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slabs of colourful frozen veg in a freezer
Image: Tina Tiller

KaiApril 20, 2023

The endless possibility of frozen vegetables

slabs of colourful frozen veg in a freezer
Image: Tina Tiller

They may not have the romance of a freshly-harvested crop, but in plenty of dishes frozen veges are equally delicious – and usually much cheaper. Getting the most out of them just requires a little bit of creativity.

Not much in the world feels certain these days. Except, that is, for rising food prices. 

In Aotearoa, the latest figures from Stats NZ have shown that food costs were 12.1% higher in March than in the same time last year. General groceries were up 14%, restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food were up 8.7% and meat and fish were up 7.8%. Fruit and vegetables were up by an astonishing 22%.

Already, in the UK, with food price inflation sitting at 18.2%, retail data suggests that the soaring cost of groceries coupled with rising energy costs and poor weather for growing has seen British shoppers opting for frozen food over fresh on their weekly shop. Locally, it’s not difficult to imagine that when faced with a head of cauliflower for $6.99 or a bag of fresh spinach for $7.29 in the supermarket produce section we might also direct our trolley toward the deep freeze instead.

Frigid carrots and ice-bound spinach don’t quite have the same culinary romance associated with them as a sack of dirt-flecked root vegetables or bouquet of fresh greens bought from the farmers market. But when it comes to frozen vegetables, the appeal is less about romance than it is about comparative affordability, convenience and accessibility. They’re also generally considered to be more nutritious than the fresh options at the supermarket. Where the world lacks certainty, frozen vegetables offer an icy glimmer of dependability.

Getting the most out of your frozen vegetables means thinking creatively – and for the most part, that probably means less boiling. Open the freezer door and behold a world of frosty potential.

Garden peas

If you’re writing about frozen vegetables, you simply must start with the pea. It was one of the first commercially produced frozen vegetables and has remained one of the most popular. In fact, it seems that for many of us, these petite green orbs exist solely in frozen form – worldwide, the vast majority of peas are consumed from the freezer. My favourite approach is to give defrosted peas a quick blitz or mash and add to your favourite fritter recipe. You could doll up the batter with lemon zest, fresh mint, crumbled feta, or, finish with a splodge of garlic-infused yoghurt (most recipes ask for lemon juice but I don’t think it’s necessary). 

Whenever I have frozen peas I feel inspired to make something Italian in origin. Pasta e piselli – tiny pasta with frozen peas, onion, chilli flakes, olive oil and parmesan is the most charmingly simple of all the options. There’s the option to add more water and in some instances, tomato puree for a soupier version too. Especially good for cold-weather dinners is a pot of risi e bisi, a comforting Venetian dish of rice suspended with peas and finished with plenty of cracked pepper and parmesan.

Peas are strictly seasonal, and so there were no fresh peas available at the time of writing. At my local supermarket a 1kg bag costs $3.30 or $0.33 per 100g.

A bag of snap frozen baby peas and a bag of snap frozen sweet corn kernels


It hardly even needs a mention, but you could of course also make fritters with your frozen corn. A totally delicious and valid option, but there really are only so many fritters one can eat, and corn has so much more to offer. One of the easiest approaches is to tumble a handful into a crunchy coleslaw or into tacos – in each, they’ll add necessary sweetness and bite. Consider plunging a pile of them into an economical one pot meal like taco soup which you can make with or without meat and animal products. I have a real soft spot for Korean corn cheese, a ridiculously indulgent mix of onion, mayonnaise, pepper, rice cakes and of course cheese and corn that’s baked until it becomes a melty, gleaming mess. 

Fresh corn is out of season at the moment so buying fresh is simply not an option. At my local supermarket a 750g bag of frozen corn kernels costs $4.00, or $0.53 per 100g.  


You could serve frozen spinach steamed as you would the fresh stuff – but to me, in this unembellished state, the texture and taste don’t hold up quite as successfully as many other frozen vegetables do. Added to soups or stews, it’s less offensive, but their tendency to disintegrate does add an element of unwanted mush to your bowl. Deployed into a Spanish omelette however, frozen spinach is totally wonderful. 

You’ll be able to find multitudes of Spanish omelette recipes on the internet that you can bulk up with greens, but it should go something like this: slice enough potatoes to at least cover the bottom of a pan and cook in oil for 15-20 minutes, whisk a couple of eggs, fried onion a handful of defrosted greens and salt and pepper in a bowl, then pour on top and leave on a low heat for around eight minutes. Afterwards, I prefer to bake this for a few minutes in the oven to ensure the whole thing is cooked through (but you’ll need an oven-proof pan for this), or you could flip the tortilla in the pan using a plate (a messier option that works just as well otherwise). Keep in the fridge and serve by the slice with a spoonful of relish, chutney or chilli crisp for an effortless breakfast, lunch or dinner.

At my local supermarket the price of a 325g bag of fresh spinach costs $7.29, or $2.24 per 100g. A 350g bag of frozen spinach cost $3.90, or $1.04 per 100g.

