Although healthy eating is nuanced and I’m not one to recommend strict food rules or guidelines, it’s no secret that vegetables are pretty good for you. They contain tons of different vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals (bioactive compounds in plant foods) that can help reduce your risk of disease and improve your overall health. They’re also loaded with fiber, which aids digestion, supports a healthy gut microbiome (because certain fibers feed probiotic bacteria), and helps keep you regular. And when they’re prepared the right way, they can also taste pretty darn good.
The thing about vegetables is that they’re perishable, so they can go bad in your fridge or on your countertop if you don’t use them up quickly enough. Plus, pretty much all raw vegetables require some amount of washing, peeling, de-stemming, or chopping before they’re ready to be cooked or eaten. None of these challenges are insurmountable—and I’m not knocking fresh vegetables—but for days and nights when all that prep work seems like too much, there’s another way.
Enter: frozen vegetables. Blanched and flash-frozen at the peak of freshness, frozen veggies are just as nutritious as the fresh ones in the produce bins. (Blanching means the vegetables are quickly boiled, then plunged into cold water, a process that cooks them, but keeps them crisp.) Because they’re already washed, chopped, and cooked, they’re also way more convenient to use. And although this isn’t always the case, they’re typically cheaper—both because they cost less at the grocery store, and because you’re way less likely to throw them out because they went bad, which saves you money long term. (Frozen food can be kept indefinitely, but realistically, you’ll probably want to eat it within a couple of months since frozen food can still lose flavor and texture quality over time. but it never actually goes bad.)
Of course, frozen vegetables aren’t a perfect substitute for fresh vegetables, and they don’t work in every recipe. For instance, if you’re making a salad or a raw veggie platter, fresh vegetables are still your best bet. Luckily, there are still plenty of options where frozen vegetables won’t compromise the taste or quality of your meal. Here are five dinner recipes that make use of all kinds of frozen veg.
1. Whole Wheat Dumpling-Topped Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken and dumplings are a comfort food staple for a lot of folks. Although making them is a multi-step process, this recipe saves some time by using frozen vegetables—no chopping required!—and pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. It makes a fairly big batch (8 servings), so you can make it for a group, or refrigerate leftovers and reheat them for lunches and dinners in the days to come.
2. Spaghetti With Bacon and Broccoli-Parmesan Cream Sauce
Because frozen vegetables are blanched before they’re frozen (preserving their natural flavor), it’s super easy to microwave them according to package directions and then throw them into a blender as part of a sauce. Here, a bag of frozen broccoli gets blitzed with milk, stock, and a good amount of Parmesan, then mixed with cooked pasta and bacon. The recipe calls for spaghetti, but you can use any pasta shape you want.
3. Sesame Vegetable Fried Rice With Baked Tofu
Fried rice, which is thought to have originated in China but is now popular throughout the world, is the absolute best way to bring new life to day-old, dried-out rice. And, as luck would have it, it’s also a great way to use any frozen vegetables you have on hand. This vegan recipe calls for a bag of frozen peppers and onions as the vegetable base, plus some frozen mixed vegetables (typically a blend of peas, carrots, corn, and green beans) for even more color and flavor.
4. Butternut Squash and Pea Mac and Cheese
Butternut squash is abundant in many places throughout fall and winter, but it’s much harder to find good squash in the spring and summer months. Luckily, the frozen version is available year-round. Microwaved frozen squash works OK as a side dish, but doesn’t have the deep flavor that you’d get if you roasted fresh cubes. It’s much better suited (I think) to some kind of pureed dish, like butternut squash soup, or this simple mac and cheese that uses frozen squash as part of the sauce base.
5. Tomatoey Shrimp and Green Beans Over Brown Rice
A shrimp dish may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of easy dinner recipes, but this one has the makings of a weeknight staple. To make the sauce, you’ll simmer canned tomatoes with garlic and a heavy pour of olive oil. Then, you’ll poach shrimp right in said sauce (which sounds fancy, but it’s so easy) and add cooked frozen green beans at the very end.
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