A reader emailed me a couple of days ago to ask about frozen vegetables -- whether I thought she could rely on frozen vegetables during the winter when she had reduced access to fresh ones. When I answered that I thought frozen vegetables were great and that I eat a lot of them all year long, she replied: "I was really glad to hear that you used some frozen too... Just by reading your blog entries I never guessed any of what you were eating was frozen."
Well! Obviously I need to clear that up.
Yeah, I eat a lot of frozen vegetables. If you add up all the tomatoes, beans, salsa, and occasional sauerkraut, corn, and beets, I eat a fair amount of canned vegetables too. But I probably buy 5-8 bags of frozen vegetables every week and eat most of them myself. Even in the summer.
I'm not sure I could have embarked on my "obscenely large portions of vegetables" kick without the help of my freezer. There was a time when I rarely used frozen vegetables... but it was back when I just wasn't cooking and eating as many. The easiest way I know of to go from one vegetable side dish on the table every night, to two vegetable side dishes, is to add a bag of frozen vegetables to every dinner. The easiest way I know of to have a big serving of vegetables for lunch is to microwave one of those new steam-in-the-bag vegetables -- you know, the ones that supposedly serve four -- and eat the whole thing yourself. Goes great with a half sandwich.
The frozen vegetables I use most are pot greens (mustard, turnip, collards, and spinach); brussels sprouts; green beans; and stir-fry mix. But I buy all kinds. Most of them I just microwave. Brussels sprouts and okra seem to do best if they're boiled (briefly) on the stove top. If I have time, I like to saute the greens: I know it says to cook them in water (and the directions on the collard greens say to cook them for a ridiculously long time), but it's very nice to heat up some olive oil in a skillet, maybe add a little chopped onion or garlic, and then dump the frozen greens right into the pan. Stir them a few times, maybe add a little liquid and cover the pan; in ten minutes or so they're usually pretty good, and you can liven them up with vinegar or lemon juice or salsa or chopped tomatoes.
Even though I use frozen vegetables heavily all year long, I always use fresh onions and bell peppers (unless I have home-grown bell peppers in the freezer). I strongly prefer fresh broccoli to frozen broccoli, even though I do use frozen broccoli. I like the texture of fresh greens better too, but except for spinach I don't think the difference matters that much. IF you need spinach for calzones or spanakopita or a quiche or something, you may as well use frozen as fresh; when it's chopped up and well-cooked inside a recipe, only the most sensitively attuned foodies will even notice. You can save some money while still getting good results by mixing fresh and frozen pot greens -- say, 1 bunch fresh kale with 2 bags frozen collards, cooked on low 4 hours in the crockpot with a cup of broth and some garlic or a piece of ham.
A common tip is to use fresh vegetables during the first few days of the week before they spoil, and move to the frozen stuff towards the end. I do that, except that I add frozen vegetables to my dinners all week long. The main thing that frozen vegetables give you is flexibility. Since they won't go bad, you can always keep extras on hand and never be without plenty of choices.
Another tip for flexibility without waste, this one for fresh food: Never be without a head of cabbage and some carrots. Cheap even in the winter, these fresh vegetables keep for at least a couple of weeks--so, just like frozen vegetables, if you don't get to them this week, you can eat them next week. Either goes with almost any meal: you can put carrots or cabbage or both in an Asian stir-fry, or saute them
with onion and olive oil, or just steam them and serve plain or with butter. And of course they can be
shredded together for coleslaw -- isn't it odd that this "summer picnic" salad is made mostly of two vegetables that are available all winter long? Raw carrot sticks are a favorite of many kids, and one of my favorite salads is shredded raw carrot with lemon juice and salt. There's a sweeter carrot salad with raisins that I have seen on many a picnic table. If you always have carrots and always have cabbage, you can add a yellow or green vegetable to any meal at a moment's notice. And for not much money.