The $4 Trader Joe’s Find That Actually Gets Me Excited to Eat Salads
I get excited by many things in life: lobster rolls dripping with butter, my mom’s crispy fish cakes, the ability to sleep in past 6 a.m. Salad, unfortunately, is not one of those things. Trust me: I have tried. I know the benefits of roughage! But when the lunchtime hour rolls around, my hunger pulls me towards a soft baguette or a bowl of noodles over a fresh salad every time. My rationale is that if I’m going to spend time in the kitchen, I want something hearty and satisfying, and many salads of my acquaintance tend to be sort of … sad.
There is one exception: Northstar’s inimitable Uptown Salad, made at a local cafe here in Columbus, Ohio. This salad is an actual institution around town. After a friend moved away, she would occasionally text me to ask, “Have you had the salad recently?” as if we were talking about a long-lost friend. The salad has a whopping 10 ingredients (we counted), including roasted chicken, goat cheese, avocado, chickpeas, and, the best part of all, croutons.
Oh my, the croutons. It actually feels a little sacrilegious to call them croutons. Instead of the thick, sometimes-stale cubes of bread you find in restaurant salads, these croutons are incredibly thin, crispy, and coated in herby butter. They make me feel as if I were eating something truly substantial (although, of course, with 10 ingredients, this isn’t exactly a light salad). When I called the restaurant to wax poetic about the croutons, the poor employee took mercy on me and revealed that they are made from the restaurant’s homemade focaccia.
I haven’t come around to making fresh focaccia croutons yet, nor do I think I’ll really ever need to. While browsing Trader Joe’s one sleepy Sunday morning, I came across the Fig & Olive Crisps. I’ve served them before at dinner parties with a big smear of goat cheese on top, but on this visit, I looked at them with new eyes. The crisps’ shape and texture looked similar to the Northstar croutons, and I couldn’t help but think the fig and olives might add a sweet-savory flavor that harkens back to my beloved salad.
When I brought them home, I immediately flung the contents of my vegetable drawer onto my counter and began putting together a colossal salad with greens, chicken, Parmesan, and, of course, a healthy scatter of Fig & Olive Crisps. I actually like to break them up a little for maximum salad coverage. They add a delicate, lightly sweet and briny flavor, giving a lovely complexity to the salad. One bite, and I was convinced. Salad can be worth making at home (and eating) — if you have the right croutons. The crisps add a touch that’s unexpected and special enough that I could even see myself serving the salad at a summer gathering for guests.
Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Fig & Olive Crisps, $3.99 for 5.3 ounces
What Trader Joe’s find do you toss in your salads? Tell us in the comments.