Whether you’ve got leftovers you don’t want to eat right away, basics in single portions, or fresh chiles or herbs that will wilt in the fridge before you can use them, smart use of your freezer can both provide convenience and prevent food from going to waste.
Many prepared dishes keep well frozen, whether you are saving extra helpings or cooking with future meals in mind. Chili, stews, and soups can be divided into convenient portions for freezing. Lasagne and baked macaroni and cheese can be chilled, cut into squares, and individually wrapped; “they both bake up just as well as fresh (actually better, I think),” says ANin. Mashed or puréed potatoes work well frozen, but avoid freezing dishes with chunks of potatoes, as they have an unpleasant texture when thawed.
Partially or completely cooked ingredients in the freezer make convenient shortcuts for weeknight cooking. Store serving portions of cooked beans and other legumes in freezer bags to add to a variety of dishes. Beans that have been soaked but not yet cooked can also be frozen. Cooked rice freezes very well, making an almost-instant side dish when warmed in a microwave. LisaPA likes to make a big batch of pizza dough, portion it out, and freeze it. “Then I just pull out a ball, let it thaw in the fridge, and I can have weeknight pizza,” she says.
Fresh chiles such as serranos and jalapeños freeze well. They won’t have the crisp texture of fresh chiles once thawed, but they will still work just fine in salsa and guacamole, as well as in cooked dishes. Lay the peppers on a baking sheet and allow them to freeze, then store in a zip-top bag. “I find that roasting them or even charring them in an iron skillet and then freezing them requires little effort and makes them salsa-ready anytime you need them,” says agoodbite.
It’s surprisingly easy to freeze fresh herbs for later use in cooked dishes: Just chop them and drop in a zip-top freezer bag with the air squeezed out, or use a vacuum sealer. “It tastes exactly like fresh when you take a pinch (or handful) out to use in whatever you’re making,” says mels. And JoanN says, “In addition to cilantro, basil, and parsley, I’ve successfully frozen whole sprigs of thyme and rosemary as well as chopped shallots and lemongrass.”