There’s nothing like the taste of fresh vegetables, but what if, like me, you’re single and can’t always enjoy all that you purchase before they’re less than fresh? What if you find yourself eating out more often than you had expected, or you leave home for a vacation?
Canning your favorite vegetables is one answer, but that involves some extra time and effort, and it also requires jars, lids and careful attention to all of the disinfection protocols.
Freezing is a much better option.
The modern art of food freezing was perfected by Clarence Birdseye back 1923, with an investment of $7 for an electric fan, buckets of brine, and cakes of ice. Clarence Birdseye later developed and perfected a system of packing fresh food into waxed cardboard boxes and then flash-freezing it under high pressure. It was SO successful that 4 years later, he was applying that same technology to preserve beef, poultry and fruits.
It’s a matter of physics.
You can’t do much about the fact that vegetables contain a lot of water. When you freeze vegetables in a home freezer, the water in the vegetables expands slowly and bursts the cell walls in the vegetables. Later, when these vegetables are thawed, that water leaks out of the cells, and the vegetables become mushy. I’m sure you’ve seen it.
Commercial freezing, on the other hand, freezes vegetables so quickly it produces much smaller ice crystals within the cells of the vegetables, which in turn do less cell damage. No cell damage, no mushy vegetables.
Quicker and colder is the secret.
Unfortunately, you and I don’t have the flash freezing tunnels and the thermetically sealed packaging necessary to freeze vegetables the way commercial food processors do it. That doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) freeze vegetables at home, however. It just means that putting raw, cut vegetables in your freezer isn’t the way to do it.
Before you even think about freezing vegetables, the number-one rule would be to begin with the freshest vegetables possible. (Thankfully, you shop at Nino’s so that isn’t a problem.)
For many vegetables, it’s important to blanch or partially cook them in boiling water prior to freezing. Blanching stops the enzymes that cause vegetables to decay, a process that occurs even in frozen storage. The process of blanching helps preserve vegetable color, texture, flavor, and nutrients.
A general rule of thumb is to use one gallon of water per one pound of vegetables. Start timing blanching when the water returns to a boil after adding veggies. If it takes longer than one minute for the water to return to a boil, you’re adding too many veggies for the volume of water.
After blanching, quickly cool the vegetables to stop the cooking process by plunging them into ice water. Be sure to have ample ice on hand for cooling because as you add hot veggies, the water will warm. In general, plan on one pound of ice for each pound of veggies you process.
Cool vegetables for the same amount of time you heated them.
Drain your veggies thoroughly after cooling. Place on paper or clean cloth towels, or use a salad spinner. It’s important to remove as much water as possible to limit the amount of ice crystals forming on vegetables when they are freezing.
After your vegetables are as dry as you can get them, it’s time to package them for your freezer. The easiest way is to simply get some ZipLock® freezer bags.
Fill the bags to your desired level and squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible before sealing the bags and putting them in the freezer.
The other more desirable (but more expensive) way is to invest in a vacuum sealer that sucks all of the air out of the package and keeps your veggies fresher tasting longer.
When placing your veggies in the freezer, try and space them apart from one another while initially freezing. Also, try your best to place them in the coldest areas (that’s usually away from the door). Lastly, don’t over-crowd them.
Once your vegetables are completely frozen, you can relocate them wherever you choose. Under ideal conditions, most frozen vegetable will be enjoyable for up to a year.
Below are some suggested blanching times and related notes courtesy of vegonline.org
Asparagus: Wash and cut to desired length. Blanch for 3 minutes. Plunge into ice water. Pack and freeze.
Snap Beans: Wash and cut to roughly 1’’ long. Set small, immature beans aside. Also, pick out any bruised and undesirable beans. Blanch 3 min. Spread a single layer onto a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Beets: Cut tops off and cook until soft and tender. Set out to cool, or dunk in iced water. Remove skins, dice, and pack away.
Broccoli: Wash and cut into sprigs. Blanch for 3 minutes. Cool in ice water for 3 minutes. Spread broccoli onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Freeze for 30 minutes, place into plastic bags, and freeze.
Brussels Sprouts: Mix ¼ cup salt with 1 quart water. Immerse Brussels Sprouts in brine for a few seconds and rinse. For larger heads, blanch for 5 minutes. For smaller heads, blanch for 3 minutes.
Cabbage: Remove tarnished outer leaves. Cut into thin wedges. Blanch, dunk in ice water, and drain. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Carrots: Wash carrots thoroughly and cut into 2-4 inch chunks. Blanch 3 minutes. Place in ice water for 3 minutes and drain. Spread a single layer onto a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Cauliflower: See broccoli.
Celery: Wash and chop into 1 – 2’’ pieces. Blanch for 3 minutes. Place in ice water for 3 minutes and drain well. Spread a single layer onto a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack in freezer bags and freeze.
Corn on the Cob: Select small to medium-sized ears. Remove husk and all silk. Blanch for 8 – 10 minutes. Place in ice water for 15 minutes. Pack and freeze.
Cucumbers: Slice thin and steam for 20 – 30 seconds. Pack and freeze.
Eggplant: Cut into slices and sprinkle with salt. Let it sit for 30 minutes to suck out moisture. Fry in butter gently and cool thoroughly. Pack and freeze.
Garlic: Separate cloves from bulb and place in freezer bag. No cooking required. Freeze.
Mushrooms: Slice to desired thickness and place in freezer bag. No cooking required. Freeze. Add directly to hot pan when cooking; do not let it thaw beforehand.
Potatoes (white): Wash potatoes thoroughly. Peel if desired, although not necessarily. Blanch for 4 minutes. Pack and freeze.
Zucchini and Yellow Squash: Wash, peel, and slice thinly or into cubes. Blanch for 3 minutes. Let cool, pack, and freeze.
Winter Squash: Halve or quarter the squash, depending on size. Just make sure it will rest securely on a baking sheet. Remove seeds. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 min or until very soft. Scoop pulp from rind and puree. Pack and freeze.
Turnips: Remove tops. Wash and peel skin. Dice or slice thinly. Blanch for 3 minutes. Dunk in ice water for 3 minutes. Spread a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze for 30 minutes. Pack and freeze.
Tomatoes: Wash the tomatoes, and then pack whole into freezer bags and freeze. Can also be cut into halves or quarters if desired. They will only be suitable for cooking. When thawing, the skins should slip right off.
Nothing beats the taste of fresh vegetables, but these simple tips for freezing can extend the life of your produce purchases and lighten the load on your monthly grocery bill.