This guide to cooking with frozen vegetables was contributed by Erika Sweeney. Erica is a journalist covering food, nutrition, and wellness. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, The Washington Post, Real Simple, and lots more.
We all know we need to eat at least two to three cups of vegetables every day. They’re packed with nutrients and boast a number of health benefits, such as lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers. But, after a long day, getting dinner on the table quickly is a priority, and washing, chopping and peeling veggies is the last thing you want to do. Cooking with frozen vegetables is a time-saving (and nutritious and delicious) option.
Frozen vegetables sometimes get a bad rap. The truth is that they’re flash-frozen at the height of their freshness, and research shows that the nutritional value of frozen produce is often greater than (or at least equal to) its fresh counterpart. The freezer aisle contains a variety of exciting veggies these days, such as riced cauliflower, multi-colored carrots, butternut squash and artichoke hearts, along with the classics like frozen peas, corn, broccoli and spinach.
Still, frozen vegetables need to be handled a bit differently than fresh produce, and if you don’t know how to cook them, you could end up with a mushy mess. To keep that from happening, here are some things to know about how to cook with frozen vegetables.
Frozen vegetables are often just as nutritious as fresh ones
Frozen vegetables are harvested at their ripest state. Within a few hours of being picked, they’re blanched, or partially cooked, and then flash-frozen. The process helps veggies retain many of their nutrients. Fresh vegetables, on the other hand, might be picked before they’re fully ripe, and then have to travel long distances to reach a grocery store. By the time you purchase them, they’ve most likely lost some of their vitamins, especially if they’re refrigerated in transit.
Always check a frozen vegetable product’s label, though. While many frozen products are free from additives, some could contain added salt and sugar. Consuming too much sodium and sugar could have negative health effects.
They make eating your veggies more accessible
Not everyone has access to fresh vegetables on a regular basis, so frozen options make eating produce much more convenient. Frozen vegetables also have a longer shelf life and can be stored in the freezer for several months. This enables you to enjoy your favorite veggies even when they’re not in season. Frozen produce is also usually cheaper, making it more accessible than fresh vegetables.
Some veggies freeze better than others
Not all vegetables are destined to end up in your grocery store’s freezer section. That’s because some veggies freeze better than others. Vegetables with a high water content, like celery, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, peppers and endive, tend to not freeze well. They become soggy and mushy when thawed.
Cook’s Illustrated lists peas, corn, pearl onions, lima beans and spinach as “recommended” frozen vegetables. These tend to retain their texture and flavor when frozen. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and green beans are cited as “acceptable,” especially when used in soups, stews and other dishes that cook for a while.
Best ways to cook with frozen vegetables
Ready to stock your freezer with frozen vegetables? There are endless ways to cook with them. Here are a few things to know, first.
Frozen veggies don’t always need to be thawed
Most of the time, you don’t need to thaw frozen vegetables before cooking with them—but it depends on what you’re making. For soups, stews and pastas, you can toss still frozen vegetables right into the pot. These dishes can withstand some extra moisture, and the warmth will thaw out the veggies.
Eat thawed frozen vegetables on their own
When you want to toss frozen corn into a salad, top a pizza with frozen artichokes or make a spinach dip, you’ll want to thaw the veggies first. Otherwise, the extra moisture will make the dishes too watery. When thawing frozen vegetables, it’s best to do so slowly. Place the packages in the refrigerator to thaw or run under cold water. Then, drain off extra moisture or wring out spinach to get rid of the excess liquid.
Avoid boiling frozen vegetables
Frozen vegetables are already full of moisture, and boiling them adds even more. This results in water-logged, mushy veggies that won’t be much fun to eat. Plus, boiling can cause some of the nutrients to seep out. Instead, steam or microwave the vegetables with a tablespoon or two of water.
Roast or stir-fry frozen vegetables
To help frozen vegetables keep their structure, roasting, sautéing and stir-frying are the best cooking methods. To roast vegetables straight from the freezer, The Kitchn suggests tossing them with oil, layering on a hot pan, seasoning well with salt, pepper and other spices, and roasting in the oven on high heat. Sauté or stir-fry frozen or thawed vegetables in a hot pan and cook through.
Adjust the cooking time
Frozen vegetables don’t need to cook for as long as fresh produce. They’re already at least partially cooked, after all. Many frozen veggies also aren’t as firm as fresh ones, so you can slash the cooking time in half when roasting, sautéing or stir-frying. Add the veggies to soups or pastas near the end of the dish’s cooking time to avoid overcooking.
Stick with fresh veggies in some cases
There are instances when cooking with frozen vegetables isn’t your best bet. When a vegetable is the main feature of the dish or the produce needs to have a firm texture, choose fresh instead.
On your next trip to the grocery store, don’t skip the frozen vegetable aisle. Frozen vegetables are a great cooking hack and equally nutritious as fresh produce. Knowing how to cook with frozen vegetables will help you make delicious, healthy meals in a snap while avoiding the time-consuming prep.
Fore more tips like these, check out our guide to baking with frozen berries.