How to Use Frozen Vegetables
Using frozen veggies in meals is an easy, convenient way to eat more veggies with less hassle. In this article, we’ll talk about how to prepare frozen vegetables and offer some ideas for easy frozen vegetable meals.
Frozen vegetables are one of our favorite shortcuts to cooking more produce with less prep. They’re prewashed and chopped, which saves you valuable time in the kitchen (not to mention reduces dishes later!). They last much longer than fresh produce, which is great if you’re trying to grocery shop less frequently. Plus, they’re flash-frozen soon after being picked, so the nutrients are retained — often even better than in the fresh version of the food!
What’s not to love?!
Well, for some people, there are a few things. If you’ve ever had a bad experience with frozen veggies, you know what we’re talking about. Cooked wrong, they can become limp, soggy, or make your dish too watery. Luckily, though, it doesn’t have to be this way. A few quick tips and you’ll be well on your way to cooking dishes no one would guess weren’t prepped fresh!
Which dishes do and don’t work with frozen veggies?
The first thing you should know is that the texture of vegetables changes after being frozen. Freezing ruptures cell walls in the plants since the water in the cells expands as it freezes. So when vegetables thaw, some of that water seeps out.
This means it’s hard to get a crisp result when cooking with frozen vegetables, as you often want when roasting or frying — think oven-roasted broccoli or fried Brussels sprouts. If you want a crispy result, it may be better to bread the vegetables (fried okra, anyone?) . . . or just to buy fresh.
Frozen vegetables work best with soups, stews, casseroles, smoothies, or any use where a softer vegetable isn’t a deal-breaker.
Which veggies will you find frozen?
Lots! But in general, these vegetables do best frozen, and will be the most common on the grocery store shelves:
- Butternut squash
- Green beans
- Vegetable medleys
How to cook them
The first question most people ask about cooking with frozen vegetables is whether they need to be thawed before use, and in most cases the answer is a resounding NO! Adding frozen veggies to your pot, baking dish, or sauté pan while they’re still frozen will generally yield the best result.
One exception to this is spinach and other leafy greens. Spinach lets off more water when thawed than most vegetables, so unless you’re using it in soup where the extra moisture won’t matter, thaw spinach and drain, squeezing out any excess water if needed – for example, if you’re using it on pizza or for artichoke spinach dip.
In general, frozen veggies won’t take as long to cook as fresh veggies (they’re blanched before freezing, which starts the cooking process), so take this into consideration when using a recipe. Overcooking the vegetables will make them soggy and unappealing. In fact, some vegetables don’t need to be cooked at all. For uses such as pasta salads, just add them to your hot pasta and let the temperatures balance one another out!
Frozen vegetables can be cooked by steaming, sautéeing, microwaving, boiling, frying, or roasting. When microwaving, cook them without water in the dish for a firmer result. 4 to 6 minutes should be enough, but of course, consult the package because different sizes and types of vegetables will need differing amounts of cook time.
And one last tip: In any dish where the vegetables are the star, opt for fresh. But if vegetables are a supporting player to strong or rich flavors, it’s totally fine to use frozen! And if frozen is all you have, just go for it — many times you won’t even notice the difference.
Meal ideas for using frozen vegetables:
- Mixed frozen vegetables are perfect in this Chicken Pot Pie Soup with thyme pie crust crisps, which puts a twist on the classic flavors of chicken pot pie.
- Frozen broccoli and bell peppers work great in our Stovetop Mac and Cheese, a healthier version of mac and cheese that retains that craveable bread crumb crunch on top.
- Prep is simple for this Enchiladas Mineras Casserole if you use frozen carrots and corn, making enchiladas accessible even for a weeknight dinner.
- Our spicy, savory Kung Pao Chicken Wings with Fried Rice are a perfect use for frozen peas and carrots, ensuring that the fried rice comes together in just a few quick minutes so you can focus your attention on the wings.
- Frozen cauliflower cooks fast but holds their shape well, especially in this Indian Frittata full of warming spices and vegetables.
- No need to spend time wrestling with a butternut squash when you can use frozen! Try our Maple-Mashed Butternut Squash recipe for a tasty, nutrient-packed side dish.
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