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About two months ago we discovered a new line of products from CedarLane Foods: their "Protein Bowls." The first two we tasted, the Chicken Fajita Protein Bowl and the Chicken Souvlaki Protein Bowl, were a bit disappointing: one "just OK" with another a "hard pass."
This week we've branched out into their only "Vegetarian Bowl": Falafel. The numbers on this one are fair - 310 calories and 600 milligrams of sodium - but 4 grams of fiber is pretty impressive. This is likely due not only to the brown rice in this dish, but also the use of farro. Sources differ, with some saying that farro is a type of wheat while others asserting that it is "a plant and grain all its own." Regardless, its flavor is similar to brown rice, being more nutty than wheaty. It also has nearly twice as much fiber and protein as brown rice - which explains the impressive levels of fiber.
The Falafel Vegetarian Bowl comes out of the microwave with a light lemon, tahini, and cilantro scent.
The two falafel patties have almost crispy edges and a nicely browned crust, almost as if they had been deep fried. They've got that classic falafel flavor of cilantro and chickpeas, but they're a little dry and crumbly in the mouth.
The patties are resting on a bed of what can most charitably be described as mush.
According to the New York Times article I linked to above, farro "retains its tender, distinct bite, even if it sits awhile after cooking." That may be true if you've just cooked it at home, but it's clear that microwaving it, at least in this instance, makes it just as mushy as the overcooked brown rice. In fact, the only texture in this bowl, other than the edges of the falafel, are a few overcooked chickpeas.
There's bits of bitter kale to offset the sweet onions and red and yellow bell peppers, but it appears that the lemon, yogurt, and tahini sauce - which is quite tasty and not overwhelming - has been completely absorbed by the grains. "It's okay... but the mushiness is really off-putting," said a panelist. Leave this one at the store.
Far, far better is the Chicken Enchilada Protein Bowl (300 calories, 640mg sodium, 1g fiber).
This dish comes out of the microwave with the tart tomato and spicy Anaheim chile scent of that you'd expect from a riff on Mexican food. While it might not look impressive, it's certainly impressive in terms of flavor.
Once you cut into this you can also smell the sweet corn and lime scent of masa: the tortillas layering this dish are soft and tender. There's lots of cheese, chunks of tomato, and the black beans scattered throughout are soft but still have some texture.
The sauce has spice on a slow burn on the back of the tongue, and there's plenty of chile flavor from the five different chiles included in this dish. The only drawback - and it's a small one - is that the chicken, which has the stringy texture of pulled chicken, is a little on the dry side.
All in all, a perfectly respectable tamale pie. Seek this one out. Or make your own with my Pantry Meal recipe for Tamale Pie with Black Beans.
Review posted: March 20, 2020