Frozen vegetables are a convenient way to add products to your daily diet. Frozen food companies package vegetables such as peas, carrots, beans, broccoli, and corn when they are fresh, preserving them by deep freezing. Although they are just as nutritious as fresh, it is how you prepare them that affects their taste and nutrients. For instance, boiling them in water can reduce their water-soluble vitamins. Cook them the right way to avoid mushy vegetables and add flavor with fresh or dried herbs.
The nutritional truth: Do not mistake the plastic packaging as a sign of less healthful ingredients. Frozen vegetables actually rival fresh ones in terms of nutrition, as they get picked and flash-frozen at peak ripeness when they are in a nutrient-rich state. In some cases, like when the produce must travel far distances, frozen products may even prove healthier, since vegetables continue to lose nutrients from the time they are picked to when you finally add them to your meal. Plus, frozen vegetables are preserved without additives, unlike their canned cousins. Some products do contain extra sugar, salt, and other ingredients, so be sure to check the labels before purchasing.
Shopping advice: If you have not looked lately, the modern frozen aisle contains more than just peas and carrots. Today, you will find purple cauliflower florets, rainbow chard, artichokes, and okra, to name a few new arrivals. Many of these options also come pre-chopped and parboiled, meaning minimal preparation time for you. With all these options available, the question rises, when should you not buy frozen vegetables?
The answer is simple, stick with fresh options when the ingredient, like carrots or broccoli, are available fresh for most of the year – or when the vegetable is the star of a dish or you need a firmer structure. For one, you will be happier with the results, and they often prove just as easy to prepare and are equally budget-friendly.
Cooking advice: Depending on the vegetable and the recipe, thawing techniques will differ. But one rule holds true across the board: Do not boil. Boiling will add more moisture to the product, increasing chances of an unpleasant ‘mushy’ texture and the loss of water-soluble vitamins. So skip the boil and simply steam or microwave the vegetables with two tablespoons of water after thawing. For most recipes, you can even skip the thaw.
Whether steaming or adding them to a cooked stew, use vegetables straight from the freezer to retain as much structure, color, and flavor as possible. When you add frozen vegetables to a dish in-progress, it is best to add them near the end of the cooking time to prevent them from breaking down too much.
That being said, not all frozen vegetables can adapt to the same recipe. Some vegetables do best blended into the background of a dish; others easily spotlight in dips and stir fries; and a small group can take center stage on the plate. By following the guidelines below, you will be able to use frozen vegetables to the best of their abilities. Better yet, you will be able to skillfully swap them into recipes when you do not have the fresh stuff on hand. Here is what you need to know about incorporating frozen vegetables into different types of recipes:
Cold: Bite-sized items – like frozen corn, peas, bell pepper strips, green beans, and chopped artichoke hearts – only need a quick thaw or steam before they are ready for the plate. Mix with cooked grains or sturdy greens for a not-sad desk lunch or toss with tangy dressing and let them stand on their own
Crispy (and casseroled): Frozen asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli florets, okra, butternut squash, and cauliflower tend to get a soggy feel when roasted or sautéed. It is best to lend them texture through breading and/or frying. When in doubt, use these ingredients in casseroles or gratins, or anything with a crispy coating.
Baked: You can add almost any frozen vegetable to a frittata straight from the package. Or add them to muffins, savory pie fillings, or puffed pastry pinwheels.
Mixed: Whether you choose meatballs, falafel, or gnocchi, most frozen vegetables do well when used as part of a patty. Give thawed or steamed ingredients, like spinach, sturdy greens, and florets, a fine chop by hand; for tougher items, like carrots and green beans, a quick whirl in the food processor is recommended.
Swirled: Mix spinach, collard greens, chard, and kale with sour cream or yogurt for a quick and easy dip or blend with garlic and onions for a chunky pesto.
Souped and stewed: Want a foolproof way to use frozen vegetables? Make a soup or stew. The tenderness of most thawed vegetables makes for better soup, especially for blended soups. When making textured soups, just remember to add frozen ingredients towards the end of the cooking time and not before.
Smashed: Forget the avocado and give butternut squash, carrots, and other ‘mushy’ frozen vegetables a chance.