While I would love to buy fresh produce year-round, I live in a small town that has tiny supermarkets and a limited farmer’s market that only runs during the late spring and summer months.
And I know I am not alone given that multiple studies indicate that American consumption of vegetables is far below the recommended amounts (see the following link to a report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), March 16, 2007 weekly newsletter for more information: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwR/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5610a2.htm).
And, at least for me, it’s not always about availability. It’s also about cost and convenience (I know, gasp! So often the latter is viewed as a lesser form of cooking, and the former not discussed at all).
So here I am to discuss my solution: buy lush ripe produce when you can, but when you can’t, stock up on frozen vegetables (I have two canned favorites, too—pumpkin and tomatoes—which I’ll discuss in future posts). If you need an additional reason to consider the same (if cost, convenience and availability are not the issues), it’s this: NUTRITION.
Here’s the scoop: frozen vegetables may be even more healthful than some of the fresh produce sold most supermarkets (this according to scientists at the USDA, UC Davis, NYU and more). The reason is that vegetables selected for freezing are typically processed at peak ripeness, on site (i.e., little to no traveling), when they are most nutrient-packed.
Before they’re boxed or bagged, vegetables are very briefly blanched (or steamed) to kill bacteria and arrest browning and food-degrading enzymes. This results in a minor loss of water-soluble nutrients like vitamin C, but the subsequent flash-freeze locks the vegetables in a relatively nutrient-rich state.
By comparison, most supermarket vegetables picked before they are picked before they are ripe (meaning underdeveloped range of vitamins and minerals) in order to be shipped around the country (or the globe); the extended exposure to heat and light from the cross-country haul further degrades the nutrients.
Look for packages marked with the USDA "U.S. Fancy" shield, which designates produce of the best size, shape and color; vegetables of this standard also tend to be more nutrient-rich than the lower grades “U.S. No. 1” or “U.S. No. 2.”
When it comes time for forking up your veg, take the same approach as you would for fresh vegetables and eschew the saucepan of boiling water (which depletes water-soluble vitamins). Instead, microwave or steam; or thaw, then sauté or roast.
Finally, steam or microwave rather than boil your produce to minimize the loss of water-soluble vitamins.
As detailed in stinky detail yesterday, the refrigerator is now sparkling clean (and Kevin cleaned the freezer—whoo-hoo!), so I stocked up today. What follows is my list of favorite frozen vegetable options, all of which I now have in the freezer—I’ll be sharing lots of ideas for one and all.
Camilla’s Top Picks for Frozen Vegetables
- Shelled green soybeans (edamame)
- Broccoli florets
- Cauliflower florets
- Chopped or leaf spinach
- Petite peas
- Frozen pepper blends (mix of sliced red, green & yellow peppers)
- Stir-fry blends (combinations vary, but often include snow peas, sliced onions, red peppers, and baby corn)
- Pureed winter squash (typically sold in 12-ounce box, such as Birds Eye brand. It is most often butternut squash, but it can also be acorn squash or a blend of the two)
- Sugar snap peas (typically sold in box, not bag)
- Snow peas (typically sold in box, not bag)
- Pearl onions Corn (I’m especially partial to petite white corn
- Camilla's Notes: The difference between broccoli & cauliflower florets and the regular options is remarkable (except in price—only 50cents to a dollar more); no hunks of tough stems or oversized trees or either veg, just tender little buds of each. The cauliflower is especially good thawed, patted dry, and then roasted at high heat with a bit of olive oil, salt & pepper and nutmeg. Petite peas are a similar story: if you think you hate frozen peas, it may be that you’ve only had the regular grade, which range from tough and pasty to completely mushy. Not so for the petites--sweet, delicate and crisp-tender, they taste remarkably close to fresh (or even better, unless you’re buying peas in springtime from a good purveyor). For tomorrow... Tomorrow it's the start of recipe ideas for the frozen options above (beginning with petite peas). Right now, it's off to bed, I'm pooped.