But how do they fare against the real thing in a stuffed sandwich showdown?
I’ve been looking for interesting grilling recipes lately, and I recently came across these grilled stuffed flatbreads. I found the idea intriguing, but I couldn’t get past their similarity to Hot Pockets. I must confess that I placed Hot Pockets in a very unflattering position on my edibility scale (edibility score of 2 – mildly inedible) without having ever tried one. Hot Pockets have been the butt of many jokes and are generally derided by the culinary community. Yet, these convenient stuffed sandwiches have held their own in the freezer section of grocery stores since the 1970s. My prejudgement of Hot Pockets was weighing on my culinary conscience, so I decided to give them a fair chance in a pocket-to-pocket comparison.
Part I: Flatbread Stuffed with Curried Potatoes, Spinach, and Chickpeas
(adapted from The Kitchn / makes 8 stuffed flatbreads)
For the Flatbread: (I used a whole wheat pizza dough recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook.)
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 envelope (2 1/4 teaspoons) instant or rapid-rise yeast
- 11 ounces bread flour
- 11 ounces whole wheat flour (I ground my own from hard white wheat berries, but you can just buy wheat flour from the store like a sane person.)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- Combine the dry ingredients (yeast, flour, and salt).
- Slowly stir in the water and olive oil until the mixture comes together into a ball of dough. (I just put everything into my bread machine and ran the beginning of the dough cycle, but you can make it by hand in a bowl or in a stand mixer with a dough attachment.)
- Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes, adding water or flour as necessary.
- Form the dough into a ball and allow to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a lightly oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap.
- Punch down the dough and use it immediately to assemble the stuffed flatbreads, or wrap it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for a few hours.
For the Curry: (adapted from Orangette’s Chana Masala)
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 pound red potatoes (4-5 egg-sized potatoes), diced
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced or grated on a microplane
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons garam masala
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (optional but recommended)
- 2 to 3 teaspoons salt
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 10 ounces baby spinach (I used frozen chopped spinach)
- Saute the diced onion in about a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat.
- Once the onion has begun to brown, add the diced potatoes and a pinch of salt. Cook until the potatoes have begun to soften but are not entirely cooked through.
- Clear a space in the middle of the pan and add the spices: garlic, ginger, cumin, garam masala, cayenne, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook the spices for about 30 seconds (or until fragrant), and then stir them into the potatoes and onions.
- Add the diced tomatoes (undrained) and bring the curry to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Once the potatoes are cooked through, stir in the chickpeas and spinach.
- Continue to simmer until thickened. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. The curry can be made up to three days in advance.
Assemble and Bake the Stuffed Flatbreads:
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. On a floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a circle about 1/4 inch thick.
- Spread one-eighth of the filling in the center of the dough, then fold the dough in half and pinch the edges to seal.
- Place the stuffed flatbreads on a parchment-lined baking sheet and coat the tops with a thin layer of olive oil. Poke holes in the dough to prevent an unfortunate curry explosion in your oven.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. There’s no need to flip them during baking.
Part II: Lean Pockets Culinary Creations with Spinach, Artichoke, & Chicken
I was surprised by how many options there were for Hot Pocket flavors at the grocery store. In addition to Hot Pockets, which are offered in a variety of pizza-inspired flavors, they sell Lean Pockets® brand “Culinary Creations.” I decided that these “culinary masterpieces” (actual quote from their website) would serve as the best comparison with the stuffed flatbread. There was no “curried potatoes, spinach, and chickpeas” flavor, so I picked out the flavor most similar to the stuffed flatbread recipe – “spinach, artichoke, and chicken” (because they both contain spinach and a proteinaceous ingredient starting with “chick”).
