Continuing the reviews from last night's ("last night" as I write this, that is, not "last night" when it gets published) nearly-all-Trader-Joe's dinner, we come to the main course.
I question labeling these things "burgers," especially with that "serving suggestion" photo on the box, implying that you can slap these on the grill (notice the nice grill marks that they either seared into the "burger" or added with Photoshop) and end up with an Indian-spiced fake-meat hamburger.
Well, I'm here to tell you that you can't. I've had several meat-substitute burgers, and this really doesn't even try to be one, when you analyze it for what it is rather than for how TJ's is peddling it. It's not made of soy or seitan or any other high-protein meat substitute. It's made out of potatoes, canola oil, carrots, green beans, bread crumbs, bell peppers, onions, corn, water, and some spices and binders. The ingredients aren't even pulverized and homogenized to disguise their nature. Here's what the frozen "burger" looks like:
Just as the ingredient list would suggest, this is a conglomeration of hunks of potato and a few other vegetables, very mildly spiced, and held together with bread crumbs and other binders. It would be accurate to call it a "patty," but I think it's misleading to call it a "burger," given the firmly fixed images that word brings to mind for a typical American consumer.
That said, I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with these things--as long as you accept them for what they are. If you take your first bite thinking that this will be a vegan replica of a hamburger, you'll be somewhere between disappointed and angry.
I treated it as a burger, despite having had good forewarning from both the ingredients list and the appearance that it was not going to be even vaguely like a Boca or MorningStar meat-substitute product. It was on a hamburger bun, with cheese melted on it, topped with shredded lettuce, ketchup, and pickle slices. It would take more than that to disguise the fact that it is, at heart, chopped potatoes with some indistinctly Indian-ish spicing.
I've read the review at "What's Good at Trader Joe's," along with all 32 comments. It seems other people's opinions of TJ's Masala Burgers ranges all the way from "best thing EVAR!" to "second-best thing EVAR!" Which is to say, people lurve them--or at least the people who feel like expressing their views do.
Me, not so much. I had another one for lunch today, and my opinion didn't change from last night's "meh."
In this blog, I am generally going to carefully refrain from speaking for Nina, even where I think I know her opinion pretty accurately, since she can articulate it better than I can, and she has freedom to add her views to any post. I'll violate that principle here just to say that she clearly liked these things more than I did, and I suspect I will find myself eating them again at her house in the not-too-distant future, probably with a radically different method of preparation than faux burger. And it may well be that they would work a lot better done up in a way that takes advantage what they actually are, rather than forcing them into the role of hamburger substitutes, for which they're not well suited. (The comments to the WGATJ post suggest several completely different ways of using them, for starters.)
Will I buy it again?
Probably not, but I'll be interested to see what Nina comes up with, if my prediction is correct.
Bob and I are in complete agreement on this: TJ is doing these potato patties a huge disservice by marketing them as "burgers." They are unequivocally NOT burgers. No way, no how. Putting them on a bun, slathered with traditional burger condiments, is a recipe for disappointment.
But if they were griddled up and served as a substitute for home fries or hash browns for a different twist on breakfast? Yum.
Or if they were crisped up nice 'n' crunchy and served alongside a nice robust vegetable curry? Oh yeah.
They need to be honored for the enhanced potato product they actually are. Bob's right, I can see myself experimenting with alternative, spiced up presentations of these potato pucks.
Next post: Vegetable Fried Rice