If you're like many people, the fresh vegetables you buy can sometimes go bad before you have a chance to use them. It's a common problem.
One solution to that problem is to learn how to store your vegetables properly. But another solution is to avail yourself of the modern miracle that is frozen vegetables.
Frozen vegetables get a bad rap, which is unfortunate, because they can be quite excellent. In many cases, frozen vegetables are even superior to fresh veggies—especially once those "fresh" veggies have been sitting in your crisper drawer for a day or two.
Consider: Frozen veggies are flash frozen at their peak of freshness and they're often blanched first, which halts various enzymatic actions, helping them stay at their most vibrant color and maximum freshness while also preserving their firm texture.
But even so, you can't use frozen veggies in exactly the same way you'd use fresh ones. Here are some of the most common mistakes people make when using frozen vegetables.
Defrosting Them Before Cooking
Unlike large frozen items, like a leg of lamb or a turkey, frozen veggies don't always need to be defrosted before cooking with them. In fact, doing so is not only an extra step, thawing before cooking can also lead to limp, droopy veggies.
Most frozen veggies can be added directly to whatever recipe you're preparing and cooked from their frozen state. You can even roast frozen broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower—although be sure to increase the cooking time by about 50 percent and turn them halfway through.
There are exceptions to the don't-defrost rule, one of them being leafy vegetables like spinach. Unlike individually quick frozen vegetables like corn and peas, frozen spinach is packaged in a solid block, which means you have to thaw it first. But if the vegetables you're preparing are frozen separately and come loose in a bag rather than in a solid frozen brick, skip the thawing part.
Steaming, Boiling, or Microwaving Them
Would you steam, boil, or microwave your fresh vegetables? Hopefully the answer is no. (If it's yes, that's another cooking mistake you might be making.) But you wouldn't cook your fresh veggies this way, why would you cook your frozen veggies this way?
The answer is, you shouldn't. Like fresh veggies, dry heat cooking methods like sautéeing and roasting will do wonders for frozen vegetables, caramelizing them and unlocking all kinds of flavors that moist heat methods like steaming, microwaving, or boiling simply can't. So when it comes to frozen veggies, ditch the microwave or the steamer basket and stick with the skillet or sheet pan.
Storing Them for Too Long
Just because frozen vegetables last longer than fresh ones doesn't mean you should keep them in the freezer for months. Especially once you open the bag. The reason is, frozen vegetables do dry out in the freezer.
The proof? Those annoying ice crystals you often find on frozen veggies. Those ice crystals are formed by the moisture in the vegetables seeping out as they seek the coldest location in the freezer. And while ice crystals don't harm the food and can easily be rinsed off, they do represent moisture loss from the vegetables, which means loss of freshness. It occurs over time and will eventually happen whether you keep the packages sealed or not.
So instead of thinking about your frozen vegetables in terms of months, for best results, try to use them within a week or two.
Not Branching Out
Frozen vegetables have come a long way since Clarence Birdseye introduced mass-produced frozen peas back in the 1920s. And while freezing vegetables isn't the most complicated operation, it's safe to say that in the 100 years since, the process has been vastly improved. Which means that there are all kinds of wonderful vegetables available in the frozen section that you might not expect.
Things like butternut squash, Swiss chard, collard and other mixed greens, asparagus, eggplant, cabbage, mushrooms, fava beans, and even chickpeas now fill out the frozen aisle. Which means if you're limiting yourself to the usual frozen standbys of peas, carrots, broccoli and green beans, you're definitely missing out.