Like reusing glass jars, this is an idea I’ve mentioned before that has increased its importance in my day-to-day life to the point that it deserves its own article!
When you have more of a vegetable than you can eat before it goes bad, clean and shred the extra all at once, put measured portions into small bags, and freeze it. Now you have convenient quantities to use in future recipes! Depending on the cooking technique, you may not even have to thaw them before using. You’ll save time, compared to cutting up fresh vegetables in a bunch of separate sessions. You’ll save money, compared to wasting fresh produce or buying more expensive pre-sliced frozen vegetables. You’ll save even more money if you buy the vegetables in season at a low price and stock the freezer, instead of buying fresh ones out of season. You’ll probably eat more vegetables because they are more convenient to use. We don’t have a chest freezer, only the standard freezer above the refrigerator, but still we’re able to stock enough frozen vegetables to make life much easier! We do not cook anything before freezing, except as noted below.
Why shred instead of chop? One reason is that smaller pieces thaw more quickly and cook more quickly, increasing the number of ways you can use these vegetables. Another is that shreds pack together with less air between them, preventing yucky freezer-flavored ice crystals from forming on the food. You’re still not going to want to thaw frozen vegetables and eat them raw, in most cases, because freezing changes the texture–so only freeze foods you’re willing to cook before you eat them (not cantaloupe).
A food processor can shred several pounds of vegetables in a few minutes! If you don’t have one, use a grater or knife, and enjoy the exercise! Some vegetables, like carrots, go beautifully through a food processor’s grater attachment or a hand grater. (Our food processor does them too beautifully, making very long shreds, so if we’re planning carrot cake we run them through the processor a second time to get tiny bits.) Other vegetables, like kale, will clog a grater but get nicely shredded by a food processor’s slicer attachment or a knife. Thin slices freeze almost as neatly as shreds, and you may prefer them for some foods, like onions.
I usually make 1-cup portions, unless I have a specific recipe in mind that uses a different quantity.
Save money on bags and conserve plastic by washing bags to use again and/or by reusing bags from the packaging of other foods. (Don’t use bags from non-food items–they may not be safe.) We shake the crumbs out of the liner bags from cereal and crackers and use them to freeze vegetables, especially strong-smelling ones like onions since we’ll want to throw away those bags after use. Those bags don’t have zip-tops, but with only 1 cup of food inside, they’ve got plenty of slack at the top to fold over, and then you can put a rubber band around the outside. We also rinse out big, sturdy zip-top bags from the frozen vegetables and ravioli we get at Costco and use those as the outer bag–clearly labeled with masking tape–for a group of little veggie bags. Write the date on each bag with a permanent marker (if reusing the bag, cross out the previous date) and if you’re adding new bags to your freezer before using up the old supply of the same vegetable, put the oldest ones on top/in front so you’ll grab them first.
I am no expert on freezing, but my informal experiments have shown that food turns out better (especially if it’s stayed frozen for several months) if you put the individual bags into a second, outer bag. This also helps you to find the little bags and be aware when you’ve run out of that type of vegetable. Squeeze out the air from all bags before you seal them.
If your recipe involves cooking vegetables in oil, with rice, or in soup, you don’t even have to defrost them first! Just start the pot at a lowish temperature, place the clump of frozen vegetable in it (with liquid between it and the pot so it doesn’t stick), and every couple minutes turn it over and scrape off the thawed part. When it’s de-clumped, turn up the heat and cook as usual.
When you do need to thaw the vegetables, place the bag in some kind of dish with sides, or if it’s a strong-smelling food like onions place it in a jar with the lid on, and put it in the refrigerator at least 8 hours before you plan to cook. If you’re in a hurry, defrost in the microwave or by running hot water over the tightly-closed bag.
UPDATE: I forgot to address the question of which vegetables to cook before freezing them until I responded to a comment asking about this. I’m now adding my response, with an update, to the article!
I started freezing vegetables when our farm share gave us more than we could eat in a week! Then, thanks to the farm share, I developed a taste for kale and started buying this affordable vegetable in the grocery store, where it’s invariably sold in huge bunches–so it’s a good thing it freezes so well! We’ve found that Costco occasionally has 5-pound bags of organic carrots at a really low price, so when that happens and we have the freezer space, we freeze carrots that can be used in carrot cake, Apricot Lentil Soup, Fried Rice, Pasta Salad, Lentil Rice, this stuff, homemade veggie burgers, and lots of other recipes. After a year or so of reading repeated ravings from Katie at Kitchen Stewardship about the joys of frozen chopped onions, this spring I spotted a sale on Vidalia onions and finally tried it myself–wow, that really saves a lot of time! We make so many meals that begin by sauteing some onion in oil, but cutting up fresh onion is a hassle–even if it doesn’t make you cry, it gives you a smelly knife and cutting board to clean, and there’s all that papery husk (and sometimes crumbs of dirt) getting stuck where you don’t want it, and if you don’t use the whole thing in one recipe then you have to store the remaining onion carefully to prevent mold and refrigerator odor. Getting all the husking and chopping over with at once is great!
You can freeze fruit, too! Shredded apples are great for baking, including adding fiber and Vitamin C to foods that normally wouldn’t contain fruit–reduce the liquid in the recipe to allow for the apple juice. Cranberries are much easier to slice with a food processor than by hand, so freeze them pre-sliced so you can bake cranberry bread after the brief cranberry season has passed. Other berries don’t need to be shredded for freezing and don’t need to be thawed before adding to oatmeal. Almost any fruits can be combined in a cooked fruit topping for yogurt, cereals, and desserts; you can make it with frozen fruit or freeze it after you make it!
We also save money by buying some foods in giant cans, using some in one meal, and freezing the rest. Beans freeze very well. We also enjoyed roasted red peppers that we froze. I know, we might save even more by starting with dry beans or fresh peppers and cooking them ourselves before freezing–but we work full-time, so we find canned foods an acceptable extravagance!
Check out the benefits of freezing grated cheese, too!
Try making your own convenient meal-sized portions of frozen foods as each season’s fresh produce rolls in. It works for me! Visit the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop and Real Food Friday and Healthy Vegan Friday for more healthy cooking ideas!
The only vegetable we routinely freeze that is cooked before freezing is pumpkin/squash. This is because it’s easier to bake or steam the whole pumpkin or all the squashes we have, and then freeze the pulp we won’t use right away, than it would be to freeze it raw with the skin on and finish processing it later. Frozen squash/pumpkin pulp tends to be very watery when thawed, so place it in a colander lined with a dish towel and let it drain before using it in baking or burritos.
Mostly I have frozen cooked food when we happened to have cooked food that we weren’t going to be able to eat before it spoiled. This almost always works fine–the only trick is to avoid leaving air around it.
It does seem to me that green beans that were frozen raw do not taste as good as those that were frozen cooked. Next time I freeze green beans, I am planning to blanch them (steam until lightly cooked, then rinse with cold water) which seems to be what everyone recommends. When I have frozen them steamed but NOT rinsed with cold water, when I later cooked them they were very soft and seemed overdone. The cold water stops the cooking process.
In general, I think blanching would be a good idea for any veg that you don’t want to shred or thinly slice–like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, neither of which I ever froze.