Freezer-friendly side dishes
July 31, 2011 3:51 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to build up a supply of meals in the freezer, but I'm running into a wall when I try to think of side dishes to freeze. I've got twice-baked potatoes frozen, but surely there are other options, right? Special snowflake details inside!

I've seen the many other freezer-cooking threads here, but they seem to skew pretty hard towards the entrees section--casseroles, enchiladas, lasagnas, soups, and hamburger-based meals. Which is awesome! We're big on side dishes here, though, to the point that we often eat nothing but sides for supper, and I'm having a hard time figuring out how to do that in the freezer.

Things that we definitely can't eat: seafood (of any sort), most nuts (walnuts, pecans, and pistachios are ok), and pineapple.

Examples of side dishes that we really like: Roasted brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic; savory baked beans; roasted asparagus; sauteed green beans with garlic; sauteed apples and sauerkraut; green bean casserole (don't judge--that shit's delicious); mashed potatoes; fried rice; quick-pickled cucumbers and carrots; cheese-and-garlic polenta; roasted squash with sage and parmesan...

What I'm looking for: Veggie-, bean-, or grain-centric recipes that are delicious and easily frozen. I would strongly prefer that they not be especially sweet--for example, carrots in a glaze will not go over well here.

I'm equally happy with things that need cooked before they're frozen and things that are prepped ahead of time, then pulled out of the freezer and tossed into the oven for a half hour or whatever. The primary goal is stuff that'll hold in the freezer for several months and has little to no effort needed on the eating end of things. I'm well aware of frozen veggies that you heat and eat, but that's not especially interesting eating, you know?

Any recipes, thoughts, or advice would be much appreciated.
posted by MeghanC to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Sounds like you need a vacuum sealer. You can make most of the sides you mentioned and then vacuum seal them before freezing. When you're ready to eat those sides, pop the vacuum sealed packages into boiling water and voila.
posted by Maisie at 4:26 PM on July 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

I have made these Baked Beans many times and they freeze very well. You can adjust the chipotle up or down depending on how zingy you like it.
posted by ambrosia at 4:41 PM on July 31, 2011

Seconding the vacuum sealer.
posted by Flood at 4:46 PM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: Well since I have an excess of zucchini, these two recipes are on my mind; ratattoullie and calabacitas.
posted by annsunny at 5:16 PM on July 31, 2011

Instead of thinking of total side dishes, perhaps you should consider processing plain veggies and then adding stuff on the night to compliment your main dish.

frozen peas + fresh mushrooms + fresh carrots + fresh onions + a little butter
frozen green beans + walnuts + glaze
frozen carrots + pecans + a little stock

(you get the picture)

I usually try to shred up a bunch of zucchini & freeze it for sauteing during the winter. Squash and other such types usually do well.

And freezer space is precious. Maybe you're ready to start canning?
posted by jaimystery at 5:18 PM on July 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm no kitchen pro, so help me and maybe other potential answerers understand why you couldn't just cook any side you want and freeze it. That may jog loose some more ideas from more people. What is the obstacle?
posted by Askr at 5:19 PM on July 31, 2011

Also, these green beans sound delicious. I always get them at Greek restaurants, yum!
posted by annsunny at 5:21 PM on July 31, 2011

Response by poster: Askr, the problem I'm having is that when reheated, many of the dishes I've tried (even after only a week or two in the freezer) are suffering greatly in taste and/or texture.

Frozen roasted asparagus and cauliflower, go from being delicious and toothy to being waterlogged and tasting rather like the overcooked vegetables of my childhood. Mashed potatoes separated into mealy potato surrounded by a lake of whitish liquid. I am, I swear, quite a good cook, but I don't seem to have a solid understanding of when things will freeze well vs when they're going to go limp, lose flavor, or separate.

Part of what I'm hoping for with this question is recipes (or genres of foods) that people have successfully frozen. Can macaroni and cheese casserole be frozen? Can cheesy polenta? What about a (pre-cooked) veggie stir fry with sauce? Annsunny has made me realize that dishes like ratatouille can be frozen, which is helpful--I was afraid that they'd suffer the waterlogged fate of the cauliflower.

Jaimystery, I do can quite a bit--usually various pickles, jams, peaches, applesauce, salsas, and roasted peppers. I don't have a pressure canner, nor do I really have the funds or the room for one, so I'm limited to things with verifiable sugar or acid content. Thankfully, I have both a freezer on my fridge and a large upright freezer in the basement--it's currently half full of meat and half full of blocks of ice, waiting to be filled with supper. I've just found out that I'm pregnant, and my partner is no cook, so I'm really trying to stock up on thins that I'll enjoy eating before I reach a point where I'm no longer interested in cooking. (Sadly, experience leads me to believe that the point where I'm no longer interested in cooking will roughly coincide with the point where I'm desperately hungry and would like to eat every food, right now.)

