For the first time ever, we have enough snow peas and sugar snap peas to freeze. Now, before freezing most vegetables, you have to blanch them to inactivate the enzymes that will cause them to lose their quality.
The time-honored method is to pick huge amounts of vegetables, blanch them in huge pans of boiling water, cool them in huge quantities of ice cold water, and then quickly pack them in bags and store them in freezer. This method is efficient and effective, but it takes a lot of energy. I’m not talking only electrical energy, but specifically human energy.
I do not have a lot of energy to spare, so I do small amounts at a time and use the microwave to blanch my vegetables. This means I can pick a small amount of snow or sugar snap peas (2 gallons, this time), wash them, remove the strings (actually Miss 11 year old did that this time), and still have stamina left to do the blanching and packing.
This is how I microwave blanched my snow peas using a three-batch process. A similar method work for most vegetables. (It sounds a bit confusing at first, but hang in there since it is actually quite simple.)
1) Put a small amount, about 1-2 cups, of the peas in a glass bowl with about 2 T of water.
2) Heat it in my 1100 watt microwave for a minute and a half. (*see note below)
3) Pour the peas and water into a deep-fryer basket set into a second glass bowl to catch the blanching water, and immediately lift out the basket of peas and put it in a huge container of ice cold water set in the sink.
4) Leave it to cool thoroughly.
5) Repeat 1 and 2 with the next batch of peas.
6) As soon as the second batch of peas is microwaving, pour more cold water onto the basket from step 3, or just swish the basket in the cold water, to speed up the cooling.
7) When the microwave timer rings, dump the cooled peas onto a plate, put the basket back into the second glass bowl, and apply step 3 and 4 to the second batch.
8) Apply step 5 to the third batch of peas.
9) Pack the first batch (the cooled ones) from step 7 into a freezer bag.
10) Continue with steps 6 and 7 for the second batch.
11) Just keep on going, managing 3 batches at a time.
There! It sounds confusing and was certainly complicated to write up, but it is simple once you get started. It is also the quickest way to do this. If you want to blanch only one batch at a time, do steps 1-4, 6b, and 9. After you get a bit of experience doing single batches, the three-batch process will make sense.
*Note for number 2: The exact time depends on the microwave’s power. Microwave until the vegetables have just turned bright. Be very careful not to actually cook them.
Even though I only blanch 1-2 cups at a time, I pack several batches into one freezer bag until there is enough for a meal.
Now, the internet abounds with advice, good and bad, about blanching vegetables. Recent research seems to indicate that proper microwave blanching retains more nutrients than water blanching. Crucial factors seem to be quantity, timing, and microwave wattage.
If you are not careful about the timing and if you try to process batches that are too large (as recommended here, for example) you will probably get inferior frozen vegetables. This blanching guide has microwave times that are two times too long for our microwave, and it recommends more water than necessary, but it gives a good overview table for microwave blanching many different vegetables.
Although I do not know whether or not the microwave method saves energy, I know it suits my own limited energy supply. In fact, microwave blanching makes it possible for me to freeze food for my family, something that would not have been possible if I attempted to use conventional water blanching.
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