Frozen vegetables are a favorable alternative to fresh produce as they often last longer, are pre-washed and chopped, and have a variety of nutritional benefits. However, despite their convenience, some people stay away from frozen vegetables because they have a reputation for being soggy and bland, but this is easily avoidable. "Frozen vegetables tend to release water quickly and can end up quite mushy if done improperly," explains William Goldfield, director of corporate communications at Dole Food Company, Inc. Defrosting your frozen vegetables, such as spinach, broccoli, peas, carrots, and kale, can help you avoid this. Whether you're using them in soups and stews, or for a simple stir fry, we talked to the experts so you'll know the best method to defrost and cook frozen vegetables.
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As with most foods, frozen vegetables can be thawed in the refrigerator. To avoid condensation dripping onto other foods, Jen Bruning, MS RDM LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says to place the packaged vegetables in a container when thawing. She notes that plain frozen vegetables can thaw on the upper shelves of the refrigerator—unlike meat which should be stored at the bottom—because they usually cook at a lower temperature than other foods. Vegetables like spinach and kale give off a lot of water when they thaw, so Bruning recommends squeezing the defrosted greens in a clean kitchen towel or with clean hands prior to cooking to remove excess moisture. You shouldn't leave frozen vegetables on the counter to thaw, as "bacteria on the food surface can become active and begin multiplying, which increases your risk of foodborne illness," Bruning notes.
If you're short on time, you can defrost frozen vegetables in the microwave rather than in the refrigerator. To do so, Bruning recommends using the defrost or a lower power setting to avoid cooking the food in hot spots while the rest remains frozen. "Stop the microwave and stir the vegetable around every 30 to 60 seconds so that it thaws evenly without cooking the food," Bruning says. Before using your microwave, Goldfield recommends reading the manufacturer's instructions on the frozen food's packaging, which should have instructions on using the appliance for thawing. He notes that "microwaved vegetables release water quickly and are left limp and undesirable," so you may want to consider opting for the refrigerator method.
In most cases it's best to skip the thawing process and go straight to cooking, according to Goldfield. There are a variety of different methods you can follow to cook frozen vegetables; it all depends on the meal you're making. For soups and stews, vegetables can be added directly to the pot with the rest of your ingredients to cook. Vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower can be seasoned and mixed with olive oil before roasting in an oven set to 425 degrees, Goldfield notes. "Stir fry mixes can be added to a hot wok for a quick meal or side," he says. For frozen vegetables like spinach and onion, Goldfield recommends sautéing them in a pan to reduce excess water before adding them to your meal. No matter how you choose to cook your frozen vegetables, be sure to check the manufacturer's instructions before getting started.