Maisie and Flood, the vacuum sealer is a fascinating idea, and one that I'd not had before. Would things like roasted vegetables reheat well, really? I assume that they'd lose the crispiness that fresh-roasted ones have, but if the flavor would remain, that's a trade-off that I'm happy enough to make. Are there guidelines for vacuum sealing recipes?

This is really helpful already--please keep it coming!
posted by MeghanC at 5:59 PM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: The trouble with freezing is that everything coming out of the freezer will cook up soft. This makes many vegetable dishes kind of unappealing. You are better off with a frozen main course perked up with a fresh side salad. The contrast in texture will improve the meal.

You will also want to freeze vegetable dishes that have either been made very crispy before freezing (ie, breaded and then baked) or are expected to be quite soft/watery as part of the finished product.

For pure vegetable sides, I have had success with:
* Stewed cabbage
* Stuffed zucchini and stuffed peppers
* Casseroles - broccoli and cheese casserole worked OK, so long as it has a bready topping
* Soups (these can be a side dish!)

You will also find successful sides in the bread family. Personally I have had success with:
* Bread stuffing
* Gnocchi

Re: some of your specific examples. Your cheesy polenta might come out gummy. Try cornbread instead. Your stirfry will come out watery (although my sweet and sour pork is OK, most others are unpleasant). If you want a rice-based side, try beans with brown rice instead.
posted by crazycanuck at 6:16 PM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: When I was pregnant I put tons and tons of kale in my freezer using this guide. So I had prepped, blanched kale in big freezer bags, then at dinner time I would saute garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil, then add the frozen kale and saute until done. It's not zero effort at dinner time, but putting a clove of garlic through a garlic press isn't a big deal, and there's no washing, trimming etc. involved. I loved it!
posted by robinpME at 6:22 PM on July 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's absolutely no problem freezing macaroni and cheese. It'll be fine.

Have you tried freezing mashed potatoes without butter/milk? I can't imagine you'll have separation if you didn't add those before freezing. How about roast potatoes? I cut into small chunks, parboil, then throw them in a cast iron pan with olive oil (works best if you put the oiled pan in the oven when you start prepping potatoes), rosemary or thyme or both, garlic and roast. Turn over every 25 mins or so until brown and cooked. Hell, you could even mash those, although they'll be more smashed than mashed.

I'm not asking this to be obnoxious, but is it really that much less work to defrost and cook than it would be to just cook from fresh? There are lots of "throw fresh vegetables/starch in a pan/oven and ignore" recipes. It actually seems like MORE work to prep it, freeze it and recook it. I'm sorry if I'm missing something. Just curious.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:28 PM on July 31, 2011

Response by poster: Guster4lovers, it's totally more work to do it ahead and recook before serving. The logic here, though, is that my partner is a wonderful man, but sort of fail in the kitchen. I really enjoy cooking and put a lot of value on eating homemade meals. He hates it and, left to his own devices, will eat takeout, raw carrots/green beans, mac and cheese, hotdogs, and soup.

I've recently found out that I'm pregnant, and know full well that in about seven months, I'm going to totally give up on cooking...but I'm going to be totally desperate for homemade food. My partner is willing to do this, but he resents spending time in the kitchen (just generally, not specifically because I'm pregnant--he has a two-hour-each-way commute, so his time is limited) and, frankly, is not an especially good cook even when he has guidance.

I'm happy enough to do a lot of extra work now if it means that we're not going to have to be worrying about food when I'm ready to pop/post-partum. But, like you said, this is creating more work, so it's not really something I've bothered to do before.
posted by MeghanC at 10:09 PM on July 31, 2011

I also like the above-linked kale method (notmartha is great) but you don't even have to go to that much trouble, I've found. Typically I just strip the kale, chop it up in chunks, and boil for two minutes, then drain well and freeze in a block. It will take a bit longer to thaw out in the pan, but it's not a big difference, and it is much easier.
posted by rossination at 10:59 PM on July 31, 2011

Best answer: Borrow or buy Cooks Illustrated's Make Ahead book ( It has a bunch of freezer-ready sides but even more useful are the detailed explanations of what foods work in the freezer and what doesn't. They have quite a few dishes that you partially make, freeze and then finish off in 5-10 minutes of work at the end that are good.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:00 AM on August 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

I was a bit puzzled about your mashed potatoes separating, but I think guster4lovers has it right. I have a problem with dairy, so my mashed potatoes are made with broth. No separation issues.

Just doing a search at amazon for "make ahead" brought up a huge number of books, so viggorlijah has a good possible suggestion.
posted by annsunny at 10:07 AM on August 1, 2011

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