If I had to choose between owning a dishwasher or a freezer, I’d definitely choose a freezer. It helps us be more resourceful, minimize food waste and enjoy seasonal foods year-round — what Vinegar Home is all about! I’ll write another post at some point with tips for organizing your freezer, but the most important tip is to label everything with a permanent marker and freezer tape so you can identify what you froze. When freezing in bags, try to minimize extra air. It’s worth it to buy freezer-quality storage bags because they hold up for quite a while with repeated use (just hand wash them and air them out to dry). Reusable silicon bags work well too. When freezing foods with liquid in food storage containers or glass, leave a little space for expansion and top with more liquid or oil.
How you choose to use your freezer is largely informed by how much freezer space you have and how many “non-negotiables” already crowd your freezer. Beyond staples from your grocery store’s frozen section, here are some helpful categories and tips to think about when considering what else to make space for:
Things that are about to go South—Think overripe bananas and stale bread. Peel and freeze your overripe bananas whole or sliced for snacks, smoothies, or banana bread. Turn your bread into breadcrumbs (by cubing or running through the food processor) and freeze in an airtight bag. Or, freeze in slices for toast, bread pudding, or french toast.
Leftover chilis and soups—Freeze the unused portion of chilis and soups to enjoy another time. Unfortunately, soups with potatoes don’t freeze well (they get mushy) so think about that when you’re batch cooking soups. However, potatoes do freeze well in the form of leftover mashed potatoes. Shape them into patties, wrap individually in waxed paper, and fry them up for brunch someday. It’s fine to freeze soups with noodles, but it’s more successful if the noodles were cooked a little under, or al dente.
Partial containers —Lots of jarred and canned pantry items don’t come in the exact size you need. Things like leftover chilis, coconut milk, or pastes can be frozen in smaller containers or in ice cube trays and then transferred to a freezer bag after they’re frozen. It’s helpful to freeze things like tomato paste in tablespoon portions and cans in half-cans to make it easy to use them in recipes.
Back-up everyday items—Avoid running out of your perishable staples by keeping frozen back-ups of foods like bread, tortillas, butter, coffee, nuts, seeds, and your favorite proteins.
Grains that you don’t use often or tend to attract grain moths—Whole grain flour, cornmeal, and corn tortillas are all best kept in the refrigerator or freezer depending on how often you use them.
Bounties of the season!—This is a huge category that I will explore more here on Vinegar Home because it’s a great way to eat seasonally without feeling deprived in the winter. To get started, consider freezing any of these if you have them in abundance this summer: berries, rhubarb, beet or turnip greens (blanch first), homemade pesto (put in small jars and top with a little layer of oil), roasted tomatoes, apple sauce, and herb butter.
OK, without further delay! Here are my top five favorite things to freeze — often referenced in Vinegar Home recipes.
Okay, technically this is two different things. But they do go in the same container. Ginger root and turmeric root can be frozen as-is in a container and pulled out when you need them.
There’s no need to peel. Just grate them on a microplane or box grater and throw them right into whatever you’re making.
When you have a lot of beautiful bell peppers, wash them, remove the seeds and slice them up. Lay them out on a cookie sheet or sheet pan and freeze, uncovered. The next day, move them to an airtight bag. Freezing them this way will prevent them from sticking together and they’ll be ready for you to pull out the amount you need anytime.
It’s such a treat to have bell peppers prepped and ready to use, especially in the winter. Dice them up and throw them in soups, casseroles, beans, and tofu scramble.
You’re most likely to come upon celeriac, or celery root, in a CSA share or at the farmer’s market. It’s a homely vegetable, but very resilient and useful to have on hand in the winter when you might not have fresh celery. It can be eaten raw, but once frozen, use as you would celery, in soups, casseroles, beans, and rice dishes. It adds a wonderful flavor and depth to broths.
Cut off the dark skin with a knife and then use a peeler as needed. Cut off any soft areas, but some dark spots (as shown) are fine. Use your judgment. Dice up the white root into bite-size pieces and toss in an airtight bag.
Consider batch cooking the beans you eat the most frequently and freezing them in jars. My “heavy hitters” are black beans and chickpeas (garbanzo beans). I still buy a variety of canned beans as a backup, but I find that dried beans are much more flavorful and worth the extra effort. It’s also nice to have fewer cans to recycle. Black beans are handy for quesadillas, tacos, nachos, or black beans and rice. Chickpeas are great in soups, salads (as-is or roasted), homemade hummus, and mock tuna.
Eight-ounce mason jars work well for freezing beans, as they’re about half the size of a typical can, so if a recipe calls for a can of beans, you can use two of your small jars. Glass peanut butter jars or 16 oz. mason jars also work well.
My preferred method to cook beans is in the instant pot which, to date, is actually the only thing I use my instant pot for. Freeze the cooked beans in their liquid with the beans submerged, leaving a little air on top. If you like to cook with aquafaba (chickpea water), you can freeze any reserve you have
The next time you’re chopping up thick-stemmed greens like kale, toss the stems in a freezer bag and start a “veggie scrap bag”. Continue to add to the bag when you have bits of vegetables that you can’t use such as scraps of onion, garlic, celery tops, asparagus stems, carrot tops and skins, etc. Just make sure everything is washed. When your bag is full, throw the contents in a big pot of water and simmer to make your own homemade vegetable stock. After the vegetables are cooked down, strain the broth into a large jar and discard the veggies. Now you can freeze that jar of broth for the next time you’re making soup—my sixth top favorite thing to have in the freezer!
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