Restaurant chefs and cookbook authors often dish out advice on choosing garden-fresh produce. But their expertise isn't limited to the crispest lettuce or the sweetest strawberries. We asked six chefs to weigh in on a home-cooking staple: frozen vegetables. Their selections show a keen sense for cost and convenience—but ultimately focus on flavor. Pick up a few of the frozen wonders they chose, try out a recipe or two, and taste for yourself: these pros really know their stuff.
PEAS At The Red Avocado in Iowa City, Iowa, co-owner David Burt allows very few frozen veggies in menu items. But frozen peas make the grade in one of the restaurant's specialty items: potato-pea samosas seasoned with Indian spices "Frozen peas are really nice from a labor point of view because they're already shelled," he says. They are a great way to add a little green to grain dishes too.
DICED BUTTERNUT SQUASHVT Executive Chef Ann Gentry admits she once thought frozen vegetables were suitable for only boiling or steaming. "Finally, I realized you can use them just like fresh vegetables," she says. Gentry likes to sauté defrosted, diced butternut squash in olive oil, then season it with a bit of her favorite herbs, such as dill, basil, or tarragon: "I love that—just a little hint of herbs with salt and pepper." The presliced, prediced vegetable also makes an ideal base for quick, creamy, puréed soups.
WHOLE BABY GREEN BEANS Nava Atlas, author of Vegan Soups and Hearty Stews for All Seasons, snacks on lightly seasoned green beans. "Frozen green beans come out tremendously well, and you can get away with using them plain as a side dish," she says. Frozen green beans are especially good in Asian stir-fries, where they maintain their crisp texture.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS "My favorite frozen vegetable? Brussels sprouts," says Kendra Feather, owner of Ipanema Cafe in Richmond, Va. "I roast them with potatoes, garlic, and cauliflower, then serve as a version of veggies and dip."
ARTICHOKE HEARTS "Frozen artichokes are easier to work with than fresh, and I find them a lot more flavorful than canned," says Robin Robertson, author of 1,000 Vegan Recipes. Notably, frozen artichoke hearts are just as good as fresh when it comes to levels of heart-healthy antioxidants cynarin and silymarin.
EDAMAME "Edamame is one of the best frozen vegetables in the world," declares Rich Landau, executive chef and co-owner of Horizons restaurant in Philadelphia. He seasons puréed edamame with tamari, sesame oil, and white pepper, then adds the pÃ¢té-like spread to mashed potatoes for "the most well-rounded Asian taste imaginable." It's also a good source of fiber, omega-3 fats, and disease-fighting isoflavones.