When I was growing up, I loved making time capsules. (It’s like time travel for us mere mortals.) I’d get an empty, plastic bread sleeve and fill it with newspaper clippings, mix tapes that had 80′s hits and bits of the top deejays. I’d include a note about my favorite hobbies, my loved/hated classes, who my closest friends were, and the boys that I liked. Then I’d seal it with a twist tie or rubber band and tape a note to the outside – “Open in March 1986.” I’d mark the date for 2-5 years in the future, and in the lifespan of a kid, that’s a big length of time in terms of interests and habits. My dad would take the capsule up a ladder to the attic and hang it onto one of the beams. It wasn’t accessible there. Out of sight, out of mind. Then after the allotted length would pass, my dad would bring down the capsule, and I’d hurry off to my bedroom to unpack the secrets of another time, revisiting the sweetness from other days.
Freezers are kind of like that. Stay with me here. In June and July when the basil is fresh and plentiful, we can make batches of pesto by the container-full, cover them in lids, and stack them onto those cold shelves. In the wet, flannel blanket of summer humidity, winter only exists in echoes. But in February when the driveway is covered in snow and green is solely found in houseplants, we can thaw a bit of those sticky, sun-drenched days. Do you remember as a kid wanting to freeze a snowball and save it for a July afternoon? It’s kind of like that, but in reverse. From the depths of winter, while tossing pesto and pasta, adding jarred artichokes and olives, we get a glimpse of warmer days when we were taking long hikes, admiring the fireflies, and swinging in the park.
People often say that they don’t have time to cook. There’s no time to make healthy meals, they say. Putting soups, stews, and beans into the freezer is like helping out your future self. We set ourselves up for busy days or for when we’re sick or tired. We can reach into the freezer and grab a homemade veggie burger or container of three-bean chili for a dinner that’s quick, easy, and wholesome.
Here are some frozen food ideas I’ve been utilizing lately:
My current favorite pesto is the pistachio pesto from the ladies at Spork Foods. (I wrote about it here in my review of their cookbook, Spork Fed.) First I used the fresh pesto to toss with spiralized zucchini noodles, tomatoes, asparagus, and olives. (I ran a large zucchini through the spiralizer, and put the noodles into a colander. I salted them generously to soften them, and let them sweat while I made the pesto. After they were pliable and loose, I rinsed them thoroughly and tossed them with the pesto. I often like to make the pesto without oil, which means it can come out as more of a paste. This is no problem – just use your hands to evenly break up the pesto and massage it into the noodles for total coverage.) With any leftover pesto, I put it into small covered Pyrex containers and pop them in the fridge for another day. The top of the pesto becomes a little discolored, but it tastes fine. If the appearance is off putting, you can scoop off the top layer and underneath it’s bright green.
My cauliflower and white bean queso that I wrote about in May makes about four cups of queso. That’s a lot of dipping! Instead of making a half batch, I put half in the freezer. It thaws and reheats beautifully. (The liquid may have separated from the sauce a little bit. Give it a quick stir and it’s good to go.) You would never know that it wasn’t freshly made. Then use it for a quick quesadilla lunch with a tall glass of cucumber water.
When you don’t feel like making your own, I recently discovered a new frozen appetizer from Trader Joe’s – vegetable pakoras. Pakoras are one of my favorite Indian starters. They’re made of chickpea flour and fried with various vegetables. (One box serves 2.5 people. I’m glad we don’t live with a half person. We were happy to score extra pakora for ourselves.) When added to a dinner of masoor dal, it makes for a complete meal that’s done in 20 minutes. The frozen pakoras are baked in the oven straight from the package, and the masoor dal can be made in one pot. It’s just red lentils, garlic, onions, and spices – things that I always have on hand. (I make a modified version of the masoor dal from Vegan Table. I sub out the cumin seeds for hot curry powder from Penzey’s Spices.) Add leftover rice and it’s satisfying, tasty, and delightfully easy.
The pakoras come with a packet of sweet tamarind chutney, but my heart belongs to Hari Chutney. When I make curries, I love a cool drizzle of the cilantro chutney. I don’t always feel like adding another step, though, just to make a sauce. As luck would have it, extra chutney can be poured into ice cube trays. Then when I have a hankering for pakora, I just thaw a cube or two.
All this talk of time capsules makes me think I need to revisit the concept. Get me a cassette and some Adele. I feel a mix tape coming on.