This is a sponsored post. By that, I mean the products were sent to me free of charge to test. The company was neither guaranteed a positive review nor were they protected from a negative review.
Anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am not altogether big on packaged food. I enjoy my instant noodles every once in awhile, but when it comes to meals, I will generally make things from scratch — even my spaghetti sauce. I have a few friends who I know will eat nothing but microwaved food, and my heart always goes out to them since I always assume it must taste horrid.
But lately, I am just really short of time, and when Wild Garden reached out to me about their prepackaged pilaf, I told them to send it over because anything that cuts down on time is of interest to me right now. But believe me when I say that I was not about to rave about food that’s gross, and I set my expectations low since this is prepared pilaf in a bag.
So all of these bright and beautiful packages came in the mail last month, and I’m only getting around to cooking a couple of them up today.
Reading the instructions, the directions were for either the microwave or the stove top. Given that my objective here was for real convenience, I opted to use the microwave because cooking it on the stove would inevitably lead to my tasting it and doctoring it up with my own spices and seasoning. Additionally, I was actually testing these out to see how they would work for my single friends who don’t cook but want to have someone over for a meal–a special dinner, for instance. Be it pilaf or a well-marinaded meat, these aren’t necessarily foolproof dishes for the complete novice or someone who normally microwaves their dinners, so I wanted to use the easiest method possible.
I decided on these two.
The rice and lentil on the left is a prepackaged, already-cooked bag inside the outer cover. The package on the right is 100% marinade only, requiring a protein. Reading the ingredients, I decided on beef. Ribeye, specifically.
The claim on the marinade package is that you don’t need to wait for hours. Upon pouring out–more like squeezing out–the marinade, I could appreciate that it was thick in texture, adhering to the meat really well, and wasting none at all. I put on some plastic gloves and rubbed it into all the meat on all sides.
Since I knew the pilaf would only take 90 seconds in the microwave, I started with the steaks. This was actually one larger ribeye that I cut into three pieces, because the slice of meat wasn’t level, and I wanted to marinade more sides than one piece would allow.
I used 1.5 T of top quality olive oil, and I did put a pinch of salt on each piece as well as some freshly ground pepper.
But really, I don’t think that was necessary. The marinade is about as aromatic as can be, and even just rubbing it all over each steak really seasoned the steak properly. Because the marinade was cooking into the meat instead of falling off, I started to think that it might actually work.
By this point, the aromas in my kitchen were to die for!
I noticed that some portions would char rather easily, adding to the flavor but perhaps a little risky for real newbies in the kitchen. I think this would have also been outstanding on the barbecue grill. Next time, I plan to sous vide the meat with this marinade in the package; I think that will make it truly amazing!
Now, it was time to begin prepping the microwave pilaf. I was a little apprehensive, and with the meat smelling so amazing, I thought about just chowing with white rice.
After 90 seconds in the microwave, the rice was indeed extremely hot, though I did need to squeeze the package a little more here and there to break up to the larger chunks of pilaf. Per the instructions, I did squeeze the package about 15 times to loosen up the chunks but it wasn’t enough. Perhaps I should have been a little more aggressive about it. I had to use a fork to further fluff the rice and remove the chunks of rice.
This, too, smelled impressive. At this point, I was quite impressed, but had enjoyed everything only via my sense of smell; I hadn’t tasted a thing to this point.
The package said this was 2.5 portions. I suppose it depends on how much you eat, but at my house, this was, at best, two portions. But because this was lunch, and because of the intense flavors – I wasn’t too concerned that it wouldn’t be enough.
The final dish really impressed me. I am open to thinking that perhaps I was being a bit too snobby about packaged foods because this was really quite perfect–especially if your kitchen is not one that normally stocks the flavors that this Taste of the Mediterranean product line by Wild Garden includes in their offerings. If I served it up like this to guests, I doubt that any single person would guess that I didn’t cook it from scratch. Hell, if someone served me this in a restaurant, I would not think that it wasn’t actually prepared in-house. If I had used the stovetop method and added additional garlic, some cumin, etc. — I do believe I could fool anyone.
The pilaf is really delicious, but to me, I can make a pretty mean pilaf too.
What I can’t do is create an oil-based liquid marinade that can so easily season a thick cut of meat so quickly, and maintain that flavor and seasoning through the cooking. I rubbed the marinade in, took a few shots, and then the meat went directly into the pan. It had the marinade for all of two minutes, tops.
Every bite of steak included the intense sumac flavor which really develops a more complex flavor in meat. Sumac is very earthy, and a little citrusy (or tart, really), and with the sunflower oil base, the flavor of the meat is brightened. This would also work for vegetables; I think it’d work great with roasted broccoli, Brussels sprouts, or even tofu, followed by a high-heat stir fry. I’m not sure chicken could stand up to keep its own subtle flavor compared to the unique spice — but a pork would shine with it.
While sumac in and of itself is a little acidic, the tomatoes I included worked nicely to break up intense aromas between bites. The cilantro also added additional flavors and a different texture to the dish.
Wild Garden products are available at various stores throughout California. I’m not entirely sure of nationwide in-store availability, but they are also available on Amazon.
Based on the Amazon prices, it’s offered with Prime shipping, and breaks down to about $4.33 per package be it for the pilaf or marinade packages. I only used half of the Persian marinade for this meal, so the entire meal for two was $6.50 in products. Of course, you have to add the price of whatever other ingredients you used (and in my case, about $12.00 for one ribeye steak). So for prepared foods, this is really not expensive at all. Also, one has to factor in one’s time. If not for taking photos, I could have had lunch on the table in about 15 minutes tops–which is about how long it takes me to cook steak, and let it rest for 5 minutes or so. In that time period, you can prepare your garnishes, heat up the pilaf. To cook pilaf and prepare this marinade from scratch, including prepping everything to include in both dishes, it would take me about 45 minutes to one hour, so it’s a considerable time savings.
The pilaf selection is available here, two types of “rice” dishes including couscous and bulgur; I am so excited to try the bulgur!
The Persian marinade is a available here in a six-package mix including the shawarma and Turkish marinade, or on its own here as an add-on. I’ll be sure to update the review once I try the shawarma marinade; I have a feeling that will be one fine meal. I plan to use beef for the shawarma and will try chicken for the Turkish marinade. If my opinion changes at all from what I’ve said above, I’ll include it below.
Now I have to e-mail a couple of my friends, and let them know that they can now “cook” fancy meals at home for their guests.
Updated April 6:
So I am in love with these marinades. Absolutely outstanding. This time, I made some sous vide steak with the shawarma marinade in the bag and it came out moist, and so incredibly flavorful.
Note: I’m not a fan of the couscous, which is why I made some fresh couscous to mix up with the bagged one.
And the bulgur — great flavor, incredible spiciness (I was not expecting any spiciness, so was particularly taken aback), but texturally — meh.
Definitely, the pilaf was #1 in terms of the packaged rice products — simple to make with 2 minutes in the microwave.