Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review of Purple Carrot Meal Service

If you follow me on TwitterInstagram or other social media, you may have seen my recent photos and ravings about the lovely dishes I made from Purple Carrot Meal Service.
One of my readers recently asked my opinion of this relatively new, VEGAN meal service, and so (of course!) a great excuse to check them out!

Purple Carrot (if you haven't seen the ads and checked them out yourself) is a "subscription meal service" similar to Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and others, only it's designed for us vegans!! It was created as a way for people (who have schedules like mine!!) to conveniently create completely delicious and beautiful plant-based meals at home.

You get three meals a week, and you'll be informed what they are ahead of time - you can cancel, skip or pause your service whenever you want.
From their website: "Increasing the amount of real, whole, plant-based foods in your diet may sound challenging, but with The Purple Carrot, it's easier than you think. And with the array of choices we provide each week, you’ll find yourself enjoying more plant-based meals in no time, along with all the benefits they bring."

I first heard about heard about Purple Carrot when Mark Bittman, (author of How to Cook Everything, New York Times columnist, leading advocate for part-time vegan eating and a proponent of ethically-sourced and environmentally friendly food) started working with the company to help create tasty meals and write newsletters.

I LOVE the (many) recipes I've made out of Bittman's cookbook, and the Purple Carrot meals looked and sounded good, but... I was skeptical, because, hey! I enjoy creating and cooking homemade vegan meals for my family.
I think I use a nice variety, and certainly don't view my cooking and meal-making as boring, unoriginal or inconvenient. I wasn't sure a "service" would really be my "thing". 

I received three meal "kits" from Purple Carrot.
They included all of the pre-measured ingredients needed to create complete, unique, plant-based meals. 
My impression?
Well, right off the bat, I realized immediately how MUCH I loved the fact that I didn't have to grocery shop for these meals!!!
Yes, I LOVE cooking, but I may not have mentioned that I LOATHE grocery shopping with every fiber of my being. I live in an area where grocery stores are pretty basic, and some ingredients can be impossible to find. (For example, just last night I scoured all three area grocery stores for sundried tomatoes with no luck. I don't really consider sundried tomatoes to be wildly 'out-of-the-ordinary' anymore, NOR are they worth two hours of my time searching!).
But I digress.

I was suprised at how small the box was, even with adequate cold packs to keep
 everything fresh, 3 meals worth of food didn't take up as much space on my porch as I imagined. (Not to worry, there was PLENTY of food, more on that later).
A newsletter from Bittman and the week's menus and full-color, nicely-detailed cooking instructions are the first things you see when you open the box. There's a thorough explanation of your dishes, a little history about them, and even useful trivia about some of the ingredients. The foodie/blogger/history nerd in me LOVED these details!!

All the food is labelled, well insulated and all of the 
packaging is recyclable/made from post-consumer recycled materials (as a side note here, I LOVED the small baggies and even a small bottle that ingredients were packaged in and have happily found ways to re-use them in packing my work lunches).The produce was all fresh, organic and at least as nice, if not better, than the produce I pick up at my grocer. 

Another thing I immediately LOVED was that their recipes were archived so if I was so inclined (and wanted to race around for hours TRYING to find all the ingredients) I could recreate them myself. Or reference them to get a heads-up on prep needed for next week's meals.
To get an idea how "quick and easy" these meals were to prepare, I let my 22-year-old prepare one meal, my boyfriend another and I prepared the third.

My daughter, being a pasta lover, chose to make the Fusilli with Mushrooms and Fennel. I felt the mushrooms and fennel might be the most fragile of the produce items we received, and should probably be used first, so we started our week with that. 
Not to fear, I'm sure the veggies could have lasted all week just fine.
My daughter immediately balked because she hadn't had great experiences with whole wheat pasta in the past (I am usually not a fan either) but I reminded her we were going to give everything a try AS written and then decide. I was skeptical as well, because I don't (or... didn't) like fresh tarragon. But she was careful to make the recipe exactly as described, stating several times that it was "really fun" and "way easier than she had thought it would be". She has a good deal of experience in the kitchen but had never used fresh fennel before, so the directions to "core" the fennel stumped her (OK, and me - I've never exactly "cored" fennel before?) but we figured it out. Everything else was perfectly explained and laid out.
I admit we were both pretty unsure the small amount of pasta noodles would be enough to feed two of us, but again, I said "wait and see". The only (very minor) glitch in directions was that the fusilli took considerably longer to cook than the directions stated. 

