Ice, ice, flavour: 17 ways with frozen fruit and veg, from bhindi masala to cherry clafoutis

Leah Harper
·6-min read

Frozen fruit and vegetables get a bad rap. Bags of frozen peas suffer from their association with sports injuries, while frozen “mixed veg” brings to mind watery TV dinners. Don’t get me started on frozen bananas, which, I think we can all agree, taste nothing like ice-cream.

But, in terms of nutrients, fresh is not always best. According to a recent Which? report, it can sometimes take weeks for “fresh” fruit and vegetables to reach supermarkets – during which time their nutritional value begins to deplete. Frozen fruit and vegetables, on the other hand, are usually preserved at their peak in terms of taste and nutrition – often within a couple of hours of being harvested.

Of course, frozen fruit and vegetables can be thawed and used much as you would their fresh counterparts, but sometimes a recipe specifically calls for the frozen version – a godsend while supermarket trips are few and far between. Here are a selection of recipes that do just that – may your blueberries never go mouldy again.

Let’s start with the one most of us have lurking at the back of the freezer: peas. Not technically a vegetable but a legume, peas can be added to all manner of sauces, salads and soups. Anna Jones’s green pea, lime and coconut soup blitzes cooked peas to a velvety pulp, then drizzles them with coconut cream. If that does not persuade you to give (frozen) peas a chance, nothing will.

Similarly, fresh sweetcorn fades fast, but freezes remarkably well. Southern Living’s slow cooker turkey chilli recipe takes seven hours, with the frozen sweetcorn chucked in right at the end, but it promises to make your house smell great – meaning it trumps the traditional turkey sandwich when it comes to leftovers.

Up your side-dish game by resisting the urge to simply smother vegetables in butter; instead, experiment with seasoning. Pinch of Wellness suggests pepping up frozen broccoli and cauliflower with onion powder, garlic powder and parmesan before sauteing. (Don’t worry, there is a fair whack of butter in there, too.) This would also work well for the dreaded “mixed veg”, to which Katherine Sacks, writing on Epicurious, adds a topping of sour cream and grated cheddar before roasting, as per her mother’s instructions.

Not all frozen vegetables are equal – mushrooms, for example, don’t always take kindly to defrosting. This Krumpli recipe for wild mushroom soup, however, boasts “no need for stock, no need for defrosting and no need for faff” – and is more aesthetically pleasing than most mushroom soups manage to be.

Those who turn their nose up at the sliminess of okra – also known as bhindi or lady’s fingers – might do well to buy the vegetable frozen and sliced, as this is said to alleviate the levels of undesirable goo. This video recipe for non-slimy bhindi masala adds chopped, frozen okra straight to the frying pan – which certainly seems simpler than another oft-touted method of de-sliming, which involves soaking the fresh vegetable in vinegar for half an hour.

Chopped, frozen butternut squash tends to be pricier than the whole fresh alternative – but, unless you enjoy peeling, de-seeding and hacking apart this starchy vegetable while trying to keep all of your fingers intact, you might consider it a price worth paying. Risotto and soup are the go-to squash recipes, but Fresh From the Freezer’s adaptation of Albert Bartlett’s Moroccan-spiced butternut squash and roast potatoes puts a north African spin on classic roasties. Peppers are comparatively easy to slice, but Mark Bittman – an “ashamed and slightly sheepish convert” to frozen vegetables – makes the case for buying them chopped and frozen anyway with his quick, easy and pleasingly colourful recipe for pepper fried rice.

Fresh or frozen spinach is a great smoothie ingredient
Go green ... spinach (fresh or frozen) is a great smoothie ingredient. Photograph: Johner Images/Getty Images

Frozen spinach tends to give you more bang for your buck, as anyone who has watched huge handfuls of the fresh stuff disappear into a couple of wilted leaves upon cooking will attest. It is no good for sandwiches or salads, of course, but it is ideal for stirring into casseroles or stews, or for using in spinach-heavy recipes, such as spanakopita. In Felicity Cloake’s perfect recipe for this filo-topped spinach and feta pie, going frozen allows you to skip several steps – washing, chopping, salting and massaging the leaves – which seems like as good a reason to do so as any. Alternatively, blend frozen spinach blocks with fruits that are kept unchilled – bananas, say, or avocados – for a nutritious super green smoothie. They may be good for you, but those things do not taste great at room temperature.

Time to get fruity. As someone who has spent too much time picking the last few edible berries from a recently purchased punnet, frozen fruits have been a revelation. The packaging will often suggest you scatter atop hot porridge – a good way to defrost and add flavour without turning your chosen fruit to mush – but there are many ways in which berries and other frozen fruits outshine their fresh counterparts. Anna Jones argues that frozen cherries are “softer and sweeter” than those bought fresh, making them the best option for her cherry and smoked salt clafoutis.

Yotam Ottolenghi keeps a bag of berries in the freezer to blitz with yoghurt and honey for a quick and easy dessert. Alison Roman also advocates frozen berries in her raspberry ricotta cake, in which blackberries also work well. She stirs the frozen fruit into the batter and keeps some to strew across the top before the mix goes in the oven, resulting in a deliciously jammy dessert.

Strawberry and basil soup
A little bit different ... strawberry and basil soup. Photograph: Image Professionals/Alamy

The Blueberry Council (who knew?) has ways of incorporating this juicy fruit into almost any dish, but its recipe for blueberry ketchup – served alongside brie-topped beef burgers – makes use of the frozen variety, combining berries with onion, sugar, apple cider vinegar and allspice to create a chutney-like sauce.

While numerous cocktail recipes encourage the use of frozen fruits in place of ice cubes – for fear of watering down a good stiff drink – the council also put frozen berries to work in its recipe for blueberry basil frosé, blending them with sugar, lemon juice, basil leaves and rosé wine. Meanwhile, the website A Beautiful Mess – whose motto was “Stay home and make something!” long before such messaging was government-enforced – also opts for an interesting berry-basil combo: chilled strawberry and basil soup, with angel cake croutons to boot.

Nigel Slater’s mango in muscat (with poppy seed madeleines)
Tropical treat ... Nigel Slater’s mango in muscat (with poppy seed madeleines). Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Finally, mango. Nigel Slater’s recipe for mango in muscat does not demand that the fruit be frozen, but since it requires mango flesh to be cut from the stone and placed straight in the freezer, I imagines it would not hurt. Wait for the slices to soften a little before serving, which Slater suggests doing alongside poppy seed and lemon friands. Beats “faux-yo” any day.