Flexitarian, take two: an honest review of Gardein's veggie-based 'thai trio' entree

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Known for a vast range of frozen and refrigerator-stable meat-free selections including chicken-free breasts, filets, tenders, wings, beef-free skewers, tips & shreds as well as various ethnic-inspired menu items, Gardein has achieved an impressive coup now that they’ve broken out of the health-food circuit and expanded into mainstream terrain courtesy of Costco, Safeway, Kroger and the like. Congratulations are in order for the plant-based food purveyor now that – in addition to their widespread availability – they’ve scored the highly coveted honor of being named VegNews’ Product of the Year via the 2010 Veggie Awards.

If you're the slightest bit curious what all of the Gardein hullaballoo is about, please make a point of checking out yesterday’s comprehensive assessment of their Burgundy Trio, complete with beefless tips and legitimate wine-enhanced sauce. For fans of a slightly spicier culinary approach, I highly recommend pulling up a chair and grabbing your fork because today, we’re going to sample a 10.5 ounce serving of Gardein Thai Trio.

At first glance, the stuffed Gardein breast does appear to be diminutive in size (especially in its shrink-wrapped package), but once you adorn it with its crowning red curry glory, heat it for a few minutes in the microwave and then slice the main event completely in half, you can’t help but marvel at its artistic, confetti-like center. Boasting everything from water chestnuts and bamboo shoots to carrots, mushrooms, onions, green/red bell peppers plus a bit of parsley thrown in for good measure, its supermodel good looks set the stage for what’s to come.

Uninitiated curry consumers need not quiver with trepidation because this Gardein offering is ideal for virgin palates – not too spicy, not too coconutty…juuuuust right. With a seductive scent, full-bodied flavor and respectable pepper-punch that pleasantly lingers on the tongue and the back of the throat, you are drawn into a seductive web of pure veggie bliss with each bite.

Sampling the chickenless breast in Gardein Thai Trio might easily daze and confuse even the most adventurous eater because you’re immediately struck with a remarkably authentic texture and juicy how-the-heck-could-this-NOT-be-chicken-breast? flavor. The first thought that comes to mind is, “Well done, Gardein…well done.”

You then immediately contemplate how on earth various plant components can be manipulated into such a sacrilegious yet admittedly harmonious union of flavor, mouth-feel and aesthetic appeal. It seems terribly unholy, and then you guiltily take another bite…and another…and another. Before long, you’re pulling a Gene Simmons in an effort to remove all traces of the sauce clinging to your plate.

PROS

• Upon heating Gardein Thai Trio in the microwave and cutting the breast in half to expose its good-looking veggie soul, your taste buds will be instantly primed and ready for action.

• Gardein Thai Trio is made with recognizable, wholesome ingredients that are entirely free of herbicides and pesticides, including ancient grains, various plant-based proteins/fibers and oodles of vegetables – eight of them, to be precise.

• The extensive list of ingredients serves as a reminder that this is still a highly processed offering. However, with no laboratory-hatched chemicals in sight, Gardein Thai Trio prevails as a superior choice compared to what you might find at a fast food restaurant or in the frozen food section of a local grocery store.

• Gardein Thai Trio is made with soybeans that are exactly as nature intended -- not subject to the transfer of genetic material from one species to another.

• This entree is cholesterol-free, very high in protein (19 grams per serving) and relatively low in fat (8 grams per serving – blame that number on the coconut milk-based sauce!)

• With a preparation time of just 3 minutes from microwave to plate, those with busy schedules no longer have a reason to stray from a healthy diet.

• Fans of animal-based protein will marvel at the legitimate appearance of Gardein’s pseudo-chicken breast and the fact that cutting it with a knife yields a very authentic ‘feel’.

• The red curry sauce – made with ginger, cayenne pepper, curry paste and coconut milk -- is as aromatic as it is flavorful, meaning that it adds a complementary accent to the dish without being overbearing.

• Those who are on the fence regarding a semi-vegetarian approach might do well to use this entrée selection as a transitional food since it is so palatable.

• Meatless Monday enthusiasts or anyone who wants to embrace a healthier plant-based diet will welcome Gardein Thai Trio as a reliable meal time staple.

• For full-time vegetarians and vegans, Gardein Thai Trio offers dietary diversity, flavor, convenience and an excellent source of protein.

• Eco-geeks can rejoice in the fact that the fully recyclable exterior cardboard packaging is sourced from sustainable forests and printed with vegetable inks.

CONS

• Let’s face it. Times are tough and the $3.99 purchase price (for a 10.5 ounce package) is neither family nor budget-friendly, particularly when you recognize that you’re coughing up a sizable sum just for white rice. While coupons might be a plus, they seem to be hard to locate online.

• The photograph on the front of the package makes the entrée look really appealing -- like a sizable chicken breast stuffed with a mélange of colorful Asian-inspired vegetables – however the real NOT-chicken deal in its shrink-wrapped incarnation looks underwhelmingly eensie weensie and otherworldly…which is a bad thing.

• Once removed from its packaging, the ‘breast’ component of Gardein Thai Trio looks seriously strange due to a gelatinous residue clinging to it. Not exactly a lip-smackin’-good appetite stimulant.

• While the red curry sauce accompanying Gardein Thai Trio doesn’t seem salty when consumed amid its basmati rice backdrop, it clocks in at 31% of the daily recommended value.

• Despite being a reasonable 10.5 ounce serving, the portion (when viewed up close and personal) seems suitable for lunch rather than dinner. Extra vegetables of your own choosing are definitely what the doctor ordered in an effort to make this worthy of the dinner table (without being forced to plow into a bowl of popcorn afterward).

• For such a healthy entrée, it’s surprising that Gardein’s team of chefs missed the brown rice boat altogether. Pairing nutty, fiber-rich goodness with this particular trio would have elevated it to another taste realm altogether.

• Devout vegetarians who embrace the lifestyle due to ethical reasons may have a tough time eating the breast component of this meal since it is uncannily like the real deal.

• As with their other offerings, Gardein Thai Trio is wrapped in very planet-UNfriendly non-recyclable inner plastic package. There’s got to be a better way!

What’s your take on Gardein Trio Complete Meals? Yay or nayyyy? Please fill us in on your personal dining experience, whether you embrace a plant-based lifestyle, a mainstream diet or some combination therein. Plus, be sure to stay tuned because in the next few weeks, we’ll be reviewing a very special seasonal release by Gardein which you won’t want to miss!



Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
A dedicated green journalist and currently commissioned to write a comprehensive reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah Leigh hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: Gardein / TDIV

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