For too long, the freezer has been the domain of the microwaveable pizza, greasy Hot Pockets, and individually wrapped ice cream cones. It's time to take back your freezer—and fill it with something good for you.
Though standard wisdom is that fresh vegetables are best, putting them on ice is a pretty good second choice.
Don't believe us? Then listen to this: Frozen produce has a much longer lifespan than its fresh counterpart—veggies can last as long as 12 to 18 months in the freezer. Plus, you're stretching your grocery shopping dollar and eliminating food waste by consuming every bite of those snow peas. And when you have a freezer full of wholesome veggies, you'll be much less tempted to pick up that microwave dinner after work.
And making it happen is a snap. All you need to fill your freezer with all the local, in-season vegetables your little heart desires are a few sealable bags or containers, a big pot of water, some basic kitchen supplies, and a little time. Here's how to get down to it.
Step 1: Washing Your Veggies
To get started, prep all the veggies you'll be freezing by giving them a thorough wash. You wouldn't want any dirt or insects making it into your freezer along with your food.
Step 2: Vegetable Blanching time
Most vegetables also need to be blanched, or quickly boiled or steamed, before they're frozen. Blanching kills any microorganisms that might be wreaking havoc on your produce, and also stops the enzyme activity that causes vegetables to ripen. Basically, you're freezing your vegetables in time.
To start blanching, bring a gallon of water to a rolling boil. Then, lower vegetables into the pot in a mesh basket or cheesecloth bag.
Colorado State University offers this handy guide to how long to blanch each vegetable. Smaller vegetables—like green peas—take just a few minutes, while you'll need to cook foods like beets or corn-on-the-cob for longer. Some squashes—like pumpkins and winter squash—may even need to be fully cooked before freezing.
Once you're done blanching, plunge the vegetables into cool water immediately to stop the cooking.
Step 3: Pack 'em up.
After waiting for the cooked vegetables to dry off—don't skip this step as it's key to avoid freezer burn—it's time to get packing.
You can pack veggies two ways: tray packed, or dry packed. To tray pack, arrange drained vegetables on a tray and place them in the freezer for an hour or so. Once they've frozen solid, quickly remove the tray from the freezer and throw the frozen veggies into a sealable bag or container. This way, the vegetables won't stick together, and you can portion out individual servings at a time.
On the other hand, when you dry pack vegetables, you simply stuff the drained vegetables into bags and containers, leaving about a half-inch of headspace in containers and 3 inches of headspace in bags. This method freezes in blocks, so it's best used when you know you'll be defrosting a whole bunch of broccoli at once.
An easy way to preserve herbs? Finely dice fresh herbs and freeze them with olive oil or water in an ice cube tray. Then, when you want to add some fresh basil or cilantro to your cooking, you'll have plenty on hand.
But there is one downside to freezing your produce: freezer burn. When you freeze food, the thousands of water molecules inside the food form ice crystals. The ice crystals naturally seek out the coldest location possible—the wall of your freezer. If your food isn't sealed tightly, these molecules will escape from the food entirely, leaving it dehydrated, dry, and discolored.
To keep your freezer from sabotaging your produce, make sure everything you freeze is tightly sealed. Don't leave any extra room for air, either—the more you can fit into each bag or container, the better.
The longer food sits in your fridge, the more likely it is that freezer burn will strike. Like with fresh food, the best strategy is to eat the oldest food first.
And next time you feel a craving for summer-succulent white corn in the dead of winter, you'll have your newfound freezing skills to thank.
Photo credit: Sonja Langford via Unsplash