Frozen vegetables are a perennial staple in my house. I love being able to toss a bag of veggies into the microwave and wind up with a warm, flavorful side. Unfortunately, when you do microwave those ‘steam right in the bag!’ foods, you often wind up with wet, mushy lump of broccoli that is far from appetizing. In today’s quick post, I am going to share with you a couple of tricks I use to cook frozen vegetables so they taste fresh and flavorful. With just a couple of extra minutes (and a dash of seasoning), you can use these as a tasty replacement for the fresh version!
What is the problem with frozen vegetables?
In theory, nothing at all! Frozen vegetables are quick and convenient. But boy are the instructions vague. They do not always account for the varying wattages on microwaves (different microwaves have different wattages? If you have an older model, you might not even know what the wattage on yours is!) and as a result, vegetables wind up overcooked and limp.
Is there anything worse than a mushy lump of broccoli? I really don’t think so. And if this is what a lot of young kids are exposed to, then no wonder a lot of them hate broccoli!
So what is the trick?
Cooking Frozen Vegetables Step 1: Undercook In The Microwave
Microwaves have TOO much margin for error. If my bag of steamfresh frozen broccoli tells me to microwave for four and a half minutes, I start with three. If the instructions say eight minutes, I start with five or six! If it looks like 80-90% of the ice has melted away, I stop microwaving! This is the big key- use the microwave to lightly defrost your vegetables. You are not looking for a full steam this way. The timing in the instructions on freezer bags is overly generous and this is how we wind up with MUSH. Do not wind up with mush! Undermicrowave the the veggies, please.
Step 2: Prepare Your Pan
While you under cook your frozen vegetables in the microwave, get your pan ready. Remember last Friday when we sweated garlic in oil? We are going to do something similar to that. For something like this, I do not concern myself with gently caressing and sweating a few cloves of freshly minced garlic. If I have it, great! If I’m microwaving broccoli or another vegetable, I’m probably in a bit of a hurry. You probably are, too! I hear you. Take half a teaspoon of minced garlic out of the jar and plop it in the pan with some kosher salt and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Keep the heat medium-low, and allow the garlic to warm through while the microwave is running.
If you don’t want to use garlic then that’s okay, too! Sometimes I’ll infuse a little bit of cumin into the oil. Or paprika, or white pepper. Really, whatever you are in the mood for, sprinkle some of it into your oil. Maybe it’s chopped onion or shallot! The choice is yours, oh kitchen traveler.
Step 3: Finish On The Stovetop
Finishing off microwave vegetables on the stovetop, even just for a minute or two, is how we break out of the rut of squidgy vegetables that disintegrate on our forks and have no flavor whatsoever.
Drain your vegetables (there is usually some water left in the bottom of the microwave bag) and add to the of oil. You do not need to sauté on a particularly high heat, but continue warming the vegetables through.
When Are My Vegetables Properly Cooked?
This is a trick I learned in cooking school. It seems silly, but give it a shot. I promise it works!
Pierce one of your veggies with a fork. Then give it a little shake or tap against the side of the pan. If the veggie slides off with just a little bit of effort, they are perfectly cooked. If they fall off the fork with no work from you, they’re likely overcooked. If they don’t fall off the fork no matter how much you shake, they need more time. After the shortened turn in the microwave, you should not need to cook on the stovetop for more than three minutes.
Step 4: Add Final Seasonings
Things are just the right amount of cooked and you are ready to to serve! Before I put the veggies on the plate, I will taste and then toss with one final bit of seasoning. My preference is a dash of lemon juice and red pepper flake to taste, but this is a place where the sky is the limit!
Does This Actually Save Time?
Yes and no. Maybe it adds a minute or two to your cooking time. I find that the time I spend with the vegetables in the pan rarely is more than the time the food would have spent in the microwave anyway. If there are a couple of extra minutes added, I say they are worth it in the name of texture and flavor. Two to three extra minutes to save us from a mushy side dish? Yes, please.
Cooking frozen vegetables can be more than just throwing them into a chili because they are half disintegrated upon reheating! Give it a shot and let me know what you think.