My New Favorite Trader Joe’s Lunch Takes 2 Minutes to Make

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: ablokhin/Getty Images)

I don’t think I’m alone in the never-ending search for a quick workday lunch that actually resembles a real meal. You know, something beyond a cup of yogurt, leftover pizza, or an apple and almond butter (although that one’s probably the least of all my lunchtime transgressions!).

Because I work from home, one would think that lunchtime should be no problem — I have an entire kitchen and the full inventory of my fridge and pantry at my disposal, after all. But somehow, every day, I still end up scrambling when my stomach pangs remind me it’s time to eat. Plus, there’s always something to be done right after lunchtime, leaving me just a few minutes to throw something together and wolf it down in front of my laptop.

But of course I can accomplish a lot more in the afternoon if I eat something even remotely nourishing, so I’m always on the lookout for a way to add some veggies into the midday mix. That’s why a new (or maybe just new-to-me) salad kit at Trader Joe’s caught my eye recently. Well, actually it was the word “curry” that stopped me as I weaved my cart through the weekend throngs. I love curry, but had never though to put that together with salad. What was this marvelous thing?

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

It was their Yellow Curry Chopped Salad. The cheerful little bag is billed as a “Complete Salad Kit,” and indeed, it contains a salad mix of chopped romaine, red and green cabbage, carrot slivers, and green onion slices; naan chips (naan? Chips? Like if naan and croutons had a baby?); a teeny bag of golden raisins and cashews; and a yellow curry ginger lime vinaigrette. All for $3.99. I don’t usually like pre-made salad dressings, but I had to give this kit a try so I grabbed a bag.

Come Monday when I began my usual scavenger hunt for lunch I found the kit in the fridge. All it needed was some more bulk so that I wouldn’t be ravenous again in two hours. Some rummaging in the freezer turned up a bag of TJ’s frozen falafel that I’d picked up out of curiosity. This is microwavable, true “heat and eat” falafel; not gourmet by any stretch of the imagination, and never going to be crispy like the falafel from my favorite pita shop. But hungry lunch-makers can’t be choosy and the falafel needed only 90 seconds in the microwave.

While they heated up I decided to live dangerously and get a whole second bowl dirty so I could properly toss the salad with the dressing. (To me, that’s the difference in an okay salad and one I’ll actually enjoy eating.) When the two falafels were done, I quartered them and topped the salad and boom — lunch in two minutes.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

The verdict? Look, it’s a salad kit and freezer falafel. Elevated cuisine it is not. But the dressing had a nice curry kick, the veggies were satisfyingly crunchy, and the sweet raisins here and there kept things interesting. It was way better than it had any right to be. I finished my bowl and had it again the next day — this time with a twist. The falafel was a bit dry, so I tossed it in with the salad to get it coated with the dressing, and that definitely made a difference. The third time I made it (yes, when I find something I like, I latch onto it — I have eaten the same breakfast every day for years) I stirred in a spoonful of TJ’s Greek yogurt to the dressing. The creaminess was the tiny little difference that took this from vaguely healthful (I’m not fooling myself with fried falafel, I know, but the vegetables!) to a lunch that feels like a treat. I can see this salad kit becoming part of my perma-list for Trader Joe’s excursions.

If you want to try this, here are some notes.

  • The bag says 3.5 servings. Leaving aside questions of the point of a half serving, there’s no way this makes three-and-a-half lunches. It made two, with a little cabbage mix left over that we used when we needed literally a couple bites of coleslaw for some BBQ.
  • You have to use it up quickly — the most recent bag I bought is only good for a couple days, and looks it, so plan on a one-two punch with back-to-back lunches (or one per person if you share your kitchen).
  • The little bags with the chips, toppings, and dressing don’t reseal so you’ll need some teeny bag clips (I used binder clips in a pinch) to save them for the next day.
  • So that my new favorite lunch doesn’t get boring, I plan to mix up the proteins. Cooked shrimp is high on my list, but to keep this home lunch from costing what lunch out would run, a couple of soft-boiled eggs would also be tasty, or canned tuna if that’s your thing. And I haven’t tried their pre-baked tofu, but I bet that would also be a good addition.

Have you tried this curry salad kit? How do you mix things up?