Frozen vegetables are a smart cook’s secret weapon. They eliminate two of the biggest roadblocks in the kitchen: washing and prepping produce (hello, slippery squash and stubborn edamame pods) and the time-consuming cleanup that inevitably follows. And, they’re pretty much the easiest way to work more veggies into your diet. For anyone that turns their nose up at the thought of frozen veggies, remember: They’re flash-frozen at the peak of ripeness, and are just as nutritious as fresh vegetables. (Don’t just take our word for it. It’s been scientifically proven.)
The thing is, one bad experience with frozen vegetables can easily send us on a freezer aisle hiatus. But if you avoid these five common mistakes, you’ll be singing the praises of frozen peas (and broccoli, and artichoke hearts) in no time.
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cooking Frozen Vegetables
1. Assuming all frozen veggies need to be cooked.
Some frozen veggies are best eaten as-is — no cooking necessary. We’re talking thawed frozen corn tossed into fresh summer salads, or frozen cauliflower puréed into smoothies. Oh, and the next time you’re making pesto, throw in some thawed frozen peas, which add creaminess and a boost of protein.
Follow this tip: Serving your dish cold or at room-temperature? Consider whether you really need to reach for the steamer basket. In fact, frozen vegetables can help quickly chill dishes such as pasta salad. Simply pour a bag of frozen veggies into the bottom of a serving bowl, add the warm, cooked noodles, and toss for a perfectly chilled pasta salad.
2. Giving all frozen vegetables the same treatment.
While some frozen veggies benefit from a quick thaw (spinach, for example, often needs to be thawed and drained to avoid adding excess moisture to your dish), others can be tossed in straight from the freezer — and will become limp if they spend too much time defrosting. Plus, adding the veggies straight from the freezer preserves their vibrant color and flavor.
Follow this tip: If you’re making something warm that can handle a little extra moisture (think: soups, stews, risottos, and pasta dishes), the vegetable can likely be tossed in frozen. If you’re eating it raw (like in the corn salad above) or you want to avoid excess moisture (such as on top of a pizza), you’ll want to thaw. We like the potato ricer for squeezing the water out of cooked spinach.
3. Defaulting to the microwave.
If you’re enjoying the vegetable on its own as a side, our instinct is often to turn to the microwave (or worse, a pot of boiling water). But microwaving or boiling frozen vegetables often leaves them limp and mushy, and reminds us of the stuff we pushed around on our plates as kids. Roasting has become our new favorite treatment, and we came up with a foolproof three-step technique to ensure success every time.
Follow this tip: For the best roasted veggies, stick a baking sheet in the oven with a drizzle of oil while it preheats. Toss the frozen vegetables with their own glug of oil, then throw onto the hot pan and roast at a high heat. And don’t skimp on the seasonings — if you hit ’em with bold flavors (lots of black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, lemon zest, etc.), frozen vegetables can quickly become the brightest, punchiest part of your meal.
4. Forgetting to adjust cook time.
Frozen vegetables often cook more quickly than their fresh counterparts. Frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, for example, aren’t as firm as fresh, so you can cut the cook time in half if you’re roasting or stir-frying. If you’re adding frozen vegetables to soups, stir them in during the last few minutes of cooking.
Follow this tip: If the texture of the frozen vegetable is key to the dish (i.e., you’re making a stir-fry, not a puréed soup), be mindful that it may cook more quickly than the recipe states.
5. Ignoring new-to-you frozen vegetables.
The freezer aisle has come a long way from the bags of peas and carrots. These days, you can find everything from frozen okra to sliced leeks and kabocha squash.
Follow this tip: Let the freezer aisle inspire your next meal. We’re currently crushing on frozen artichoke hearts, which can be added to a frittata, stirred into mac and cheese, or, of course, become the base for spinach-artichoke dip.
What’s your best advice for cooking with frozen vegetables?