5 Trader Joe’s Staples That Are Great Starts to Swanky Meals

There's more at Trader Joe's than just Cookie Butter

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If you’re not lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s in your neighborhood, you might want to stop reading now. This wonderland of convenience foods and hippie favorites alike is beloved in large part because using Trader Joe’s products, it’s possible to put together a really solid meal without having to do any actual cooking. If you do have a Trader Joe’s in your city, read on—this is important.

Trader Joe’s convenience foods get much of the hype—the frozen dinners and cheap-ass burritos will certainly do in a pinch—but there are excellent dinner shortcuts lingering among the snack foods and frozen junk. Grab these five ingredients and you’ll have a solid foundation to several easy-to-make dishes that will totally impress.

Tandoori Naan

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Image via Trader Joe’s

This versatile Indian flatbread is delicious on its own with a little hummus, but it’s also easy to transform into a dinner that won’t take more than about five minutes. Grab some grilled chicken breast or gyro meat, and stuff the naan full of veggies and homemade tzatziki sauce. Or, you could just pick up all of the above ingredients from the prepared foods case at Trader Joe’s. Tandoori naan is also a great basis for easy pizzas if you’re in a real hurry.

Frozen rice

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Flickr/Zack Fernandes, CC-BY-NC-SA

If you’re seriously starving, waiting 30 minutes for rice to cook can be a real pain. If you don’t have a rice cooker, it means washing crusty residue off pots and pans, and that’s just downright unacceptable. The frozen rice at Trader Joe’s is miraculously free of chemicals (the only ingredients on the list are rice and salt) and is fluffy and ready to use after only three minutes in the microwave. Use it to round out quick and fresh stir-fries with those veggies hanging out in your fridge.

Thai Curry Simmer Sauce

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Image via Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s offers a variety of simmer sauces, which are basically jars of deliciousness. The best among them is the Thai Curry Simmer Sauce, which is full of flavor and (mostly) healthy. Pour it over cooked tofu or chicken and mix with noodles or the aforementioned frozen rice for a hearty dinner that won’t take more than about twenty minutes—and that’s assuming that you’ve got to cook the chicken.

Fresh pizza dough

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Tracy Benjamin, CC-BY-NC-ND

There are few better luxuries than piping hot-pizzas, especially if they beat the ones from the delivery guy. Grab a bag of fresh pizza dough at Trader Joe’s, and the possibilities are limitless. You can, of course, grab cheese and cured meats to top a basic pizza, but you can also use this pizza dough to make calzones, stromboli, and flatbreads if you’re feeling creative.

Cheeeeeeese!

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Tassadara D CC-BY-NC

There is no rule against having cheese for dinner, especially if you make a swanky cheese plate. It’s basically all the food groups on one plate. Grab a bag of unsulfured apricots (the best around), your favorite nuts, and prepare to go buck-wild at the cheese case. Trader Joe’s is known for its incredible selection of affordable cheeses, and you really can’t go wrong with whatever you choose. Grab a block of roquefort, fruit-infused Stilton, and a creamy Brie for crowd-pleasers, or seek out more obscure faves like goat feta. Trader Joe’s also has a good selection of cured meats, jams, mustards, and other accoutrements to round out your totally French and moderately healthy dinner.

Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She spends way too much time (and money) at Trader Joe’s. Tweet her your favorite TJ’s finds @aemccarthy.

Main Image: Mike Mozart, CC-BY

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