Don't sneer at freezer essentials like peas and carrots; they're packed with vitamins, good for the environment, and great if you're on a budget
A lot of people turn up their noses at frozen vegetables. Yes, having farm-fresh produce is great, but many have to be delivered within a day of harvest to be at their best. So don’t be so quick to pass on the frozen variety. They are probably a lot better for the environment than the fresh stuff that has to cross hemispheres to get to the table. And they definitely deserve more appreciation.
“A lot of people pooh-pooh them,” says Bruce Weinstein, who has written 32 cookbooks with his husband, Mark Scarbrough. “The convenience factor is ridiculous.”
Frozen veg are also top quality because they’ve picked at the best time, and frozen straight away, instead of artificially ripened.
Here’s what you need to know about putting nutritious frozen vegetables to good use.
Picking the right veg
Lots of people complain about frozen veggies ending up mushy. This is true if you leave them uncooked, Weinstein says. But as cooking is intended to drive off moisture anyway, using frozen vegetables means you’re already a step ahead in eliminating some of the water you’d burn off by cooking.
The trick is to look for veggies that are lower-moisture and sturdy enough to not be rendered into pulp by ice. Some of Weinstein’s favourites include corn, artichokes and cauliflower. Cook’s Illustrated adds peas, lima (butter) beans, pearl onions and spinach to its recommended list, with broccoli, carrots and green beans on its acceptable roster, especially if you’re incorporating them into dishes where a crisp texture is not crucial, such as soups and stews.
The magazine is less keen on high-moisture vegetables, such as bell peppers, snow peas, snap peas, asparagus and mushrooms.
Also think about the types of frozen vegetables that can save you time because they are already peeled, shelled or cubed.
Storing them safely
Frozen vegetables in bags include air, and therefore moisture, in the packaging. “I think they have a limited shelf life,” Weinstein says. More moisture can cause freezer burn and wreak havoc on the texture of food. So, he prefers to use frozen vegetables within a few months.
Freezer burn, however, is not going to kill you or make you sick. It just makes your food look and taste funky. To prevent it, aim for a colder part of your freezer, if you can, away from the door. If you open and use part of a package, try to cook the rest within a week.
A word of warning
Understand that frozen food, just like its fresh counterpart can carry germs. Washing and blanching is not necessarily going to kill those. If you choose to eat the frozen veggies raw then, just as with fresh vegetables, there is a risk that you can get ill from them.
To thaw, or not to thaw
If the moisture that will be released from the vegetables will be a problem, it’s best to thaw them and throw away the extra water. You would do this if you were making stir-fries or curries.
Frozen spinach almost always needs to be thawed before use.
It’s good to thaw veggies before adding them to hot dishes, otherwise you may end up cooking the dish longer than intended, just to get it to heat up. Veggies can be thawed in the fridge the night before, or just on the counter while you prep.
Thawing is not always necessary. Some vegetables can be roasted straight from the freezer, in a hot oven on a preheated baking sheet, with plenty of oil.
Cooking up a storm
Weinstein says he prefers using frozen vegetables as an ingredient in dishes rather than on their own as a side. So what dishes are prime candidates for frozen vegetables? We’ve already mentioned soups, stews and stir-fries.
Try stirring peas and/or carrots into mac and cheese. Frozen vegetables can shine in risotto, too, according to Taste magazine.
Food 52 recommends adding them to the mix when you’re making veggie burgers (corn), dumplings (edamame) and gnocchi (spinach). The site says greens can be swirled into yogurt or sour cream for a dip, while “mushy” vegetables (carrots, squash) can be mashed and spread on toast (so over avo toast). Try making your own flavoured hummus with cooked, pureed frozen vegetables.
The best thing about frozen veg? The price. They tend to be super reasonable, especially compared to their fresh counterparts, making them ideal for students or anyone else on a budget, so stock up!