The Best Items to Buy at Trader Joe's, According to a Former Employee
When I worked for Trader Joe's, I might have had too much fun trying out the endless lineup of new, exciting kitchen staples (not to even touch on the fun of sampling hundreds of wines) before the rest of the world got to. I love to cook, and I collect new and vintage cookbooks for fun, so every time we got to sample items I immediately started imagining the possible combinations I could try, poring over my recipe notebooks and cookbook collection.
Working for the grocer also meant the inevitable changing of the seasons and discontinuing of some beloved favorites. My list of favorite long-gone products is too long to include (I still miss you, Beet Hummus and Strawberry Coconut Milk Ice Cream). Luckily, there's always something new on the horizon (like these delicious summery wines), and I still get to hype up my favorites that have made the cut year after year. When it comes to my absolute standbys and items that I think elevate any meal, these are the six that my freezer, fridge and pantry are never without.
1. Marinated Quartered Artichokes
There are many days where I eat these briny, herby artichokes straight from the jar. I've known more than a few customers who would drive to Trader Joe's just to pick up their monthly stockpile of these gems. My favorite use for marinated quartered artichokes is tossing them with a bit of crispy pancetta, white beans, pasta and a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese for a dinner that transports me to a faraway Italian trattoria. These artichokes are sure to take your pizzas and pasta salads—and really any salad—to the next level, making you feel decadent and maybe even a little bit fancy. These particular marinated artichokes (and I have tried many!) have that perfect balance between the zip of the vinaigrette and richness from the olive oil. Whatever you do, do not drain away the liquid gold marinade! Combined with that untraceably tasty herb blend, I'm forever siphoning off the dregs of my jar into homemade vinaigrettes and as a makeshift sauce for pasta.
2. Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower
Consider yourself warned: it is very difficult not to eat all this Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower in one sitting. It's also very hard for me to choose my favorite part of this dish: the light sweetness of the tempura-style batter, the nose-clearing spice of the kung pao sauce, all paired with the heft of cauliflower florets? This is one of my ultimate favorite freezer items for topping steamed rice or setting out at a party for a quick appetizer among friends. But don't stop at just tossing these with the kung pao sauce provided; I love whipping up a quick buttery Buffalo sauce to coat these florets for a lighter game-day-style snack.
3. Grainless Granola
I'm someone who loves adding a hint of salt to all of my sweets. I often opt to make my own granola (Samin Nosrat's Olive Oil & Sea Salt Granola recipe from Salt Fat Acid Heat is my forever go-to), because I think most store-bought granolas could stand to be a bit less sweet. But this salty-sweet Grainless Granola makes me more than happy to take a break from my usual homemade mix. Each caramelized cluster is a perfect combination of dried coconut, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds that is begging to top your next smoothie bowl. Plus, it only has 6 grams of added sugar alongside 7 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein per each 3/4-cup serving to help you stay full and energized without a blood sugar spike or crash. I almost can't believe there are no oats or other grains in this hearty, delicately sweet granola. You might start finding yourself, like me, eating this granola right out of the bag.
4. Pastrami-Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon
Having lived in New York for a good chunk of my 20s, I'm partial to a NYC bagel with lox and have yet to find something equivalent outside of the city. But this Pastrami-Style Smoked Atlantic Salmon helps me make tasty lox bagels at home with each smoky bite. The salmon itself is smoked using a mix of wood from maple, oak, cherry and apple trees, which lends a delicate sweetness that pairs well with the sugar and salt brine and blend of pastrami-style spices, like coriander, allspice and paprika. While I of course love this topping a cream-cheese-schmeared bagel, my favorite way to use this salmon is in quick weeknight salmon bowls. Especially paired with a sprinkling of capers, quick-pickled red onions and a spicy Sriracha-mayo mixture, it's a satisfying, filling dinner I turn to over and over again.
5. Sesame Honey Cashews
Meet my No. 1 road-trip snack. I'm nothing without these in my passenger seat (cashews always get to ride shotgun as far as I'm concerned), and they have just that right amount of sweetness without being too cloying (FYI, they have about 7 grams of sugar per 1/4-cup serving). That being said, I have way more of a "salt tooth" than a sweet tooth; to me, these hit the mark around "light breakfast cereal" sweetness and way before "candied mall nuts." They remind me of my favorite childhood cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios, adding a hint of nostalgia to these toasty, nutty, satisfying cashews. They're also amazing when chopped into a granola, for topping yogurt, and I even have been known to alternate a handful of these with a handful of their saltier brethren: the Thai Lime & Chili Cashews.
6. Japanese-Style Fried Rice
With so many new products to pay attention to, a lot of amazing Trader Joe's items get overlooked by customers and crew alike. I always noticed how most customers opted for picking up the classic (and still tasty) Vegetable Fried Rice over this (in my opinion) superior fried rice. What sets this rice apart is its range of surprising textures and flavors. With plenty of shelled edamame, bits of fried tofu and hijiki seaweed, this Japanese-style fried rice lacks for nothing in the flavor department and has a generous amount of protein on its own (8 grams per 1 cup cooked, to be exact). On a busy weeknight when I'm feeling a bit uninspired in the kitchen, I'll top this rice with a yolky, over-easy egg and a generous slash of chile paste, grilled chicken or cubes of Trader Joe's Sriracha Baked Tofu. It reminds my tastebuds of a Japanese-style steak house, though I do wish I knew how to make an onion "volcano."