The final result? A perfect 10+++!
First of all, there was MORE than enough food for two very hearty appetites. We had leftovers.
The meal was SUPER tasty, filling and a different combination of flavors than anything I'd ever made before.
Second, I now LOVE, LOVE, LOVE tarragon, at least in this application. It was PERFECT with the sweet fennel and nutty pecans. I would order this again and again! (I might experiment with adding more white wine for a more "saucy" dish, but believe me, it's also perfect as it is!)
Third, the whole wheat pasta cooked up tender and firm, not at all grainy, bland or mushy as I was thinking it might.
The directions stated 30 minutes prep, and my daughter didn't feel rushed a bit, finishing in 32 min, which was nice, as I never believe those "prep times" set up by cooks other than my own uncoordinated-disorganized self...
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My guy offered to tackle the second meal, the Indian inspired Aloo Paratha with Eggplant, and it was an equally huge success. 

Again, he looked somewhat skeptical at the amount of ingredients and said "I'm pretty sure I'll eat all of this" but it ended up being more than enough for two people. Two people with BIG appetites! 
He found the directions straightforward (except he added the entire can of tomatoes- because he didn't want to waste 1/2 a can, and using a garlic press rather than chopping the garlic, neither of which really affected the end result). 

I should add here - Purple Carrot assumes you have basic kitchen tools (knife,  a pan or two, vegetable peeler, etc) and salt, pepper and oil. Literally every other ingredient is provided. My guy remarked that even back in his sparsely equipped bachelor-apartment-days, he probably would have been able to prepare these meals easily. (Just an idea for all you singles out there needing a delicious meal to whip up quickly for date night! I think ANY of these meals would qualify and impress!)
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On the final night, I made the Chilaquiles with Edamame Guacamole and Pickled Carrots.
 I LOVE chiliquiles but hadn't really found a vegan interpretation that I was crazy about. I have to say, no tofu, no fake egg or cheese, this version was SO well done! I'd never thought about adding edamame to my guacamole either, but it turned out to be a great idea! 
As before this meal was also a super delicious, well thought-out and filling. (Do you sense a theme? I swear I am not exaggerating my enthusiasm here!). 

The crispy chips covered with a savory sauce and topped with guac ended up being my daughter's (she's NOT-vegan, by the way!) favorite of the three meals, though I can tell you we all loved everything just about equally.
It was probably the "lightest" of the three meals, but still resulted in two very full plates (see my pix).

I found directions easy. The number of prep steps MAY seem overwhelming when you first glance at it (at least to me,a NON recipe-follower, HA!), but it's really not bad at all - everything is explained in detail and every step makes sense. The only glitch in this meal was the instruction card said "12 oz. carrots" and I could tell just by looking that there was way more than 12 oz. of carrots included in my box. 
A bonus isn't a bad thing, especially carrots, though I suppose it could throw off the meal proportions if you aren't paying attention.
As with any service like this, I would suggest looking through your produce and making your meals with the more fragile produce first, everything is packed to last for a week (and I think it would last past that!) but I tend to like salad greens and mushrooms as fresh as possible.
Am I still a skeptic? Not at all! l'd recommend these to ANYONE (vegan or not!) without hesitation.
I still love inventing, creating and cooking my own meals, but the convenience of having every single ingredient for some very unique, tasty recipes (that turn out JUST as described) delivered to my front porch? So, so, so awesome!
I felt the price was more than reasonable, even as thrifty as I am with grocery shopping, and I am not ashamed to admit I will be using (and very likely gifting to others!!) this service at times in the future, FOR SURE!


Bianca said...

NICE! I remember reading about the Purple Carrot when it was first announced that Bittman would be involved. Everything looks so awesome. I do actually LOVE grocery shopping, but I've tried a similar meal service before for a review (one that vegan and non-vegan options), and I have to say that it was pretty darn handy having everything I needed all ready to go!