2 Frozen Veggies That Are Low-Key Protein Powerhouses

Frozen vegetables are a miracle of modern convenience. Not only do they enhance last-minute meals in a pinch, but they also make it much easier, and a lot less expensive, to maintain a balanced diet year-round, especially during times when fresh and in-season produce is not available. Most vegetables bound for freezing are harvested at their peak of freshness and then quickly processed and frozen, which results in retaining most of their nutrition. In fact, some are even more nutritious frozen than fresh. Compared with vegetables that travel sometimes hundreds of miles from the farm before they even reach the grocery store, it is easy to see why frozen foods can be even better than their fresh counterparts.

There are two frozen veggies in particular that often fly under the radar — technically, they are considered legumes — that are excellent sources of protein. Edamame, which are young soybeans, have a whopping 18.4 grams of protein per cup. Green peas also pack in a not-too-shabby seven grams of protein into one cup. They are also both high in fiber, with just over eight and six grams each respectively, which is important for digestion and makes them filling foods, according to Cedars Sinai. Thankfully, they are also quite tasty in their own right, as well as extremely versatile and can be used in a wide variety of dishes.

The plant-based complete protein hiding in the freezer aisle

Edamame are green, unripe soybeans. Matured beans are used to make soy sauce, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, and miso — while edamame is eaten as-is. What's remarkable about edamame, like all soybeans, is that they are a complete protein, which means they contain all of the essential amino acids — a trait not found in many plant foods. This is one reason soy products are so prevalent among vegetarians and vegans since complete proteins, with few exceptions, are primarily only in animal-derived meat and dairy.

Edamame is popular as an appetizer or snack, commonly enjoyed at Japanese restaurants and bars, often accompanied by beer or sake. They're usually boiled, salted, and served warm still in their pods, sometimes topped with condiments like crispy garlic or spicy teriyaki sauce. The beans slide out easily from the inedible pods by pulling them through your teeth. Their firm texture and nutty flavor make for a satisfying finger food.

Edamame can also be quickly steamed, which preserves even more of its nutrients. The frozen beans can be purchased already hulled, which opens up many more ways of preparing them. You can eat shelled edamame cooked, mashed, or whole. Toss them into stir-fries, soups, sheet pan dinners, or rice bowls. They are tasty cooked and chilled when used in salads, or roasted until crispy and seasoned with salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese. Puree them instead of chickpeas to make hummus for a fast, protein-packed dip or spread.

Give peas a chance

Green peas are also legumes that grow in pods, and like edamame, their pods are not eaten. Despite being more like a bean, they are classified along with other starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, beets, squash, and corn. Although quite tiny, peas truly are a protein powerhouse, with more protein by weight than many other vegetables. For example, a ⅔ cup of frozen peas has 5.22 grams of protein — while the same amount of carrots has only 0.81 grams.

Frozen peas are ready to use straight out of the bag, and thanks to their diminutive size, they require hardly any time to thaw. While fresh peas can be hard to come by even when in season, frozen peas are available any time, and are somewhat preferable frozen due to their inherent sweetness being locked in at its peak.

Quick ways of cooking peas include boiling or microwaving, and while there is no shame in fast meal prep, these methods can turn out tasting rather dull. You can elevate peas from drab to delicious by sauteing them in a pan with butter and garlic — and seasoned with salt and pepper. Minted peas are an Irish dish prepared in much the same way, but with the addition of fresh mint. There are also of course the traditional and quintessentially British mushy peas, which can also be made with butter and mint, but cooked until very soft, then smashed like potatoes — just without the milk.