We’re lucky to live during a time when we have access to the kind of freezing technology people didn’t have even half a century ago. That means if you have fresh veggies from your garden or the supermarket, you have countless ways to keep those veggies as delicious as the day you got them, including freezing them.
While not all vegetables take as kindly to freezing as others, when most vegetables are prepared, packed and frozen properly, you can expect them to last six to 12 months in the freezer. And according to a 2017 study conducted by the University of Georgia and published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, those veggies might even be more nutritious after you freeze them than if you’d kept them fresh for five days.
So whether you have a bumper crop from your garden, or you simply want to freeze some fresh veggies from the market you want to enjoy year-round, it’s easy if you know how.
Prep and Packaging
When it comes to fresh vegetables picked from the garden or bought from the farmers market, time is of the essence. Fresh veggies should be frozen at most only a few hours after being picked and you should already know what you’ll be storing them in.
No matter what kind of storage containers you use (it can depend on the amount you’re freezing), they need to be moisture-proof and durable and able to withstand the low temperatures of the freezer. That means skip the cheap sandwich bags and go for heavy-duty freezer bags, canning jars or plastic containers.
Once you have your containers picked out, you need to thoroughly wash and blanch your vegetables.
What Is Blanching?
Blanching is the process of boiling or steaming your vegetables for a short amount of time to slow the enzymes that can lead to loss of flavor, color and texture and then immediately shocking them in ice water (also called an ice bath) to stop the cooking process. This step is critical for almost all vegetables to be frozen, and time varies with each vegetable and its size (see graphic below).
If you don’t blanch the vegetables long enough, that could stimulate the enzymes (they turn apples brown once you slice them, for instance) and end up being worse than not blanching at all. But if you blanch them too long, you can kill the flavor, color and all the good vitamins.
Not only does blanching slow those harmful enzymes, but it acts as a type of disinfectant, cleansing your veggies of all the dirt and organisms from your garden. Another benefit of blanching is preserving those essential vitamins like potassium, dietary fiber, folate, vitamin A, and vitamin C nestled within your produce.
- Cut your vegetable into pieces of the same size. Pro-tip: the size depends on the vegetable and how much of it you plan on freezing.
- Fill a bowl of ice water and have it nearby.
- Cook your vegetables in vigorously boiling water for the recommended blanching time.
- Drain and immediately plunge vegetables into the ice bath for about two minutes. Drain again.
- Transfer blanched vegetables to the airtight containers. Pro-tip: Leave about 1/2-inch (1.2 centimers) of space at the top of plastic container or squeeze excess air from zip-top plastic freezer bags.
- Freeze up to 12 months.
Not All Veggies Are Cut for Freezing
Not all vegetables are created equal, though, and there are some that just don’t stand up to the freezing process. Steer clear of stick vegetables like celery, cress, cucumbers, endive, lettuce, parsley and radishes. Because of their high water content, they just won’t keep as well as root vegetables and will defrost bland, limp and water-logged.
Luckily, defrosting vegetables is the easiest part of the process. Just dump your frozen veggies into a strainer and run cool water over them. You can even leave them in the original freezer bag if you want! When defrosting greens like kale or spinach, use a salad spinner to get out as much water as you can.