Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, Catherine Lamb shows us how to make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.
Today: Here's why you should always have a bag of frozen peas in your freezer.
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I am only slightly exaggerating when I say that frozen peas have saved my life. At the very least, they have saved my sanity. Because there are some nights -- okay, most nights -- when all I want for dinner is mac and cheese. I should not be eating said mac and cheese as an entire meal because I am an adult and should be eating green things, as green things are good for my insides. I know this.
Here's where frozen peas come in: When I'm facing a monochromatic dinner, I reach into my freezer and add a few handfuls of these sweet little vegetables. Suddenly, I've got bright green speckles; I've got freshness; I've got health. Plus, rightly or wrongly, they are the only vegetable I feel genuinely good about buying frozen (Amanda's with me). They're exponentially less pricey than the fresh peas you find at your farmers market come spring, and they're available year-round.
So go out and buy as many bags of frozen peas as will fit in your freezer. Here's how to use them:
Curry: Though it might not be 100% authentic, peas are a natural fit with curry. Their subtle sweetness complements curry's heat, and they add a pop of freshness that helps nudge the finished product away from being too rich. Plus, you don't even have to let the peas thaw before you toss them into the pot. Try adding a few handfuls to a fish, chicken, or vegan curry.
Pasta: Frozen peas are here to make eating pasta and cheese for dinner a decision you can feel proud of. Thirty seconds before you drain your noodles, add some peas into the boiling, salted water. Turn that pasta into cacio e pepe, carbonara, macaroni and cheese, or even straight-up butter and noodles. I've also added peas to baked ziti with marvelous results. For the ultimate lazy bones pasta dinner, remember the four P's: pasta, pesto (preferably homemade), peas, and Parmesan.
Toast: Forget beans on toast -- peas on toast is where it's at. It's a perfectly legitimate way to turn toast into dinner (which you should be doing anyway). I like to toss some frozen peas in a saucepan with a splash of water, a pat of butter, and a clove of garlic, then let everything get melty and friendly. I smash the warm mixture on buttered toast and top it with herbs or dollops of ricotta.
Eggs: Frozen peas and eggs are two budget ingredients that are meant to be together. Tuck some thawed peas into an omelet or add them to scrambled eggs. For a dinner party-worthy meal, sauté frozen peas with bacon and stock, then crack a few eggs on top. Cover the pan and cook until the egg whites are set and opaque. Toast up some staling bread, rub it with a clove of garlic, and dig in.
Grains: Peas take risotto from brothy-y, cheese-y rice to a perfectly legitimate (and may I say elegant) meal. If you're on a tight budget, use straight-up rice in lieu of the more traditional Arborio. Or, skip rice altogether in favor of oatmeal or farro.
More: Follow these 5 steps and you can make risotto with whatever odds and ends you've got.
Spreads and dips: Blanch your peas (or put them in a bowl with a splash of water and microwave them for 1 minute), then place them in a food processor or blender with a splash of lemon juice and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and your favorite spices (I like cumin and za'atar). Pulse the whole mixture a few times, until it looks slightly creamy with a few remaining pea chunks. Smash some of this spread with an avocado for a sweet twist on guacamole, or stir it into your hummus and go at it with carrots and pita bread.
Dessert? I'd love to make a dessert starring frozen peas (pea sorbet? pea pudding?). If you have any ideas, please send them my way.
How do you like to use frozen peas? Share with us in the comments below!
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).