 2 tablespoons of this sweet chili sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a little rice vinegar. Fresh grated ginger if you have it. Easy. Some extra garlic wouldn’t hurt either. Now you have a sauce for all those pot sticker dumplings in the freezer. Dinner in 10 minutes.

A bottle used to sell for only $1.29. Last time I checked it went up to $1.49, not bad. I can’t live without this stuff.

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. It’s SPICY as in knock-your-socks-off level. 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.

This stuff is a must for me to have in the fridge, always.

ZHOUG is a thick green, herbal sauce made from cilantro, jalapenos and 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. 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 Organic Sriracha Ranch Dressing


UPDATE: AUG 2020 – Discontinued during Covid-19!

BALLPARK: PERI PERI & Suzie’s MAYO mixed up in whatever “hot” ratio you can take or like is a workaround I am trying. It’s not exactly the same but pretty tasty!

This is one of those “only at Trader Joe’s” products, or at least I’ve never seen another type of product like this one.

I’ll start by saying one could say I am a little bit of a “Sriracha freak”. I mean I love the stuff, and in general I love “the Spicy” but in no way would I deem myself to be one of those chile-head types who go for sauces with “Death Head” logos on the label.  No thanks.

Me, I want a balance of heat AND flavor. Therefore I love – and I mean LOVE – the original Huy Fong Foods SRIRACHA sauce, which is one of the greatest food products on the planet. Its a product who’s fan’s are legion. I will put it on lots of different things. Still I never tried it on SALAD. So guess what? Sriracha Salad Dressing is actually a terrific idea! And Trader Joe’s Organic Sriracha Ranch Dressing  is a terrifically marvelous unique product.

Its a ranch-style salad dressing, which is very spicy. How spicy? Well in its original version, which Trader Joe’s has changed and toned down since I first tasted it, I would have to use this stuff sparingly, as mere dollops. It was actually far, far spicier than actual Sriracha or most hot sauces for that matter. I used to mix it with some yogurt or mayo to tone it down a wee bit, but that is no longer the case. I’m talking about when it originally came out – a year ago? Can others please confirm this change to tone down the heat? I have a feeling people complained it was just too spicy, and they reformulated it with much less of a heat level. Anyway I just bought a bottle and it doesn’t seem nearly as spicy as it used to be, though it is still spicy, and still very good! Not only is  this ranch dressing good on salad or greens of course but it has many, many more uses on all kinds of foods. You can put a little on the side as a sauce for most anything, for instance grilled chicken, or shrimp, or fish, or grilled tofu, or what have you.

In fact you can use this as an ingredient to cook with it. For instance, try brushing this stuff on chicken which you would bake, broil, or grill. Its awesome on hamburgers, mixed with some ketchup for some homemade spicy “special sauce”. Try a little on some asian style noodles… with some chunky organic peanut butter on top? In fact try this on just about anything you think might be better with some spice to it. You will come up with some interesting tests.

So congratulations on a fantastic product, Trader Joe’s. Some chile-heads might be disappointed that you toned down the heat a bit for mere mortals. (But folks, you can mix some Sriracha sauce with this, if you want it spicier still, or add some cayenne pepper and it will be like it used to be). It sells for $2.99 (16 oz. bottle) which is not bad since most TJ salad dressings are 8 oz bottles?

So try this, its one of those love it or hate it type TJ products! Do I love it? Yes, yes, yes! I’m giving this product a:

RAVE

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By the way, the story of HUY FONG FOODS SRIRACHA and it’s founder Vietnamese refugee David Tran, is one of the best American immigrant success stories there is!

ADDITIONAL LINKS

http://nextshark.com/sriracha-hot-sauce-david-tran-vietnamese/

https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/14-things-you-didnt-know-about-sriracha-including-its-proper-pronunciation

https://www.pri.org/stories/2013-10-22/story-how-one-hot-sauce-huy-fong-sriracha-got-so-hot