Seven heavenly frozen meals
Tufts Dining may be rated as some of the top college food in the country, but sometimes we all need a break from the regular rotation of dining hall options. Cooking is almost impossible in most of the dorms on campus and so that’s where frozen food comes in. I spent pretty much my entire freshman year exploring the different possibilities for food I could make with nothing more than a microwave and I came to one conclusion: Trader Joe’s frozen foods are the only way to go. They’re cheap, Trader Joe’s is located just one T-stop away, and most of the dishes are really quite good. That being said, I have certainly developed a list of favorites. Here are my top seven (in no particular order).
Channa Masala, $2.29
When it comes to Indian food, Trader Joe’s rarely disappoints. Channa masala is a vegetarian-friendly and gluten free dish of chick peas, tomatoes, peppers, onion, cilantro and spices. The sauce can be a bit runny so it’s good over rice, but I’ve eaten it plain many times as well. The dish is nicely spiced and packs a low level of heat.
Spicy Shrimp Bao, $3.29 for six
Much better than the cha siu bao (Chinese style pork buns), the spicy shrimp bao are as good as it gets for frozen buns. They are most tender and fluffy when steamed on a stove top but are still very good in the microwave. The texture of the bun itself isn’t as incredible as those that are freshly baked, but it’s still delicious. The filling is a wonderful mixture of shrimp, Thai basil and hoisin sauce with just a hint of spice.
Aloo Chaat Kati Pouches, $2.29 for two
An Indian take on Hot Pockets, this might be my favorite Trader Joe’s item at the moment. The complexity of flavors is best retained when you bake these in the oven, but microwaving works as well. A flaky crust reminiscent of samosas holds together a combination of potatoes, chick peas, chaat masala and tamarind chutney (so yes, this is a great vegetarian option!). The combination of the chaat masala and the sweet and tangy chutney is truly delicious. This is probably the spiciest item on the list but the heat doesn’t overwhelm the flavors at all.
Handcrafted Cheese and Green Chile Tamales, $2.29 for two
These tamales are definitely the best that Trader Joe’s has to offer in terms of frozen Mexican food. The masa dough is excellent for being frozen and rivals some of the fresh versions I have had. The filling is simple but perfect: creamy monterey jack cheese with green chile that has just enough bite to cut through the cheese. There are other flavors as well (beef and chicken and cheese) but I am so enamored of the vegetarian option that I have yet to try them.
Mandarin Orange Chicken, $4.99 for five one-cup servings
This dish tends to make it to the top of “best of” Trader Joe’s lists for a reason. You can make it in the microwave, on the stovetop or in the oven (for best results I would recommend the oven). The chicken is restaurant quality and not over-breaded while the sauce has a hint of sweet and plenty of sour orange flavor. It’s also great with a few red pepper flakes sprinkled in.
Vegetable Masala Burgers, $2.49 for four
You may be recognizing a theme here with the amount of Indian food on my list but that’s because it’s really Trader Joe’s specialty when it comes to frozen food. The vegetable masala burgers are billed as a hamburger substitute but I have always just eaten them plain. It is a delicious combination of potatoes and other vegetables They aren’t quite hearty enough to eat without anything else as the channa masala is, but they are filling. The spicing is superb and I love the crispiness on the outside if you pan fry the burger (although once again, microwaving is an option!).
4 Almond Croissants/4 Chocolate Croissants, $3.99 for four
Although my intentions with this list were to share Trader Joe’s best microwaveable meals, I couldn’t leave these off my list. I’ve never been to France, but Food Network’s Melissa d’Arabian says that they are the closest she has found to those she would eat for breakfast in Paris. These unfortunately can’t go in the microwave, but they are very simple to make. Pull them out of the freezer the night before, let them rise overnight on a cookie sheet and then pop them in the oven in the morning. The result is flakey, buttery and delicious without being greasy at all. You can’t go wrong with either filling. My favorite is the almond, but I’m a sucker for anything with almond paste. The chocolate is also great: dark and high quality. There’s no better way to start your morning and with a bake time of 15-20 minutes and no prep time these croissants can’t be beat!
Cover photo source.