Freezing meals is a great way to save time in the kitchen. Instead of making a new dinner each night or eating the same dish four nights in a row (please kill me), make a big batch of soup each week or two and freeze half of it. After a couple weeks, you'll be able to "shop" from the freezer for new meals for the week.
But how do you know which dishes freeze well?
My rule of thumb is that anything soupy or saucy (think chili, tomato sauce, braised beans, pureed vegetables) makes a great candidate for freezer storage. Especially when you are cooking for one or two, recipes for sauces, braises and soups are hard to cut down, making freezing a doubly good option when it comes to saving both time and waste.
Soups in particular freeze and defrost seamlessly, so here are my top suggestions for stocking your freezer with soups this winter.
Tips for Freezing and Defrosting Soups:
1. AVOID SOUPS WITH DAIRY, PASTA OR CRUNCHY VEGETABLES.
Freezing does affect the quality of certain ingredients, so you may be disappointed if you don't prepare properly. Skip dairy which tends to separate when freezing. I always opt for coconut milk, almond milk or pureed white beans when I'm looking to create a creamy soup, whether or not I'm freezing. Pasta, noodles and small grains may also break apart when freezing. Crunchy vegetables in Asian soups are best saved for serving right away--they'll be droopy and rubbery after freezing. Gross.
2. TRY PUREED SOUPS.
While you can freeze a chunky soup or stew, pureed ones tend to be totally foolproof. As long as you skip the cream, pureed squash or root soups will have almost the exact same texture after freezing. Just make sure to give a big whisk or stir to full remix the soup once it's heated.
3. FREEZE IN ONE PORTION CONTAINERS.
This one is totally your call (well, uh, actually all of these are), but it's a food safety no-no to defrost and reheat food more than once. In my experience, freezing in one portion containers is the way to go. I'd rather defrost 2 if I need to than have that extra portion that goes to waste if I defrost it and then don't use it. I like to use small glass containers (no plastic taste or residue in my food) or one pint deli-style containers in pinch. If your freezer is tiny, you can also fill one quart ziploc bags with soup and lay them flat to freeze.
4. LABEL AND DATE.
I know you think you'll remember what's in those containers in your freezer, but weeks from now, you'll remember how I warned you in this post. Labeling each container makes it so much more likely that you'll get excited to reheat one of these on a rainy day. I like to use these removable white labels so I don't get that residue on my containers. Try to eat by the 3 month mark.
5. DEFROST IN THE REFRIGERATOR FOR 24 HOURS.
I find that frozen soup always takes longer than I think it will to defrost. After a night in the fridge, I usually still find a solid soup-colored ice cube. Budget 24 hours.
6. GARNISH BEFORE SERVING.
If your recipe includes a garnish of fresh herbs or a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds, skip this step before freezing. Garnish if you can once you defrost (I like to keep at least one fresh herb on hand and have a pantry full of spices, seeds and nuts that can always be improvised into a soup topping.) Your soup may also need a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice to bring it back to life.
7. TRY TO SERVE WITH ONE FRESH INGREDIENT.
Although freezing meals is a fantastic way to conserve time and energy when it comes to meal preparation, you'll feel much more excited and satisfied if you add at least one fresh thing to the meal when you serve it. Consider adding a fresh herb or wilting in fresh spinach after you soup heats. Also a simple vegetable side or side salad can also make your meal feel new, fresh and satisfying.