These days, frozen vegetables are flying off the shelves in grocery stores across the country. And with shoppers stockpiling their kitchens, empty freezer aisles are the new normal.
Here at Mosaic, we're experts at freezing veggies (in fact, it's pretty much the only thing we do). Which is why we know that while pre-frozen vegetables are convenient, you can achieve much the same result by freezing fresh food yourself. It's the perfect way to capture the convenience of frozen food, without worrying about the processed ingredients that so often come with it.
So next time you run into an out-of-stock freezer aisle, beat the crowds and stay a step (or better yet, 6 feet) ahead by practicing DIY freezing. Here are some tips on how to get started:
Before you get started with freezing, it's important to do some advanced planning. Here's where to start:
- Start with the freshest veggies you can find. While freezing will maintain the freshness of your vegetables, it can’t undo any spoilage, so be choosy about what you’re freezing for later. If it’s already a few days old, it’s better to eat right away.
- Plan ahead so you can freeze within a few hours of picking or purchasing. This will ensure maximum taste and texture when it comes time to eat.
Blanch or Bust
Before you can freeze vegetables, you’ll need to blanch them, or briefly scald in boiling water. Why? Blanching stops the enzymes that cause vegetable decay, and helps reduce nutrient and quality loss over time. But it’s important to get it just right: blanch for too little time, and you’ll actually awaken decay enzymes; over-blanch and you’ll lose flavor and nutrients (see below for specific guidelines based on the veggie you're prepping).
Once the vegetables are blanched, cool them right away to stop the cooking process. Plunge into ice water for the same amount of time they were blanched. Drain thoroughly, and pat dry (a salad spinner or towel blotting should do the trick). Removing as much water as possible will help prevent ice crystals from forming in the freezer and ensure high quality when defrosted.
Spread the dried veggies on a baking sheet in a single layer and freeze for 1-2 hours. This prevents clumping in the freezer, so you can portion perfectly when you're ready to cook. Of course, if you plan to cook in large batches, you can skip this step!
Transfer veggies into plastic freezer bags, being sure to pat out as much air as possible. Air invites freezer burn, which is a death sentence for frozen food. Use a vacuum sealer if you have one; if you don't, even sucking out excess air with a straw can be effective. Voila! You’ll have frozen veggies good for up to almost a year.
The steps above are a general process for freezing vegetables. But depending on the vegetable, you may need to trim, peel, or cut for optimal freeze results. Note: there are a handful of vegetables you shouldn’t freeze — celery, watercress, endive, lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers and radishes. These have a high water content and will grow soggy and waterlogged in the freezer. But everything else is fair game. Read on for the recommended prep and blanch time for some of our favorite go-to’s:
- Asparagus: Trim the ends and cut into even pieces. Blanch for 2-4 minutes
- Broccoli/Cauliflower: Trim stalks. Cut into 1-1 ½ inch florets. Blanch for 3 minutes.
- Brussels sprouts: Remove the outer leaves. Trim stems and wash thoroughly. Sort and separate the sprouts by size. Blanch large sprouts for 5 minutes, medium for 4, and smaller ones for 3.
- Carrots: Peel and slice or dice into cubes. Blanch for 2-3 minutes. Blanch baby carrots for 5 minutes.
- Corn: Remove the ears and silk. Blanch on the cob for 4-5 minutes; let it cool, then cut off kernels.
- Chard, Kale, Spinach: Blanch for 2 minutes — squeeze out as much water as possible.
- Green beans: Trim ends. Blanch for 3 minutes.
- Peas: Blanch for 1 minute.
- Tomatoes: Halve or cut into pieces. Remove seeds. Blanch for 30 seconds. The skin will peel off once frozen.
- Zucchini/Summer Squash: Cut into ½ inch rounds. Blanch for 2-3 minutes.
- Butternut Squash/Pumpkin: Peel and remove the seeds. Cut into one-inch cubes. Freeze.
- Eggplant: Slice and cube. Blanch for 4 minutes.
- Mushrooms: You have multiple options when freezing mushrooms — freeze raw, steam blanch (whole mushrooms for 5 minutes, buttons or quarters 3.5 minutes, and slices 3 minutes), or saute in oil or butter for 4 minutes, with whatever seasoning you’d like. Sauteing will yield the firmest results post-freeze.
- Bell peppers: Can be frozen raw. Note though, that peppers will lose their crispness, so they’re best used for sauces or in cooked dishes. You can freeze them whole for stuffed peppers (just cut off the tops and take out the seeds), or cut into strings or rings to free up more freezer space.
- Onions: Like peppers, onions will lose their crunch once frozen, but will still retain their flavor, so use in hot dishes. Whole onions must be blanched — 3 minutes for small onions, and 7 minutes for larger ones. There’s no need to freeze cut onions. Just slice or dice and place in freezer bags.
There you have it — go forth and freeze! You’re ready to enjoy months of perfectly preserved veggies, right out of your own kitchen. Stockpiling and staying in the house? Go ahead and high-five yourself. These are difficult times, but having fresh, ready produce on hand can help you stay happy and healthy through it all.