While the freezer doesn’t actually make time stand still for your produce, it’s easy to think of it that way: Bread going stale? Freezer. Leftover tomato paste? Freezer. Berries going south? Quick – freeze them!
But according to Christine Yomme, author of The Plantiful Plate and Living Without Plastic, it’s not your aging or wrinkly foods that should go into the freezer at all. “When produce is on the verge of spoiling I tend to cook them up, rather than putting them in the freezer. It’s best to freeze ingredients when they’re fresh,” she explains.
By strategically placing certain produce in the freezer at their freshest, your freezer becomes more of an extra pantry, rather than a holding pen for foods you weren’t able to use up in the first place. Yomme says her freezer always has a stash of the following:
“When I prepare a big batch of dried beans, I drain and save them in 1-cup portions stored in airtight stainless-steel or glass containers in the freezer.”
“Fresh ginger root lasts much longer in the freezer, and you don’t even need to peel it! Simply scrub the root and let it dry completely before storing in a silicone bag and freezing. This keeps it fresh and also prevents it from becoming too fibrous. Grate frozen ginger straight from the freezer directly into your drinks or over stir-fries, curries or marinades.”
“Store-bought herbs don’t last long in the fridge, so it’s best to make a simple paste or pesto within one to two days of purchase. Blend 2 cups of basil, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano or parsley with ½ cup olive oil until smooth. Scoop the paste into an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer these cubes to a container. They’re perfect for salad dressings, marinades, stews and soups.”
“I add a frozen lemon cube – made from skins and all — to my daily antioxidizing lemon water. To make the cubes, rinse and cut the lemons (preferably organic) in half and freeze them for at least three hours until solid. Take the halves out of the freezer and let them rest on the counter for 15 minutes. Cut them into quarters and place in a food processor, peels intact, with 3 to 4 tablespoons of water. Process it all – skins, pith and seeds – into a slush, and divvy this up into an ice cube tray then place in the freezer. When frozen, transfer these cubes to a container.” These lemon cubes can also be tossed into smoothies, sauces and pasta dishes.
Which produce not to freeze
Yomme advises against freezing produce with a high water content because they just get too mushy, not to mention freezing alters their flavor. These include cucumbers, celery, bell peppers and delicate leafy greens.
The exception here is all your vegetable scraps. “I use a parchment paper bag to collect tough asparagus ends, corn cobs, green bean tips, mushroom stems, carrot peels, kale stems, leek greens, pea pods, onion skins and more, for a root-to-leaf stock. There’s plenty of nutrition in these bits and they make a flavorful broth.”
Surprising freezer-friendly produce
Mushrooms actually do well in the freezer when sliced and stored properly. Avocados are another freezer-friendly wonder – chunks of frozen avocado can go right into smoothies, but Yomme says to thaw them to room temperature first for guacamole or avocado toast.
No storage containers? No problem. She says thick-skinned produce, such as oranges, bananas and even peaches can be frozen whole without needing to pack them up. Defrost first before use in baking, sauces or soups.
How to prep produce for longer life in the freezer
A vegan food expert who has frozen her fair share of fruits and veggies, Yomme offers these tips:
- Wash and slice everything, removing any peels and seeds. Make sure they’re really dry before freezing.
- Green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, carrots and leafy greens (kale, spinach, chard) need to be blanched in boiling water, one to two minutes, then submerged in an ice bath. Pat dry or squeeze out as much water as possible before freezing.
- Lay fruits or veggies out in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and stick this in the freezer until frozen solid, about 2 to 3 hours, then transfer to a freezer-safe container.
Bonus recipe: Yomme’s Root-to-Leaf Stock
When you have about 6 cups worth of frozen veggie scraps (tops, stems, peels, skins), Yomme says you’re ready to make soup. Here’s her easy recipe:
Fill up a large stockpot with 10 to 12 cups of water. Add all the frozen scraps and bring to a boil, skimming off any bubbles or foam that rise to the surface. Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and 2 teaspoons of salt. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer 1.5 hours. Strain.
Why not pop some of this stock into the freezer? When freezing liquids, Yomme says fill a jar to an inch below the neck of the jar (not from the top), to allow for expansion. Let it come to room temperature. Without the lid on, place the cooled jar in the freezer to freeze completely before screwing on the lid. When ready to use, defrost in the fridge overnight.
In addition to freezing your produce correctly, you’ll also want to make sure to refrigerate it right. Check out Where to Put Your Produce to Keep it Fresh for a guide to storing fruits and vegetables. And for more tips on how to avoid food waste, try 12 Ways to Upcycle Your Food Scraps to Reduce Waste.