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We know the Annie Chun's brand primarily because they make fantastic brown rice noodles. They're not only gluten-free, but they have more fiber than the traditional white rice noodle: 4 grams of fiber per serving for the noodles made from brown rice as opposed to just 1 gram of fiber per serving for those made from white rice. Plus we love the flavor, and they hold up to cooking better than white rice noodles - they're more forgiving. (If you overcook them by a minute or two they don't shatter into mush like white rice noodles.)
In the last year or so I've seen new meal-type products from them on the shelves at my local grocery stores, mainly in what I think of as the shelf-stable area: dried soups that you add boiling water to, wait, then eat - that sort of thing. The Soup Bowls and Noodle Bowls are, with one exception in each category, far too high in sodium for us to review (we'll keep an eye out for the acceptable ones). The "Asian Entrees," however, aren't quite as bad: the two we picked up have close to 400 calories per serving and 660 milligrams of sodium each - much more sodium than we'd like to see, but not shockingly high in terms of the calorie-to-sodium ratio of the convenience meals we review every week.
These "Asian Entrees" are interesting because they are, as I said, shelf-stable: they don't require refrigeration, so if they're good, they might be a little more useful than meals that need to remain frozen before cooking. Those without access to a freezer, but still having a microwave available, might find such a thing to be a real boon.
The first item out of the pantry was the Red Curry (with Brown Rice & Quinoa) (390 calories, 660 milligrams sodium, 6 grams of fiber - impressive). This is a plastic dish of brown rice and quinoa alone that is vented at the corner, then microwaved for 30 seconds. Then you pour the included vegetable and sauce packet over the rice, re-cover with the plastic overwrap, and microwave for another 30 seconds. The instructions are designed for a 1200-watt microwave (just like the one at Dr. Gourmet headquarters) and recommend that you allow the meal to rest for 1 minute before consuming. Here are the package contents: those for both dishes are identical in packaging.
As instructed, we microwaved the rice and quinoa for 30 seconds, poured the contents of the Sauce & Vegetables packet on top, re-covered, and cooked for another 30 seconds. After 1 minute of resting we had this:
What is it? Exactly what it says it is (and refreshingly so): perfectly cooked brown rice with crunchy red quinoa. A rich, chili-and-coconut-flavored sauce with notes of garlic and lemongrass. The baby corn is crunchy while the peas, carrots, and diced red bell peppers are not - but they add plenty of flavor. The chickpeas are firm, but not quite crunchy, and as one participant noted, "This is every bit as good as the curry I had at that restaurant last week in [Midwestern city redacted]."
Honestly, we were surprised. A shelf-stable product with flavor like this? When does this happen? At $3.99 apiece this is certainly more than you'll pay for Lean Cuisine, but it's far better in flavor and the fiber is impressive. You can't go wrong with this one.
The Thai-Style Green Curry (with Brown Rice & Red Quinoa) (370 calories, 660 milligrams sodium, 7 grams fiber) split the panel, however. It's cooked the same way, with the same brown rice and red quinoa mixture that again just comes out perfect. The (rich, coconut-based) sauce is a bit more iffy: some of the panel felt it was too sweet, with a decided anise flavor (perhaps from the fresh basil leaves in the sauce). Others noted that the ingredients included kaffir lime peel and felt that this meant they should adjust their expectations: "This isn't just curry, it's kaffir lime curry. Which is different."
The vegetable components for this dish are fairly robust chunks of diced carrot, diced red bell pepper, corn, and green peas, all of which aren't egregiously overcooked. We have to leave this one up to the reader: we'll give it a thumbs up based on quality and adjusted expectations. That is, this is good provided that you enjoy a sweeter Thai, kaffir lime curry sauce: as one panelist put it: "Your mileage may vary."
Review posted: December 7, 2018