How to Make Frozen Vegetables Taste Just as Good as Fresh
Eating more frozen vegetables? So are we! Try these Test Kitchen tips for making them taste great.
If you're like me, you're probably eating more frozen vegetables these days—having frozen veggies on hand helps you to eat more vegetables, while limiting trips to the grocery store. But if you grew up on sad, limp frozen veggies, you might not really be that psyched about the bags of frozen peas and broccoli stuffed in your freezer—poorly cooked frozen vegetables can really make you long for a nice crisp head of broccoli or a fresh salad.
But frozen veggies can taste just as good as fresh—and sometimes even better. To help you get the most out of frozen veggies, I asked my colleagues in the EatingWell Test Kitchen to share their advice for getting the best out of frozen veggies. Here are our top tips for making them shine.
Test Kitchen Tips for Getting the Best out of Frozen Vegetables
Don't overcook them
Whatever method you choose for cooking your frozen vegetables—whether boiling, steaming, roasting or sautéing—be sure not to overcook them. "They need less cooking because they are already at least parcooked; you're just reheating them," explains EatingWell magazine's food features editor, Carolyn Malcoun. EatingWell recipe developer Carolyn Casner recommends steaming frozen vegetables instead of boiling them. "Boiling makes them even mushier," she says.
EatingWell test kitchen manager Breana Killeen does sometimes boil frozen vegetables, but only very briefly: "I've been adding frozen veggies—broccoli, peas, green beans—to the pasta cooking water during the last minute or so of cooking, then draining the veg with the pasta and adding it to sauce," she says. You might not need to cook the vegetables as long as the bag says. In some cases, such as if you are using corn or peas in a salad, you don't even need to cook the vegetables—just thawing them will do. Malcoun likes to use frozen cauliflower rice to make tabbouleh. "I thaw it, drain it, then pat it dry on tea towels," she says. Frozen vegetables can also be added to smoothies—no thawing necessary.
Sidestep stand-alone dishes
While frozen vegetables can work as stand-alone sides, Casner recommends mostly using them in dishes like soups, stews, casseroles and curries. When a dish has a lot going on, you won't notice if the vegetable's texture is not perfect. Frozen spinach shows up in a lot of Casner's EatingWell recipes, like the Sheet-Pan Eggs with Spinach & Ham pictured above.
Meanwhile, Malcoun says, "My fave is frozen mixed veg + eggs + leftover rice + tamari = instant fried rice!" She just throws the frozen mixed vegetables into the pan (no need to thaw first). EatingWell magazine's food editor Jim Romanoff likes to use frozen vegetables in sandwiches. He sautés sliced red onion, frozen sliced mushrooms and frozen spinach until dry and then puts that on a sandwich with sauerkraut and Swiss. And, personally, I love adding cooked frozen corn to black beans and salsa and using it as a nacho topping.
If you do want to serve frozen vegetables as a stand-alone side, keep in mind that they typically need a little more love than fresh in-season vegetables. Acidic ingredients like lemon or vinegar, fats like butter and olive oil, spicy condiments like chile flakes or hot sauce, savory ingredients like cheese, bacon and nuts and fresh and dried herbs are all your friends when it comes to frozen vegetables. I frequently steam frozen vegetables like peas, broccoli or asparagus and then give them the salt, fat, acid hit treatment: plenty of Parmesan or Pecorino, a generous slug of olive oil and lemon zest and juice, plus some freshly ground pepper. Try this with lima beans, too—I swear!
If you are wondering if you can roast frozen vegetables, the answer is yes, you can! Casner's hot tip: "Preheat your sheet pan in a 450°F oven for a crispy result." She says broccoli works best, but you can also roast frozen cauliflower, green beans and Brussels sprouts. On the stovetop, cooking in cast iron can give your frozen vegetables a similar char—try this with corn or Brussels sprouts. (I like to cook frozen Brussels in cast iron with bacon and onions.)
Consider candying them
When I put my questions about frozen vegetables to Romanoff, he waxed poetic about his favorite dish with frozen vegetables: candied pearled onions. If you've ever peeled fresh pearl onions by hand, you will love the convenience of frozen onions. And candied onions are super-flexible: Just cook them with butter, then add your favorite form of sugar (like honey or brown sugar) and deglaze with some sort of acid (Romanoff likes sherry vinegar and balsamic vinegar) and cook until syrupy. Use this super-easy recipe for Balsamic Caramelized Onions as a template. Frozen peas, carrots and beets also take well to candying—and couldn't we all use a little more sweetness in our lives?
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