The Best Frozen Vegetables to Stockpile
There's nothing quite as delicious as a freshly-picked vegetable pulled straight from the earth. This doesn't mean frozen produce doesn't have its place, however. Frozen vegetables tend to be less expensive, and since they last far longer than fresh veggies, they can also help you eliminate food waste in your kitchen. The best part is, you don't necessarily have to sacrifice quality in order to add them to your diet.
But, not all frozen vegetables are created equal. Think: salad greens, green beans, or boxed vegetables covered in a cheesy sauce. If you're a little hesitant about buying the bagged varieties behind those glass door freezers, you should know that frozen veggies are processed at the peak of ripeness, when their nutrient levels are highest.
Chef Julian Bray of Local Republic in Gwinnett County, Georgia told us there are some vegetables they actually prefer to buy frozen, especially for specific recipes. These are the vegetables you should always keep in stock in your freezer.
Depending on where you live in the South, fresh green peas may be hard to come by. Not to mention, they're only available for a short season, and you have to shell them. Frozen peas are a great alternative. When cooked properly (boiling them quickly on the stovetop with butter), they bear a striking bright green resemblance and similar sweet taste as fresh peas.
Both Smith and Bray are big fans of frozen peas. In fact, Bray says, "I never buy green peas fresh. The quality is always diminished if they are not frozen immediately to preserve their taste." Smith adds that he's particularly fond of adding frozen peas in pasta.
Fresh broccoli begins to deteriorate and spoil after just a few days in the fridge. So if you don't plan to use up a whole head of fresh broccoli right away, cooking with frozen broccoli may save you more money and prevent food waste. Bray recommends steaming the frozen broccoli with a little butter and salt and pepper. Be sure to cook off that extra water so it's not soggy. To achieve the tender yet crunchy consistency of fresh broccoli, you can roast the broccoli on a sheet pan too.
Similar to the other cruciferous family member, cauliflower is one of those versatile veggies that tastes just as great frozen as it does fresh. Thanks to the snap-freeze process, frozen cauliflower is cheaper and easier to prepare. Whether you sauté, steam, or boil it, you still get all the vitamin C benefits with frozen cauliflower.
"Frozen cauliflower is always great, for the same reasons as broccoli," says Bray. "If you were to puree the cauliflower, I would rather use frozen as it better retains the bright color as expected."
According to Bray, it's good to have frozen okra on hand since it spoils quickly. He acknowledges, however, that it can get slimy when you cook it from frozen. To avoid this, he recommends adding some acid to the pot with a few tomatoes and some broth. Top with steamed rice you'll have yourself a hearty meal.
While carrots are practically available year-round, fresh finds only last a short while in the refrigerator. In the time it takes to transport carrots from the farm to the supermarket, the nutrient levels tend to decrease. On the other hand, frozen carrots are chosen shortly after harvest, allowing them to maintain their fiber, vitamin A, and beta-carotene nutrients.
Bray also recommends keeping frozen carrots on hand for ease of use. "Carrots are always handy to have in your freezer. Carrots take quite some time to get tender and if you're making a soup, just throw them on in and you are good to go."
Lima beans are hyper-seasonal, but that doesn't mean you can't incorporate them into your diet year-round. "Since they spoil super-duper quickly, having some on hand in the freezer means I don't have to wait until next spring when I'm craving lima bean hummus," says Bray.
Frozen spinach is full of fiber-rich nutrients, iron, and calcium, and it lasts much longer than fresh spinach. But, the greatest incentive for using frozen instead of fresh comes down to quantity. Fresh spinach leaves tend to cook down significantly. If you have a recipe that calls for spinach as the main ingredient, you can use frozen. Also, cooking with frozen spinach means you don't have to worry about squeezing out excess water when making a tasty spinach dip.
"I highly recommend grabbing a bag of the stuff pre-cooked and frozen. There's significantly less cost and it's also much more efficient," Smith says.
Brussels sprouts can be ridiculously expensive, especially when they're not in season. However, frozen Brussels sprouts are a lot less costly. You'll want to forego the defrosting to ensure you don't end up with mushy, bitter, or watery sprouts. Instead, coat them in a little olive oil and roast them for about 35 minutes, until they brown and form a nice caramelized crunch.
Butternut squash is grossly underrated among its winter squash counterparts. With its high-fiber content and nutrient-dense properties such as potassium, folate, and vitamin B6, we should always make room for this superfood in our diet. To take all the work out of peeling and chopping a fresh butternut squash, grab a frozen bag to make a simple roasted dish.
For those long months when sweet corn isn't in season, opt for frozen instead of canned. It's just as sweet as fresh ears and takes less time to cook. Another added bonus is that frozen corn generally has less calories and carbs than fresh corn.