12 Ways to Preserve Vegetables in Ice Cube Trays

published Jul 16, 2015
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(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

Think only water belongs in ice cube trays? Think again. We’ve sipped drinks decorated with raspberry-studded ice cubes, we’ve saved leftover lemon juice in trays, and we’ve provided an extra caffeinated punch in our iced coffees with frozen coffee cubes. But what about herbs or vegetables?

Here are a few of my favorite ways to preserve veggies, herbs, and sauces in convenient, practical, portion-controlled cubes.

A couple of summers ago, I actually thought I was the first person to invent using ice cube trays as a form of storage beyond just water. Sadly, by means of a few Pinterest searches, I discovered I wasn’t. My ice cube tray obsession began when I had an excess amount of parsley and basil on hand. I ended up making a batch of pesto that proved too large for me to enjoy in one sitting.

A light went off in my head. I smiled satisfactorily, as I spooned my surplus pesto into an ice cube tray. All I could think about was enjoying multiple pesto dinners in the approaching colder months.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

What to Do with Frozen Veggie Cubes

Freezing vegetables, sauces, and herbs in ice cube trays is not only an eye-catching and fun presentation, but it is also a smart way to control portion sizes, if you’re watching your caloric intake.

Veggie cubes are also perfect for adding concentrated pops of flavor in a dish you’re making, and they’re great for adding flavor to single-serving entrées.

12 Ways to Preserve Vegetables in Ice Cube Trays

1. Vegetable Stock Cubes

Freeze leftover vegetable stock for future needs. My favorite way to use these? Add a cube when heating up leftovers, either in the microwave or on the stove top. For example, add a cube to last night’s pasta or to the veggie stir fry you had at lunch. You’ll add flavor without any additional fat. Goodbye, dry leftovers.

2. Veggie Smoothie Starters

When summer vegetables are at their peak flavor and ripeness, buy a little extra and make smoothie starters. I affectionately call mine “power cubes,” because, along with the fresh puréed kale or spinach, I like to add flax oil, tart cherry juice, and ground hemp seeds.

3. Pesto Starters

Just one cube of pesto is enough for a dinner for two. Simply freeze puréed basil, parsley, salt, pepper, and garlic with just enough olive oil to form a thick paste. When you’re ready to enjoy, thaw and add cheese, more olive oil, and any additional spices you’d like. Don’t stop with basil and parsley — think about sage, garden sorrel, spinach, kale, and even mint.

4. Infused Water & Cocktail Cubes

Infusing your water with vegetables, fruits, and herbs makes staying hydrated a lot more enjoyable. I like to freeze freshly juiced cucumbers, limes, and mint leaves. For a similar, deconstructed-style cube, freeze whole cucumber slices with fresh mint leaves and an edible flower in either water or lime juice. These are perfect additions to cocktails.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

5. Caramelized Onion Cubes

Caramelized onions freeze wonderfully in ice cube trays. They’re super convenient and add a savory component to sandwiches, pizzas, tomato sauces, or dips. Pack caramelized onions into ice cube trays, freeze, and then transfer to a freezer bag. Sautéed mushrooms also freeze easily. Add a couple of cubes to your next rich Alfredo sauce.

6. Baby Food Servings

I’m sure the parents out there appreciate any smart shortcut, especially when they are making their own homemade baby food. Buy vegetables in bulk when they are seasonally available. Purée large batches of cooked winter squash, carrots, or peas, and pack them away for later. You’ll also prevent a lot of waste and save a lot of money by avoiding individually packaged food.

7. Concentrated Flavor Blends

The efficiency factor of using ice cube trays is what captures my attention. While you wouldn’t freeze entire batches of soup in freezer trays, you can freeze concentrated flavors to add to a soup or dish you’re creating. Try freezing chopped garlic, onions, and lime juice together. Add a thawed cube, along with a chopped, small tomato, to mashed avocado for a single serving of guacamole. For a burst of flavor to Thai or Indian cuisine, add a cube of minced ginger, lemon, garlic, and jalapeño.

8. Chopped Herb Cubes

Freeze freshly chopped herbs, like parsley, chives, or oregano, in either water or olive oil. These are known as “flavor bombs” in my house, and they are a great addition to soups. Add chopped oregano cubes to a simmering tomato sauce, or bring a bright note to a savory soup by finishing with a burst of parsley. I also like to freeze chopped cilantro in lime juice. I just add a cube to my cooked rice, and it is perfectly seasoned and ready to add to a Mexican meal.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

9. Hummus or Tapenade Cubes

The next time you make a batch of hummus or olive tapenade, make a little extra and freeze some in ice cube trays. I like to thaw out a couple of cubes as a portion-controlled snack to have with fresh vegetables or crackers. Just add a touch of olive oil or fresh herbs to either mixture, once the cubes have thawed.

10. Hot Pepper Cubes

The next time you score a haul of hatch chilies or a bunch of cayennes, don’t let any extra go to waste. Chop roasted or raw chili peppers and freeze them for later. Add these fiery cubes into your next batch of chili, a soup that needs a spicy kick, or, my favorite, a fiery queso dip.

11. Tomato Paste Cubes

Did you use the entire can of tomato paste the last time you purchased one? I didn’t, either. Instead of letting the rest of the unused tomato paste or your homemade version spoil in the refrigerator, pack the extra paste in ice cube trays and freeze for when you make your next pizza sauce.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

12. Roasted Garlic Cubes

Roasted garlic freezes perfectly if you add some olive oil to the ice cube tray. Add these cubes to homemade mashed potatoes without having to heat up the entire oven to roast a few garlic cloves. They are also great as an addition to a dip or as a topping for crostini, when combined with a dollop of chevre and fresh chives.

For the most potent flavor, use your veggie cubes within three months. If you preserve them well, however, they can keep for up to six months. I find that vacuum-sealing the cubes, once they have frozen, provides the very best results.

What are your favorite ways to preserve veggies and herbs in ice cube trays? Surely I haven’t covered them all here. Are there any veggies you would avoid freezing?