How to freeze fresh vegetables while preserving their best qualities

Angela Davis

THE WASHINGTON POST – As social distancing and self-quarantining quickly become our new normal, many Americans are heeding advice to stock their home kitchens for the long haul. For most of us, trips to the grocery store will become less frequent, so it’s sensible to rely on the extended shelf-life of frozen produce. You won’t be the only shopper making a beeline for the frozen foods section, though.

If you’re faced with slim pickings, don’t worry. Buy fresh veggies, then freeze them yourself to preserve the nutrients. Here’s what you need to know:

YOU CAN FREEZE ALMOST ANYTHING

Some foods will fare better than others once thawed. You may not be able to use your frozen veggies for salads or roasting, but there are plenty of ways to use them in cooked dishes such as pastas, soups and casseroles. The best vegetables to consider are corn, peas, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green beans, squash and winter greens such as spinach, kale, chard and collards. Onions, peppers, celery and herbs can also be frozen. There’s not much advantage in freezing veggies with a high-moisture content – this includes cucumbers, cabbage, radishes, mushrooms and lettuce, which would be waterlogged and mushy once thawed.

BLANCHING IS HELPFUL

Most vegetables benefit from blanching before freezing. Rinse and prepare produce for cooking as you normally would. Trim off stems, roots and any damaged areas. Shell fresh peas and beans. If you would typically peel, deseed or core the vegetable before cooking, do that now as well. Chop larger vegetables into a uniform size.

For greens and most other veggies, blanch for two to three minutes before freezing. Work with one type of vegetable at a time, as some require longer blanching times than others.

Frozen fruit is especially great for smoothies, where texture won’t be an issue. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

SHEET PANS ARE YOUR BEST FRIEND

Blanched leafy greens can be transferred right away to storage containers, but the ideal way to freeze all other vegetables is on a sheet pan. Spread them out in a single layer so that the pieces aren’t touching. Freeze until solid. Once frozen, the vegetables can be transferred to the storage container of your choice. The beauty in this method is that you’ll end up with individually frozen veggies and not a solid mass.

USE CLEAN, FREEZER-SAFE CONTAINERS

The best options to consider are resealable freezer bags, plastic deli containers and glass storage containers with airtight lids. Certain wide-mouth canning jars are acceptable for freezing, just be sure to read the label and to leave an inch of empty space at the top. Liquids expand once frozen, so the danger in using glass containers that aren’t freezer-safe is that they could shatter. For this reason, it’s not safe to reuse glass jars from items like spaghetti sauce, because they likely weren’t made with tempered glass and don’t have a proper seal.

TREAT HERBS A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY

Fresh herbs are more delicate than hearty vegetables and susceptible to freezer-burn. Ice cube trays are perfect for the job. Mince the herbs as finely as you can and fill your tray about three quarter of the way full. Top the herbs off with olive oil to best preserve flavour, but water works, too. Freeze until solid, then transfer the frozen herb cubes to a storage container. Now you’ll have perfectly portioned herbs to add to your favourite recipes. There’s no need to thaw in most cases – simply add to your skillet or pot and let it melt.

MOST FRUIT CAN BE FROZEN, TOO

Frozen fruit is especially great for smoothies, where texture won’t be an issue. But even berries and stone fruit, if frozen properly, will be just fine for pies and baked goods. You don’t need to blanch fruit, but you can follow the steps above to prep and freeze them on sheet pans.

LABEL FROZEN PRODUCE AND USE WITHIN EIGHT TO 10 MONTHS

You’ve done all the hard work to properly prepare your veggies or fruit for the freezer, so don’t let it go to waste. Use a permanent marker to label your freezer bags with the contents, date and quantity. For plastic and glass containers, freezer-safe tape comes in handy for labelling. If properly frozen and stored, produce can last eight to 10 months in the freezer.