I love salads and eat them year-round, but sometimes it's hard to keep my salads interesting—especially in the dead of winter when there's nothing new popping up at the farmers market. So when my salads are getting a bit ho-hum, I turn to Trader Joe's for salad toppers that amp things up with a variety of textures and flavors. Here are a few of my favorite TJ's products that keep my salads interesting.
1. Teeny Tiny Avocados
Because avocados brown so quickly, I'm reluctant to cut one open unless I know I'll use it up within 24 hours. These little avocados solve the browning problem because they're just the right size for one person. There aren't many salads I won't add avocados to, but one of my favorite ways to use them in the winter is paired with citrus, like in this grapefruit and avocado salad.
2. Sesame Sticks
As far as I'm concerned, something crunchy is a must for a great salad and these salty, savory wheat and sesame sticks fit the bill perfectly. I particularly love them in a salad with something creamy, like ranch dressing, or TJ's mini avocados mentioned above.
3. Steamed Lentils
Found in the refrigerated section with other salad fixings, TJ's steamed lentils are lightly seasoned with cloves, laurel, thyme, pepper, and garlic. Because they are full of protein and fiber, these lentils are a great base for a satisfying lunch or dinner salad.
You can eat them straight from the package, but I like to warm them in the microwave and serve them in a grain-bowl-style salad with quinoa and roasted root vegetables like carrots and parsnips. I make a big batch of quinoa and roasted veggies at the beginning of the week so I can simply heat the lentils, quinoa, and veggies all together in the microwave before topping with dressing (a lemony dressing is nice).
4. Steamed & Peeled Baby Beets
Usually found right next to the lentils, these cooked beets save me the time, hassle, and mess of peeling and cooking beets. I love them in an arugula, beet, and goat cheese salad.
5. Sweet & Spicy Pecans
These candied nuts have just the right balance of sweetness, spiciness, and saltiness, and they add a wonderful crunch to salads. Try them with the steamed beets and goat cheese, or this hearty kale and farro salad.
6. Organic Baked Tofu (Teriyaki Flavor)
This lightly flavored firm tofu holds its shape in salads and pairs nicely with sesame-ginger dressing. As with the lentils, the protein and fiber make it a super-satisfying salad ingredient. The tofu doesn't have to be heated, but if I'm near a microwave I'll pop it in for about 30 seconds to warm it through.
7. Unexpected Cheddar Cheese
This flavorful, affordable cheese is so popular it's been inducted into the Trader Joe's Hall of Fame. It's fabulous on sandwiches and charcuterie plates, and its creamy yet slightly crumbly texture also makes it ideal for salads. It's a particularly nice addition to a Cobb salad or this Tex-Mex chopped chicken salad.
8. Organic Dried & Pitted Deglet Noor Dates
Sweet dried fruit is always a nice addition to salads, but that's especially true in the winter when salad ingredients like cherry tomatoes are less sweet than they are in the summer. Deglet Noor dates are a bit smaller and dryer than Medjool dates, which make them perfect for salads.
I like to cut each date into two or three pieces and toss with mixed greens, toasted nuts, and a dry hard cheese like Manchego or TJ's Unexpected Cheddar. If dates aren't your thing, TJ's has a lot of other good dried fruit options—I'm a big fan of the Unsweetened Dark Sweet Cherries, too.
9. Roasted & Salted Marcona Almonds with Rosemary
Great on their own or on a cheese plate (maybe with a glass of sherry if you're feeling fancy!), these salty, crunchy almonds are also a lovely addition to salads. Try them in a simple mixed green salad along with the Deglet Noor dates.
10. Mexican Style Roasted Corn
This freezer section find adds a bit of summery flavor to your salads year round—maybe the char marks from fire roasting fool my brain, but to me these corn kernels actually taste like they've been grilled. I like it in this quinoa salad with black beans, corn, and tomatoes. I heat it in the microwave in a microwave-safe salad bowl before adding the other ingredients.