Picture this: it’s the middle of February and you have just schlepped your way into the grocery store after either scrapping the snow off your boots or shaking the rain off your coat.
After finally extricating a buggy whose wheels work from the queue of metallic pushcarts you head for the produce department and spot the green beans. You go to grab a half kilo and notice they’re from Mexico. Mexico? Of course they’re from Mexico, how on earth can Canadians grow green beans north of the 49th parallel in the middle of winter? Not only did that little green bean have to travel thousands of miles in the Big Green Bean Bus to get to your door but the chances of that little green bean being nutritionally dense, flavourful and at a reasonable price are slim to nil. Enter one of my unsung foodie heroes- frozen vegetables.
Yes siree, frozen veggies have taken a giant step forward. Gone are the days when they were really just mushy stuff that sort of lay on your plate like a blob of colour. No, today’s frozen vegetables taste and have the texture of cooked fresh vegetables.
Most frozen veggies are quick or flash frozen which translated into consumer lingo means that they were picked at their peak of flavour and ripeness and then frozen within 2 hours of harvesting making their nutritional value as high, if not higher than fresh produce that had to travel miles to get to you and your fridge, only to sit for extra days in the crisper drawer hoping to make it to your plate before turning into a puddle of slime.
So which green bean do you want? The one that’s making a cross border visit from places you dream of vacationing in? Or do you want the ones that were grown in Canada and frozen to help you through the winter doldrums? I’ve always said that when you can’t buy local and in season, buy frozen and a product of Canada.
Most people think frozen vegetables and visualize a bag of frozen peas; which I’ve always been a huge fan of. Hey, you got a bag of those babies in your freezer and you have a vegetable on your dinner plate. But in today’s market perusing the frozen veggie aisle has a lot more than the bag of single vegetables. On a recent foraging trip I found a new category – blends. Each package had a mixture of veggies that represented either a culture or an area. I found Japanese, California, even Mediterranean blends as well as the bags of frozen peas, corn, and standard mixed vegetables.
Some companies are using a new technology called steam pouch cooking. The vegetables are in a pouch that you place in the microwave, heat to the time suggested, open and serve. This method according to manufacturers “retains ingredient flavour and texture while ensuring optimal, even cooking time and temperature.” The brand I tried had a great flavour but I found that you really need to know what wattage your microwave is or you may end up over cooking the vegetables.
Try thinking outside the frozen bag as a dinner side dish and try using the entire contents as an ingredient for your next dinner, add them to soups, stir fries, or a pasta dish. Most importantly buy brands without butter, added unhealthy fats, and cream sauces. Those extra bells and whistles really defeat the whole purpose of eating heart healthy vegetables. So go as naked as possible when it comes to buying a frozen brand.