Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Try freezing the tasty stuff

When it's time to clean out my produce drawer, there's always a bag of withered ginger, wrinkled thai chiles, and a few blackened curry leaves lurking shamefully at the bottom of the drawer.  Recently I've been experimenting with freezing small to medium batches of ingredients I know I'll be using in upcoming weeks for cooking Indian curries.

I've frozen a lot of things over the years- ice cream, ground espresso, leftover cookies, an overabundance of plums, veggie burgers (store bought and home made), the impossible-to-find curry leaves I used to order from ishopindian.com.  Whenever I freeze food it is either because I bought it already frozen, because I have too much of something and don't want it to go to waste, or because I need I need a way to preserve something precious.

I've long known that freezing curry leaves works surprisingly well.  Even now that I can walk to an Indian grocery, when I buy fresh curry leaves I use half fresh and freeze the rest, unwashed, directly in the plastic bag in which I bought them.  When it's time to use the frozen curry leaves they're so easy to pluck from the stem, rinse under water, and pat dry.  The process of rinsing them easily defrosts them, and the smell of curry leaves fills the kitchen the moment the leaves hit the hot oil.

This week I've frozen ginger root, turmeric root, garlic, and jalapeƱo.  I had read that frozen ginger could be easily grated using a microplane grater.  Sure enough, when I grated my teaspoon of frozen ginger using my trusty parmesan cheese grater, the ginger fell like powder into a neat little pile on my prep board.  And, as promised, I didn't have to peel it.  Although the process worked well, getting more than a teaspoon or two out of a small piece of ginger is just as time consuming as grating it fresh.  I've frozen some larger pieces to see if, with greater surface area, I can get a better bang for the buck on my time when I grate.  In the meantime, I keep a half cup of fresh ginger paste made in my Vitamix ready to go in the refrigerator.  It also makes great ginger tea!

I've  successfully used small pieces of frozen turmeric root and ginger root in smoothies.  I chop them into one inch pieces and dry them before freezing, so that I can easily add them in the Vitamix.  

This week I also started experimenting with freezing peeled garlic.  I never have any trouble keeping garlic fresh, this is purely a time saver, so as not to have to stop and peel a bunch of garlic while busily prepping the many ingredients used in starting an Indian curry dish.  I was shocked by how easily I could mince frozen garlic straight out of the freezer!  The first curry I made using frozen peeled garlic was received with rave reviews, my husband had no idea I'd done anything differently than usual.  Tomorrow I'm going to try introducing frozen garlic into a pesto sauce.

From nutrition and aesthetic standpoints, fresher is always better.  For those who only use ginger paste or curry leaves once or twice a week, freezing these potent flavor and aromatic powerhouses may equate to fresher food, and will certainly mean less waste.  And if having speedily prepped ginger and garlic means more home made weeknight meals, I say give it a try.  The worst that can happen is you decide you just can't give up fresh from the refrigerator instead of the freezer.

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