You know you’re supposed to be eating more vegetables. But for most of us, it’s hard to keep a lot of the fresh stuff on hand without it wilting, changing color, or otherwise morphing into something unidentifiable in our refrigerators. We’ve got jobs and dates and kids and life, after all.
Enter: the frozen vegetable. Maybe you have that one pack of peas for that inevitable knocked knee or banged-up elbow; there’s nothing like a bag of peas as a salve. But frozen vegetables are arguably also the silver bullet to get yourself to eat more produce. They don’t go bad quickly; there are plenty of ways to make them palatable; and nowadays, you can find the strangest, most wondrous things covered in snow in the frozen foods section.
I reached out to Sarah Karnasiewicz, a writer, recipe developer, and frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal, Rachael Ray, and Health. Full disclosure: Sarah’s a friend, so I know that when she goes shopping, she plunks a number of frozen veggie bags in her cart. That aisle is hardly the sexiest one in a grocery store. Unless it’s 90 degrees outside, we generally don’t want to spend much time there. So what was Sarah buying, and how did she incorporate them into her (delicious) meals? Here are her pro tips on which veggies to buy and how to cook them.
What’s your #1 go-to for frozen foods?
Peas are just always on the list, at least two or three bags. They’re something my son will eat. I do mainly use them as a not-the-main-ingredient in something. For risotto with mushrooms, I’ll sometimes just throw in peas at the very end along with fresh asparagus. Same thing with pastas. I’ve made a really great bright fresh pea soup with frozen peas too. Just don’t cook them too long and run them under cold water so they stay really green. I only buy baby frozen peas; I’m partial to the petite peas. They’re just sweeter and less mealy, I think. Frozen peas hold up really well, and there’s so much you can do with them. Yesterday I hit myself in the face with a laptop—don’t ask—but I was really glad to have my frozen peas.
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Corn is good for throwing into a chowder … I’ll always have a bag of peas or corn. Corn is the same rule as peas; buy regular or look for baby niblets or tiny, white, baby sweet corn. The “baby” version is always better.
I always buy some kind of greens like spinach or chard or mixed greens you can buy in bags—like spinach and maybe collards. I always have some version or variety of greens which I put in soups. I’m doing a stir-fry or frittata I might throw it in… but mostly I use them for soups and stews, like a really fast sweet-potato and white bean soup. I’ll add a couple handfuls of frozen greens towards the end. You can also throw some in a smoothie without it tasting disgusting.
My son really likes one that has cocoa powder, whole milk, yogurt, banana, and sometimes a little maple syrup. It really tastes like bitter chocolate. There’s a really fine point in terms of how many greens you can get away with if you’re trying to feed a child. At some point he’s like, “No, this doesn’t taste like chocolate.”
Sometimes I buy frozen butternut squash because it’s already peeled, chopped, and cubed and it’s nice to have them when I’m feeling lazy. I make a lot of soups and stews.
What’s less common but a must-buy?
For the less everyday things, I like to buy if I see them. A local Italian market had frozen bags of peeled fava beans, which are like money in the bank. Sort of like peas, you’re not seeing them fresh that much, you have to hunt them down. Favas are really laborious to cook, steam, and take the kernels out of the pods, then take the pithy part out of the kernel. But if you blanch the frozen ones really quickly and run them under cold water, they’re amazing.
When a one pound bag is $3.99, you’re definitely gonna spend more on that at the farmers’ market. I cooked them, made a salad with them, and shaved asparagus and lemon and shaved Parmesan and it was awesome. Sometimes you’ll see them at Middle Eastern markets. Also look for frozen fresh chickpeas, which I never see and didn’t know what to do with at all. I seasoned and roasted them; they were delicious, and I put them on salad for a week.
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Any tips for finding neat frozen things?
Sometimes you find interesting things in the freezer section, especially in a specialty food store. It’s a good way to dip your toes into a specialty ingredient and not have to use it that day. It’s lower-pressure. I was at a Russian market and found really interesting cloudberries and Nordic frozen fruit.
Top find over the years?
Frozen okra. I use it to make bhindi masala, the curry. It’s really good, and a total comfort food thing for me I used to order from the Indian restaurant near my office. I don’t get Indian takeout near my house, and if I’m craving it, it’s super-good, easy to make, and works totally fine.
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What’s your defrosting approach for frozen vegetables?
I don’t defrost. I throw them in frozen. They have to be going into something that’s already warm. Frozen peas are going into risotto … don’t have to cook very long. If you’re making pea soup, they’re going into an already-warm broth. My feeling’s always that you want to cook them as little as possible. Throw them in, make them not-frozen any more, and then eat them. I’m not roasting them.
Any veggies you avoid?
I haven’t had great success with cauliflower. I’ve bought it a few times and don’t really know what to do with it. I like roasted cauliflower. I could make a pureed soup or something, which is probably the best thing to do with it. I’m curious about that. I don’t buy Brussels sprouts. You can almost always buy those fresh, and I think they’re better.
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Any disadvantage taste-wise to frozen vegetables?
I think it completely depends on how you’re cooking them. I think you have to be mindful of what will play up their strengths and weaknesses. You’re not looking for crisp veggies.
Any tips for re-heating greens? I tend to defrost my spinach first and squeeze out excess water.
In a stir-fry or fried rice situation that’d be a good idea. Or for a fishcake or crabcake situation. It’s a good step to add to process. I’m mostly using those in stews or smoothies where liquid is kind of the point.
Spinach water can be an aggressive flavor, right?
Yeah, yeah, totally. But spinach, period, is kind of watery. Just add more butter. And a squeeze of lemon, and you’re good.
Alex Van Buren—follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen—is a Brooklyn-based writer, editor and content strategist who has written for The Washington Post, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Condé Nast Traveler, and Epicurious.
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