Hey there dinner lovers! I also love dinner. Sometimes supper. Food is great, and I’m always thankful for what I have.
Recently we were given a promo code for some free food from Hello Fresh. I’ve been reluctant to try these meal kits, as I’m very used to cooking most of my own food. I like going to the grocery store, and like minimizing packaging as I shop. But they really throw those promo codes around liberally, so I’ve finally caved and ordered a promo box. Before I start, I want to stress that this is an unsolicited review, and I am not affiliated with Hello Fresh in any way. I’m also thinking about trying some other options for comparison, but anyway, here are my reactions.
The first time I went through the meal options, there weren’t enough standouts to make me want to order. I tried again a week later and chose these 4 meals: Medi Burgers and Olive Tapenade (with Greek Salad), Cal Smart Barramundi Taco Bowl (with Lime Crema and Tortilla Chips), Fig-Glazed Halloumi Bowl (with Lemony Couscous and Garlic Sauce), and Chinese-Style Beef Bowl (with Garlic-Ginger Rice and Green Veggies). Even though there’s a lot of options, including for restricted diets, I struggled to find meals I wanted to order. Honestly, they all seemed pretty basic.
No matter what came in the box, the amount of packaging involved is too much. The huge box itself, with multiple protective layers and 5 plastic cold packs, is reusable, but I can’t imagine wanting to dispose of that more than once. Not once a week or more. Once total. Inside, there are multiple more layers of packaging, including almost every single ingredient being wrapped in plastic, no matter how preposterous that is. I wish I’d taken a picture of the small collection of parsley leaves, outnumbered by big thick stems, in their 10″ long plastic sheath. Terrible.
Another reason I’d pass on ordering Hello Fresh in future was the sad state of many of the veggies. I don’t know if they were fresh when they went in the box, but they were not anything I would have paid for in a grocery store when they came out. Most wouldn’t have survived to their best before date if we’d left them. If you’re somebody who’s used to eating canned/frozen/fast food, you might not even notice the lower quality veggies, which is really crummy. Also, the sizes of the produce pieces were uniformly small, except for the very large green onions in the Beef Bowl.
Medi Burgers and Olive Tapenade
I cooked this first. I make my own burgers occasionally, and would do it more often if we had a barbecue, so I’m no stranger to the process. First off, I made some small changes to the recipe. They wanted me to cut up a raw red onion for the salad, and that’s just a poor choice, so I left it out. The burgers themselves were to be made of just the meat, salt and pepper, so I also added some minced garlic. The ‘tapenade’ was just a bunch of coarse chopped olives with raw red onions (excluded) and parsley. Not impressed. I added garlic. I don’t know if the tapenade recipe I use is correct, but it’s both glorious and at the bottom of this post, with the easy Greek pizza recipe I use it for.
The tapenade was ok at best. It was the reason I chose the meal, and I love olives, so it’s hard to go wrong. The feta mayo was ok. The feta they included was lacking in impact, ie. salt. The burgers were fine overall, though one was not enough. I felt unsatisfied. I think this is mainly due to the salad, which barely lived up to being a salad, let alone a Greek salad.
Honestly, after this meal, I was worried the whole box would be downhill from here. I really don’t like the instructions to start by heating the oven to 450, and then finding out it’s for toasting the buns at the end. Pretty wasteful, and avoidable if you just say up front what the oven is used for so we can sub a toaster oven.
Barramundi Taco Bowl
Enter Barramundi. I ordered it because I’d never had it, and it was the only fish option over the two weeks. The package seemed very small, but once it was out and seasoned, the appeal was obvious. The cooking method, broiling it for 10 minutes, is something I’d try again for sure. The fish was incredible. I’m still thinking about it. It was tasty, meaty, juicy, and so satisfying. The ‘Mexican’ seasoning on it was you typical taco mix, but it was really nice on the fish. I would look for Barramundi again, and cook it the same way.
However, the rest of the recipe fell flat. I made minor changes again, cutting the white sugar from the dressing, and using only the lime zest in the crema as the juice would have made it too tart and liquidy. The balance of the bowl, some spinach, cucumber, tomato and a cabbage/carrot mix, was extremely forgettable. The cabbage/carrot mix was on the verge of spoiled, and a lot of it had to be discarded. Nothing but the Barramundi had any flavour or appeal, but wow, that Barramundi.
Fig-Glazed Halloumi Bowl
I’ve only ever had halloumi a few times, and it made sense to try a vegetarian option and see if it held up. Halloumi is quite salty and firm, and can even be fried and grilled. My kind of cheese. If you like cheese curds and don’t need them to get melty, you’ll probably like halloumi.