A bag of frozen Wattie's free flow spinach and a bag of frozen McCain baby beans

Green beans

Through no fault of their own, green beans are a relatively unvalued member of the frozen vegetable pack. The truth is, they are rather less versatile than the rest, but with a few additions they can be really quite dazzling. When it comes to cooking methods for green beans, stick to the traditional: steam or sauté. The real trick with making green beans sparkle is how you spruce them up with whatever else you have in your pantry and fridge. Start with a glug of olive oil or a generous pat of butter and then toss in rings of fresh chilli, frizzled onions, dried shallots, barberries, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts, bread crumbs, herbs, salt, pepper. Cooking them in garlic is always a good idea, as is adding a squeeze of lemon or a splosh of your best vinegar just before serving.

At my local supermarket a 250g bag of fresh green beans costs $4, or $1.60 per 100g. A 500g bag of frozen green beans costs $3.70, or $0.74 per 100g.

Broad beans

Like their legume relation the pea, broad beans are exceptionally difficult to buy fresh in Aotearoa. As such, if you’re after their earthy and slightly sweet taste, you’re likely heading to the freezer aisle. It’s worth noting that these are on the pricier side of the frozen vegetable world. They’re also often slightly more time consuming to prepare as they usually need to be boiled for around three minutes, then blanched and then peeled (essentially using your fingers to squeeze them out of the shell) – if you have the time it’s a satisfyingly mind-numbing task and, in my opinion, worth it. You can always build a salad around them – scattered with feta, olives, nuts and salad greens – and call it a day. but one of the loveliest ways to serve them is as a dip. For this, take your peeled beans and whatever combination of ricotta or feta, fresh herbs like parsley or mint, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, chilli, that you have and blend till combined. Pair with crackers, toast or pita as a virtuous desk lunch for one, or, shared as a snack alongside a big bowl of chips.

At my local supermarket a 500g bag costs $3.99, or $0.80 per 100g.

A bag of frozen Talley's broad beans and a bag of frozen Mama San shelled edamame


There is something calming about a bowl of soba – especially when it’s as a dinner for one. And in my opinion, edamame, whether stirred through a tangle of the noodles or served in a bowl beside, are a perfect pairing. I have a particular affection for the cold version or zaru soba, with a concentrated broth of mirin, soy sauce, sake, kombu and bonito flakes, but you’ll find a bewildering number of soba recipes on the internet that range from warm bowls doused in soy sauce, and others tossed with cabbage, carrots and herbs, that would be best described as salads. This is to say, whatever the format of soba in your bowl, edamame are a trusty accessory.

At my local supermarket a 400g bag of unshelled edamame costs $3.20, or $0.80 per 100g. A 454g bag of shelled edamame costs $4.20, or $0.93 per 100g.

Broccoli, cauliflower and carrots

Oven food is comfort food, and frozen broccoli, cauliflower or carrots tossed in olive oil and earthier spice mixes like garam masala or za’atar make for an excellent companion to any kind of roast dinner or with sausages. Or, for an even easier version, in a bowl topped with an egg cooked your favourite way and any kind of zingy sauce you have on hand. Don’t hesitate to use this trio in a blended soup either. Think, a blue cheese-laced creamy broccoli soup, a mix of roasted cauliflower, caramelised onions, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and broth (and chilli if you have it) or a smooth pairing of carrot and honey. For some, the softness of pre-frozen vegetables can be unappealing in curries – but if that’s not of concern to you (texture, like all components of food is down to personal preference of course), there’s no reason not to add them in place of fresh florets or rounds.

At my local supermarket a head of fresh broccoli weighing around 400g costs $3, or $0.75 per 100g. A 450g bag of frozen broccoli costs $2.60, or $0.58 per 100g. A head of fresh cauliflower weighing around 1kg costs $6.99, or $0.70 per 100g. Meanwhile, a 500g bag of frozen cauliflower florets costs $3.50, or $0.70 per 100g. Strangely, while every other vegetable was less expensive in frozen form, fresh full-sized carrots are currently almost half the price of frozen baby carrots. A 1kg bag of fresh carrots costs $3.49, or $0.35 per 100g and a 500g bag of baby carrots costs $3.30, or $0.66 per 100g.

A bag of frozen cauliflower florets and a bag of frozen baby carrots

Freeze your own

Whether it’s freezing your own homegrown glut or the vegetables you bought in excess at the fruit shop, freezing your own fresh vegetables is a really easy way to ensure good vegetables don’t go to waste.

Zucchini, beans, eggplant, tomatoes, chilli, capsicum and root vegetables freeze especially well depending on how you intend to cook them. However, as most vegetables bought commercially are blanched and then flash-frozen, it’s worthwhile Googling something along the lines of: “the best way to freeze [vegetable]” for the best results.

There’s freedom in knowing that just because you’ve stumbled across a goldmine of cheap eggplant, you don’t have to commit to eating eggplant-based meals for an entire week.

The stock bag

If you’ve still got a nook of room in the freezer drawer after all this, may I suggest keeping a little ziplock bag of any end, offcuts, peel or leaves from fresh carrots, parsley, garlic, onions, celery and leeks. Rather than using valuable fresh fresh vegetables for future stock making, just add a handful or two of these bits and bobs to the pot.

Keep going!