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As a food writer, I’m probably not supposed to admit this but…

…I love cooking with frozen vegetables. Not all of them and not indiscriminately the way I love to with fresh, in-season, local, bla-bla-bla vegetables, but this time of year, when the produce pickings are slim, it’s almost liberating to head to the freezer aisle of the local supermarket and throw a few boxes and bags of my favorites into my cart.

Have you looked in the frozen vegetable section lately? It’s no longer just the freezer-burned blocks of pea-corn-carrot medleys of our wayward youths. You can find almost anything — Brussels sprouts, kale, okra, artichoke hearts, butternut squash, cauliflower, riced cauliflower, zucchini, spiraled zucchini. They’re cheaper than their fresh counterparts and in some cases, I’m just gonna say it…they actually taste better. (This is because frozen vegetables are picked at optimal ripeness and immediately frozen, a process which retains their flavor as well as their nutrients.) Best of all, they come fully prepped — no washing, drying, trimming, chopping, mincing. The most work I have to do to get them ready is run a little warm water over them in a strainer to thaw.

Here’s how I use what I think of as The Big Three that are always in my freezer…

Frozen Spinach and Kale To me, many frozen vegetables are not necessarily tasty enough to stand alone or dress up as a side dish and I find that particularly true of spinach and kale. (Unless, of course, you’re going steakhouse-style creamed spinach.) This means, I mostly end up tossing them into other dishes, which means the vegetable is built in to the main dish as opposed to its own recipe. (Read: One less thing to cook, one less pot to clean.) Frozen chopped spinach and kale (thawed and squeezed of all their moisture) are ideal for chucking into omelets and frittatas, pot pies, smoothies (!), risottos, stir-fries, pastas and grain bowls, on top of pizzas, and…

…working into your favorite meatball recipe. Just replace a good chunk of the meat with thawed/squeezed frozen chopped spinach and you’ll have a lighter, tastier dinner.

Frozen Peas I’ll never forget a few years ago, when I was working at Bon Appétit, one of the recipe developers said she preferred working with frozen peas even in the spring when fresh peas were in season. It was a shock to me, but I understand what she means. When you can find sweet, peak-season fresh English peas, it’s no contest. Fresh rules. But the problem is, those can be elusive. I throw them into risottos, stir-fries and rice dishes, but, unlike spinach and kale, I also feel good about giving them star treatment. One example of that? Smashed peas on toast for lunch. Just mash a cup of thawed frozen peas in a bowl (or whirl in a mini-food processor) with a handful chopped fresh mint leaves, 2 tablespoons-ish fresh Parm, juice from half a lemon, hefty drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Then spread on toasted crusty bread and drizzle with a little olive oil. For next-level: Top with fresh mozzarella.

Green Beans I grew up eating frozen “French-cut” beans as a legit side dish to Stouffer’s Chicken Pot Pies, so this is probably nostalgia talking, but weirdly, nothing is more comforting to me than dumping a bag or a box of green beans straight in a hot pan, watching them smoke and steam until they thaw down, then stirring in butter, shallots, salt and pepper…

I do this for weekday lunches a few times a week, topping with a seven-minute egg and hot sauce. It’s such an easy way to work in a substantial pile of vegetables and it’s super filling. If I’m feeling really motivated, I’ll add minced ginger and garlic with the shallots, and then when it’s off the heat drizzle in a little soy sauce and rice wine vinegar.

Tell me your most inspired frozen vegetable recipes. I’m ready!

P.S. Three Trader Joe’s meal hacks and green pea hummus.



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