As we move into the year ahead, with our busy urban lives, one of the things we are always seemingly short of is time. Food preparation and planning takes up a major part of our day. One of the things I have learned in my journey to healthy cooking and eating is that having a stock of pre-prepared, ready-to-use food items in the freezer can be a huge time saver and stress reliever for any homemaker. If you have a well-stocked freezer, it’s so much easier to make up a healthy snack in a jiffy or an impromptu lunch or dinner too.
In India, most of us have grown up eating freshly cooked food served hot at the table. Freezers were for making ice and storing the occasional block of ice cream. And so most of us don’t even know how to use our freezers effectively. Let’s get over those myths that frozen food is bad for you and embrace the fact that freezing actually preserves the nutrient value and quality of food! You can free up so much food preparation and cooking time before breakfast, lunch or dinner (that can be put to better use) by using your freezer well. Also, if you are looking to reduce wastage in your kitchen, using your freezer well is key.
Here’s a short guide to how to make friends with your freezer.
FREEZING DOS AND DON’TS (BOX THIS)
DO freeze food in realistic or small portions.
DO wrap food well, squeezing out all the air, to prevent freezer burn.
DO label your food so you can quickly access it when needed.
DO freeze only freshly cooked food, not what’s been sitting around for a day or more.
DON’T freeze blocks of cheese, yoghurt or paneer – the texture changes.
DON’T freeze fresh fruit and vegetables directly(blanch vegetables firstand stew/purée fruit).
DON’T freeze vegetables with high water content, such as salad vegetables (tomato, lettuce, bean sprouts, cucumbers) or soft herbs like coriander, mint and basil.
DON’T re-freeze food that has been thawed.
Whenever I have time or have a light cooking load that day, and especially on the weekends, I make batches of sauces, chutneys, dips and some baked goods(like muffins, banana cake) and freeze. All my bread (whether homemade or store-bought) is immediately stored in the freezer too. Here are my Top picks for freezing that come in handy through a work or school week.
Tomato Marinara Sauce – For pastas, pizzas, sandwich toasts. Make a large batch, and while still warm, put into smaller containers or freezer bags, label and freeze. Keeps well for a month or more.
Bhuna masala paste – A sautéed mix of chopped onions, ginger, garlic, tomato, salt and powdered spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric and red chilli, which can be used for chapati rolls, sandwich toasts and any quick vegetable dish.
Hummus(recipe on my blog www.sharmilacooksforkids.com) or any bean paste like mashed rajma beans for quesadillas – Store in small containers for up to a month.
Bread – Stays fresh for weeks, if frozen properly. Wrap in plastic or put in a zip-lock bag, after removing most of the air. You can toast it straight from the freezer.
Chapatis and parathas – These are available commercially, but you can make them at home and freeze. Ideally, insert a square of butter paper between each. Cover a stack with plastic wrap, then aluminium foil and put in a large zip-lock bag. Freeze flat. To use, take the number you need (easy if you’ve used butter paper) and re-freeze the rest immediately.
Corn, peas and mixed vegetables – I always have a stock of store-bought frozen vegetables. They can be used in so many ways to quickly up the veggie content of school lunch or dinner.
Ripe bananas – Freeze over-ripe bananas and use them for banana bread, banana nut muffins and ice-cold smoothies or milk shakes, anytime. Store the entire banana (with or without skin) in a zip-lock bag. The skin turns black but the banana stays fine.
Muffins and cakes – Wrap each muffin in plastic wrap and put all the wrapped muffins into a plastic zip-lock bag or airtight container. Store for up to a month. Cake also freezes well. Frozen muffins can be microwaved on fullfor 20 seconds before eating.
Lime and orange zest – Zest or grate sour limes or oranges and store in small boxes. Add to food or baked goodies for extra flavour and vitamin C.
Fruit – When fruits (mango, strawberry, apples) are abundant, you can cook or purée them, and freeze in small zip-lock bags or containers. Use for cooking/baking or for milk shakes and frozen yoghurt.
Milk – Store extra milk and use within a week.
Vegetables – Freeze while fresh, based on seasonal abundance or your needs. Cut and blanch by briefly immersing them in boiling water – 30 seconds for greens, 2 minutes for harder vegetables. Then drain and cool (can immerse in ice water) to stop the cooking process), pat dry with a towel, pack, label and freeze in freezer-safe clean containers. Beans, carrots, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, corn, spinach and fenugreek (methi) freeze well.
Sweet tamarind chutney– Keeps for ages in fridge or freezer. Handy to make chaat at any time, or as a dressing for dahi-vada or a yoghurt-based sprouts salad.
Cooked food – Freshly cooked food (veg and non-veg) can also be frozen, if you have leftovers or have made a large batch that you want to use the following week. Cool slightly and freeze in well-wrapped or tightly closed containers or freezer bags. Consume within a month.
HOW TO DEFROST FROZEN FOOD
The reason why freezing is good is that the cold air prevents bacteria from developing and getting into the food. Therefore, even when food is defrosting it should ideally stay cool and thaw slowly to prevent bacteria from forming.
- To defrost an item to be used for preparing breakfast or school lunch, remove from the freezer and store overnight in the fridge, on a plate to hold the water that condenses. In the morning, keep it out until fully thawed or microwave in defrost mode.
- At short notice, place in a bowl of cold water, ensuring that the food is wrapped in a sealed plastic bag. Change the water every half hour or so or when it reaches room temperature.
- If it’s to be used for cooking immediately, then defrost in the microwave on appropriate settings. Don’t keep frozen food out on the counter for too long.
- Don’t use plastic containers or bags in the microwave, when defrosting. Glass or ceramic containers or plates are best.
- Frozen vegetables and fruits can be used directly from the freezer.
Strawberry Frozen Yoghurt (FRO YO)
Here’s a recipe for frozen yoghurt that you can make using fresh or frozen strawberries (when they are off season) or fresh or frozen mango puree. I am never sure if the frozen yoghurt sold in the ice-cream shops is really low-fat and healthy, but when I make it at home, I know for sure.
1 cup (250g) thick hung curd (from 500ml curd) or Greek yoghurt
1 cup chopped strawberries or puréed mango
¼ to ⅓ cup (50g-75g) powdered sugar or to taste
Squeeze of lime (if using mango)
- Hang the curd in a muslin cloth in a sieve in the fridge for a couple of hours.
- If the strawberries are tart, sprinkle with some sugar and let them sit for a while.
- Puree or chop the fruit some more. For strawberries, I purée more than half the quantity, and finely chop the rest of the fruit.
- Blend the fruit in with the powdered sugar. Add the hung curd. Taste and add more powdered sugar (one spoon at a time) and a squeeze of lime, if you are using mango or any very sweet fruit.
- Freeze in an airtight container. Every 2 hours, remove from the freezer, blend again and then re-freeze. Repeat this process 2 – 3 times. This helps to prevent ice-crystals from forming and gives you a smooth frozen yoghurt.
- Before serving, allow it to melt slightly. It tastes better.
Berries are some of the most delicious and powerful disease-fighting foods available. Strawberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, while the blue pigment in blueberries (anthocyanin) helps protect against cancer.
About the author: She is an agricultural economist and mother of 3 ever-hungry boys. She is the author of an award-winning family cookbook – Everyday Love – A Mother’s Guide To Healthy Cooking For Kids.