The bowl was exceptional. Exceptional. If I’d ordered it in a restaurant, I’d likely go back. It was comprised of a base of Israeli couscous, which I’d never had, and which was great. Fun texture, nice flavour, and played well with everything in the bowl. It was topped with roasted zucchini, peppers and onions, which is something I do fairly often. The veggies were warm and hearty, and the seasoning wasn’t overpowering. The fig jam was nice on the halloumi, and not too sweet. The lemon crema brought it all together. Somebody really thought this one through.
Like the Barramundi, this is a combination of things I’ll try again. While I’m unlikely to recreate this exact recipe, I have peppers and zucchini often, and buying the Israeli couscous and halloumi could be the base of all sorts of similar bowls.
Chinese-Style Beef Bowl
Finally, we have the beef bowl, which was pretty good. Second best meal to the halloumi bowl, but not as great as the Barramundi on its own. It came with a lot of sauce pouches, including soy, sweet chili, chili-garlic, hoisin, and garlic puree. Despite all that, it was really mild in flavour. The fresh ginger was the loudest voice in the room. Oddly enough, it tasted and smelled more like a saucy barbecue hamburger than anything else.
The veggies were really hurting. Some of the beans and a good percent of the bok choy were compost, even though we were only 7 days since delivery.
Like all of the meals, preparation was really easy. It was, however, very time-consuming as the recipe kind of implied that you cook the rice first and then the rest in steps, where if you were multitasking from the get-go it would go faster. I guess not everybody has multiple stove elements.
It’s hard to criticize the instructions, as they’re for people who’ve never cooked a lot of this stuff before, but I feel like they could be curated a little more with that in mind. One thing I will definitely point out is that someone cooking these recipes for the first time are NEVER going to hit the target prep times detailed on the recipe cards. I took double the time for the Beef Bowl, and took at least five minutes more than any of the other recipes said I should. That’s with experience and multitasking.
I also have fairly decent knife skills, and don’t take long mincing, chopping, brunoising, and what-have-you. If you don’t have great knife skills, expect some of these recipes to take awhile.
Despite the high highs of the halloumi bowl and the Barramundi, I would not get Hello Fresh again. The packaging alone is not worth it.
While it says a lot about the part of the world I live in, I’m also easily able to get better quality ingredients at lower prices, something that is unlikely to change because Hello Fresh draws from many of the same supply lines. I can also prioritize locally grown produce and livestock, and buy in quantities that are friendlier to my budget.
The parsley stems in the plastic sheath with a few little leaves around them were just wrong.
I’ll be looking to get a similar box from Chef’s Plate, Good Food and any others I can find, for comparison. There are some positives to this meal kit idea, but a lot of things to work out. Hopefully some feedback will help things along.
Here’s that tapenade recipe.
Kalamata Olive Tapenade
Required equipment – a food processor or similar chopper. Blender blades don’t usually do well with this, as they’re too high up in the carafe.
- 1 jar kalamata olives – not just black olives, don’t get them canned, expect to have to pit them. The canned black olives slices are gross and will not make this recipe anything but a fail.
- 1 quarter cup or so of green olives – (optional) these can be lower quality. They’re for bulk because kalamatas are expensive and have a really strong flavour. You’ll barely taste them at all.
- a Tablespoon or so of garlic – fresh is best, but you can use pre-chopped. Feel free to dial it up or down depending on your preference.
- Olive oil – add a tablespoon to start, then more if you need it to smooth out the consistency.
- Herbs and other goodies – (optional) Not all will work, but feel free to try some. I put roasted red peppers in my most recent batch, and it was really nice. A lot of flavours will be drowned out by the olives no matter what.
Pit the kalamatas (unless you somehow found pitted ones, but be careful on their quality). The easiest way is to flatten them a little with the side of chef’s knife, then pull the pit out with your fingers. I promise it’s worth it.
Blend the ingredients in the food processor. If it’s not smooth enough, drizzle in extra oil.
The desired result is a spreadable paste that’s a little chunky. It stores and keeps well, but I have no idea of how long because it gets eaten really fast.
How do we eat it? Well, on a burger is a pretty good idea. Spread a small spoonful on the bun before toasting it. Same goes for a lot of sandwiches.
I usually make Greek Pizzas, taking a greek pita or more often garlic naan bread, giving it a spread of tapenade (one tablespoon will do it), then layering sliced tomatoes, thin-sliced or roasted bell peppers, feta cheese crumble, mozzarella cheese, and then baking in the oven for about 10 min on 375. When it comes out, you can throw some greens like arugula or spinach on top too. Feel free to add other veggies and such as you like. Artichoke hearts are nice, if you have them.
This is a really easy to prepare meal or large snack. Yesterday I did it with bagels instead of pitas. It’s probably going to be dinner, just after I finish Hello Fresh leftovers for lunch. Thanks for reading!