Frozen food gets a bum rap, but these fruits and vegetables are perfect candidates for a deep freeze.
Frozen food is often maligned and got a bad reputation when it was all lumped together with crummy convenience food. And while it’s hard to beat produce fresh from the farmers market, some fruits and vegetables stored in the freezer do have their merits.
On the minus side, frozen food takes more processing and consumes more resources in packaging and transportation. On the plus side, frozen produce can actually be higher in nutrients than that which you buy fresh at the supermarket. Gene Lester, Ph.D., a plant physiologist at the USDA Agricultural Research Center explains that fruits and vegetables chosen for freezing tend to be processed at their peak ripeness, a time when they are generally at their most nutritious. Produce fated for shipping is generally picked before it is ripe and falls short of its full nutritive potential; plus transportation can further degrade its nutrition.
Other plusses: Frozen foods allow for a variety of produce regardless of season; also, frozen food doesn’t spoil as quickly as do its cousins in the crisper drawer or in the fruit bowl. Consider the following:
1. Green peas
Many moons ago I heard a famous classic chef (someone like Jacques Pépin but I don’t exactly remember) say that frozen peas were often a better choice than fresh ones in the supermarket. That was the aha moment for this former fresh-food-only snob. Now understanding that fresh peas are delicate little things and become insipid in taste and texture a mere 24 hours after harvest, I too opt for frozen – which are frozen quickly after being picked – unless I’m getting them straight from the farmers market or garden and eating them soon thereafter. Plus having a bag of peas in the freezer makes for a quick and delicious pea puree, pesto or hummus ... or as a handy nutritional boost for everything from risotto and pasta to soup, couscous, and potatoes.
I don’t buy bananas frozen, but I do buy fresh bananas explicitly to put in the freezer. As soon as they reach peak ripeness, and even a bit after, they get peeled and sliced, frozen on a cookie sheet and then stored in a glass freezer bowl. Not only can they then be pureed for an uncanny one-ingredient soft-serve ice cream facsimile, but when used instead of ice in a smoothie they turn it into something like a milk shake. And who doesn’t like milkshakes?
For some reason, fresh spinach is something that I have a hard time managing – I somehow never seem to use it all up before a mossy slime takes over. My workaround is to buy it frozen – or freeze it as soon as I buy it fresh. Grabbing a handful out of the freezer ensures that I have the right amount and cuts down on waste; and when used in pasta, soups, baked savory dishes, etcetera, I can’t tell the difference.
If you’re not averse to eating soy, then frozen edamame is the way to go. Mostly because finding it fresh is not that easy, but also because thawed edamame suffers little in loss of flavor or texture.
Frozen berries will not thaw and resemble anything like their former selves – their delicate cell walls can’t hold up to the expanding water and thus the whole thing kind of collapses. But they still have their place! In applications where texture is not the star, they can provide a quick and delicious serving of fruit – think oatmeal, cereal, ice cream, muffins, cakes, pancakes, cocktails, smoothies, and smashed with sparkling water for a lovely soda alternative.
6. Vegetable mixes
Having a small bag or two of mixed vegetables in the freezer is helpful in a few ways. First of all, when making a dish with a variety of vegetables you don’t have to buy full portions of each fresh, which can lead to waste. Secondly, they provide an easy fix for a healthy dinner in a pinch. It’s a bit of a godsend to be able to toss in a mix of vegetables with a pot of pasta, with beans to make vegetarian chili, stirred with rice for a pilaf or to boost other fresh vegetables in a stir-fry.
Since I don’t love all the vegetables frozen that often come in a frozen vegetable mix – frozen corn is strange and insipid, frozen broccoli smells, frozen cauliflower is anemic – I instead make my own packets from fresh produce that I love and know I won’t be using all of.
• Bottom line, if you can buy fresh at the farmers market, do it – and freeze if you have surplus.But aside from that, don't fear the frozen food aisle. In moderation.
• When purchasing frozen produce look for organic products.
• To reduce food miles, also look for products that were grown and packaged as locally as possible (this information is usually listed on the package somewhere).