My first encounter with Trader Joe’s was through a beautiful care package sent years ago from Northern California by a dear friend. I do not remember any of the goodies she sent me except one: The Comodyne Oat Towels, the best make-up remover on planet earth! Soon after, I started my frequent business trips to San Jose and going back to Trader Joe’s to pick up more of my Oat Towels was a mere necessity. What would have been a simple errand run on my first stop in this store turned into a memorable experience. The place instantly filled me with a sense of comfort, curiosity and community. A grocery store like no other, Trader Joe’s is even easier to love and enjoy with this one brilliant idea: A cookbook and shopping handbook designed specifically for it.
Deana Gunn is the co-author of two books, Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s, the main cookbook and The Trader Joe’s Companion – A Portable Cookbook, for carrying with you to the store. She is also my cousin and my friend. Yet it was more than a year after I knew about her books before getting my own copies, and now I wish I had not waited so long. With all the cookbooks we have, I did not think we need yet another one – but there was often the frantic rush to 3 or 4 different stores to pull together everything we needed for most of our recipes. Naturally, with these recipes, we need only to visit one store, the one and only Trader Joe’s!
What sets Deana Gunn and co-author Wona Miniati’s books apart from the mass of other cookbooks out there? First and foremost, it is specifically made and tailored for the Trader Joe’s lover. If that’s not enough, I will give you my Top 10 Reasons for having the recipe book in my kitchen and the companion on the go:
1. Authenticity: The source is reliable. I know of the genuine effort, labor and sweat put into these books, into each recipe and each creation.
2. Professionalism: The photos are professional and show the exact final results.
3. Variety: The Fusion recipes from all over the world, from Ethnic to European to American classics, ensure there is something for all palates.
4. Simplicity: The recipes are easy to make and the clear instructions are, from our repeated experience, super easy to follow.
5. Vegetarian Options: Many, many vegetarian and a few good vegan recipes, all of which do wonders for a light yet satisfying meal
6. For Everyone: No previous cooking experience necessary and no fancy “chef” language used.
7. Ready to go Ingredients: Most vegetables and some fruits are pre-cut and pre-washed at Trader Joe’s so you will use exact amounts and spend less time preparing them.
8. Persian Touch: True to her heritage, Deana included Persian recipes here and those tested are heartily approved by her picky Persian cousin, me!
9. Gourmet at Ease: A gourmet touch and twist to each recipe, without the added burden of 3+ hour usual preparations.
10. Affordability: Trader Joe’s has many advantages to other stores, but a main one is the great pricing of all their goods.
We have been having heaps of fun with the recipes. To share a flavor from the books, I have chosen two of our favorites to show case here, a Persian recipe and a Greek recipe. The books, while very similar, do have some different recipes and compliment one another very well.
Recipe 1: Persian Green Bean Rice
Well, it is no secret that I am in love with Persian food, and luckily, did not have to work too hard in instilling that same love in my husband. The main cookbook just happens to have his favorite Persian food, Persian Green Bean Rice, or in Farsi, better known as “Loobiya Polo” – Loobiya literally meaning green beans and Polo meaning rice (Take note that Farsi is sufficiently confusing as usual, since pollo means chicken in both Italian and Spanish but I digress!). In fact, the rice preparation comes out in ideal gourmet Persian style and this Loobiya Polo is vegetarian to boot.
The ingredients and cooking instructions direct from the book pg. 67, courtesy of Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati:
i. Ingredients: 2 cups basmati rice, 1 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp butter, 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 lb (3 cups) green beans, washed and cut to 1/2-1 inch lengths, 1 clove garlic, pressed, or 1 tsp jarred Crushed Garlic, 1 (14.5-oz) can Fire Roasted Whole Tomatoes, diced, half drained, or plain canned diced tomatoes, 1 tsp cinnamon and 1/2 tsp Spanish Saffron (we used Persian Saffron!)
ii. Cooking Instructions:
1. Place saffron in a small cup; add 1 Tbsp hot water and stir. Set aside.
2. Rinse rice in water and drain. Place rice in a large pot, and fill with at least 8 cups and 1 tsp salt. Turn the heat on and once boiling, boil for 4 minutes. Rice should be tender to the bite but won’t be fully cooked. Drain in a colander.
3. While rice is cooking, add 1 Tbsp olive oil to a large skillet and add green beans, garlic, diced tomatoes and cinnamon. Stir lightly until combined. Cover and cook for 10 minutes.
4. Put 1 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp olive oil in the pot you used for the rice, and place it on medium heat. When the butter is melted, put 1/4 of the rice on the bottom, then 1/3 of the green bean mixture. Continue alternating layers, forming a mound shape. Pour saffron water over the top and dot with remaining butter. Cover pot, reduce heat to low and steam for 45 minutes.
The preparation took us all of one hour from start to finish. The timing and the instructions were impeccable. This is one of our favorite recipes. It is extremely close to the authentic Persian recipe and it makes for delicious left-overs.
Recipe 2: Vegetarian Mushroom Moussaka
It goes without saying that we also love Greek food, and with my obsession of all vegetarian dishes lately, we opted for the delicious-looking Vegetarian Mushroom Moussaka, from the Trader Joe’s Companion pocketbook.
The Ingredients and Cooking instructions direct from the book pg. 62, courtesy of Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati:
i. Ingredients: 3 large eggplants, unpeeled, and sliced into thin 1/4-inch rounds, 2 trimmed leeks, chopped (~ 3 cups), 1 (10-oz) bag sliced Crimini mushrooms, 1 (24-oz) jar Rustico Southern Italian Sauce, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 packed cup chopped parsley, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. For the sauce: 1 cup yogurt, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese.
ii. Cooking Instructions:
1. Salt eggplant slices, making sure both sides are lightly covered, and place in a colander. Let sit for at least 15 minutes, preferably 30.
2. Preheat oven to 450F. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil to a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Saute leeks for 4 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute for an additional 3-4 minutes. Add sauce and cinnamon. Bring to a simmer and then remove from heat. Stir in parsley and Parmesan.
3. Rinse eggplant slices and pat dry. Brush slices with olive oil and then spread on two baking sheets. Roast in oven for about 15 minutes until slices look softened.
4. Reduce oven to 375F. Oil an 8×12 or 9×13 inch baking dish. Place two layers of eggplant slices in the bottom and add mushroom sauce on top. Cover with remaining eggplant slices (another two layers).
5. In a small bowl, mix yogurt, nutmeg, and Parmesan. Pour this over top of casserole and spread evenly.
6. Bake casserole, uncovered, for 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving.
We were surprised by how delicious and satisfying this meal turned out to be, and the meat was not one bit missed and the flavor was excellent. In fact, I am more motivated to continue experimenting with the other delightful vegetarian recipes.
Gratitude and Credits:
In all of this and all previous recipes posted, I admit that my husband Andy has been and is the chef, the cook, the mastermind in the kitchen. All preparations and cooking comes from his labor and without him, these blog posts would not be. Thank you honey!
I close this post with my sincerest gratitude to the brilliant and creative minds of Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati who pulled together such practical, simple and indispensable cookbooks for all of us Trader Joe’s fans to enjoy! Thank you!
Note: Photos of book covers are courtesy of the authors and have been displayed here with their permission. All other photography by Prolific Living.