(laboriously transcribed from the side of the box)
Water, Unbleached Enriched Flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Grilled White Meat Chicken (white meat chicken, water, isolated soy protein, modified rice starch, chicken flavor [dehydrated chicken broth, chicken powder, natural flavor], sodium phosphate, salt), Artichokes, Low Fat Mozzarella Cheese ([pasteurized part skim milk, cultures, salt, enzymes], non-fat milk, modified food starch*, *ingredient not in regular mozzarella cheese), Chopped Spinach, Yellow Corn Flour, Contains less than 2% of: Isolated Oat Product, Seasoning (nonfat milk solids, buttermilk powder, whey, coconut oil, salt, sugar, wheat flour, corn maltodextrin, torula yeast, methylcellulose, onion powder, titanium dioxide, xanthan gum, natural flavor, locust bean gum, spice, sodium caseinate, disodium inosinate & guanylate, butter [cream, salt], extractives of annatto, extractives of turmeric), Parmesan and Asiago Cheese With Flavor (parmesan and asiago cheeses [cultured milk, salt, enzymes], flavor [enzyme modified parmesan cheese (cultured milk, salt, enzymes)], whey, salt, cellulose), Margarine (partially hydrogenated soybean oil, palm oil, water, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, sugar, mono- and diglycerides, artificial flavor, soybean lecithin, potassium sorbate and citric acid [preservatives], colored with annatto and turmeric, vitamin A palmitate), Sugar, Modified Food Starch, Vegetable Herb Whole Grain Topping (whole grain bread crumb [whole wheat flour, sugar, salt, yeast, canola oil], dehydrated garlic, dehydrated carrot, spice, paprika, salt, red bell pepper, spinach powder, sugar, soybean oil, citric acid), Salt, Palm Oil (with soy lecithin, artificial flavor, beta carotene), Cheese Seasoning (maltodextrin, parmesan cheese [cultured pasteurized part skim milk, salt enzymes], romano cheese [cultured pasteurized part skim milk, salt, enzymes], cheddar cheese [cultured pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes], salt, milk protein concentrate, disodium phosphate, natural flavor), Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil (with soy lecithin), Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Dough Conditioner (calcium sulfate, salt, L-cysteine hydrochloride, garlic powder, tricalcium phosphate, enzymes), Yeast, Soy Lecithin, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Artificial Butter Flavor (maltodextrin, artificial flavors, modified corn starch, medium chain triglycerides), Methylcellulose, Dried Whey, Soy Flour, Dried Egg Whites
- Store the product frozen.
- Preheat the oven to 350F and remove the product from its wrapper. Place on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165F.
- Let stand for two minutes.
Taste Test and Edibility Evaluation
Bill and I approached the taste test with eager anticipation. Would the classy stuffed flatbread wow us with the wholesomeness that can only be achieved through the slow cooking of fresh, whole foods? Or would the Lean Pocket’s unique blend of 89 ingredients (including chicken powder, methylcellulose, and sodium stearoyl lactylate), optimized through decades of industrial recipe development, catapult it into sandwich stardom? It was anyone’s guess.
I decided to bake the stuffed flatbreads rather than grill them, primarily because I was afraid they would fall apart on the grill. Although the recommended cooking method for Lean Pocket is a quick nuke in the microwave using the provided space-age “crisping sleeve,” I opted for the oven baking directions to ensure a fair comparison.
The stuffed flatbreads smelled of freshly baked bread and Indian spices when they came out of the oven. Since I used a whole wheat dough recipe that tends to be somewhat stiff, I was not surprised to see that they had split apart at the seams a bit. Nonetheless, they remained largely structurally intact. Their pale, bloated appearance left something to be desired, though, which posed an insurmountable challenge to my rudimentary food photography skills.
Bill and I were both pleased with the taste and texture of the stuffed flatbreads. I thought they were good as-is but could be improved, so I appropriately awarded them an edibility score of 4.0. Bill was eating a grilled steak, so he just took a couple of bites. Although I knew the stuffed flatbread wouldn’t hold a candle to steak in Bill’s book, he enjoyed the Indian spices in the filing as well as the texture imparted by the chunks of potatoes and chickpeas. Although he agreed that they could be improved, he said he would eat them again and gave them an edibility score of 3.5.
I caught a waft of fake cheese when I took the Lean Pocket out of the oven. You might argue that my choice of the term “fake cheese” is a little harsh, but the ingredient list on the box actually states that the mozzarella cheese contains an “ingredient not in regular mozzarella cheese.” The appearance of the Lean Pocket did not change at all as a result of cooking in the oven. As far as dough-wrapped sandwiches go, the Lean Pocket was quite attractive due to the industrial assembly process that formed a perfect, rectangular pillow, its golden surface adorned with a “vegetable herb whole grain topping.”
However, its flavor and texture were less endearing. Cutting into the Lean Pocket with a fork and knife, I initially noticed its flaky but tough crust. I had to cut farther in before I actually encountered filling. The filling was off-putting, both in appearance and taste. It reminded me of a gluey version of chicken pot pie filling and was very salty and cheesy. Bill was mildly annoyed that he had to pause from eating a perfectly good steak to taste the Lean Pocket. His reaction was nonverbal, consisting of mouth puckering and vigorous head shaking. Together, we decided that the Lean Pocket should remain in the “Mildly Inedible” range of the edibility scale (score of 2.0).