Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Trader Joe's Greek yogurt

Brillat-Savarin famously said, "Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are." To that I might add, "tell me where you shop." At present I alternate between three places: an organic foodstore for greens, dairy products and grains in bulk; a downtown supermarket for national brand name items and, when I'm bored, I go to Trader Joe's.

Originally started as a chain of convenience stores in Pasadena in the 1960s, Trader Joe's has developed something of a cult following among foodshoppers. It offers unusual and inexpensive things for people who "like to be entertained and educated by what they eat," according to a New York Times article (March 8, 2006) heralding its first Manhatten branch to open this week.

Trader Joe's selling point is that its buyers travel the world visiting supermarkets, farmer's markets and street stalls, translating finds and bringing it back to the stores. Each product has a story, such as the case of a popular snack encountered at Bangkok airport, tasty but stale and full of MSG. It was re-cast as Thai Lime & Chile Peanuts, using American peanuts (to keep costs down), Thai spices (to keep flavors authentic), additives removed. The combination of sweet peanuts with hot chile, curry leaves and lemon grass is undeniably addictive but gaging from their similarly reconfigured Wasabi Peas, I can't help wondering if something was not lost in translation.

Items bought back in their original form are probably a better bet. On a recent trip I was ecstatic to find an unassuming container of yogurt (Greek label Fage) which didn't taste like anything I've had before. Tangy and dense, it immediately called to mind associations of Mediterranean figs and honey, and a pasta dish that's been haunting me for some time but was never able to realize because the recipe called for authentic Greek yogurt. I tried it finally and found the sweet/tart balance of flavors irresistable:

Pasta with caramelized onions and "real" Greek yogurt (adapted from Diane Kochilas' The Glorious Foods of Greece)

-1/2 pound of tagliatelle
-1 cup of Greek yogurt
-3 medium onions, thinly sliced
-3 tablespoons of ghee, or olive oil
- grated sheep cheese kefalotyri (Pecorino Romano will also do)

Fry the onions in oil over medium heat until crispy and caramelized, about 30 minutes. Cook the pasta until soft, not al dente, and toss with yogurt (add pasta water if needed, the noodles should be slippery) then spoon over tangle of onion and sprinkle with grated cheese.

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Blogger Kathy said...

The Trader Joe non-fat Greek yogurt with fruit and Kashi is a terrific breakfast. I've been having it every morning, and it's satisfying and helps me keep my weight off.

10:52 PM  

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