AUDIE CORNISH, host:

Ella Fitzgerald's version of "Summertime" captures the true essence of summer: hot, lazy and simple days.

(Soundbite of song, "Summertime")

Ms. ELLA FITZGERALD (Singer): (Singing) Summertime and the living is easy...

CORNISH: We've decided to keep with that motto by having a look at this summer's tastiest cookbooks. "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook" is one of the ten top cookbooks of the summer, at least according to Susan Chang. She reviews cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR's Kitchen Window. And she joins us from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Now, Susan, I'm flipping through "Screen Doors and Screen Tea." It's kind of a weird book. First of all, there's a recipe about tubule and what's southern about that?

Ms. SUSAN CHANG (Book Reviewer): Um-hum. I think most of the food in the book is not tubule; most of it's delta cooking. We're talking gumbos and crawfish. And what I really like about it is that when I read this book I feel like I'm sitting on the porch and somebody's telling me a story. I also feel like I have a great delicious icy cocktail in my hand, probably a mint julep in this case.

I tell you what I like in this book. There's a recipe for something called a Mailbox Cocktail, which is basically a dark and stormy with bourbon. So, it's bourbon and ginger ale. And ever since I got this book, I've been having quite a few Mailbox Cocktails. They're great.

CORNISH: Now, when you are sitting down with your cocktails and flipping through the hundreds of cookbooks that you get, how do you decide what makes a great cookbook?

Ms. CHANG: Well, I'm looking for several things. Not just, you know, yet another way to boil pasta; not just another way to roast a chicken, but something that combines possibly familiar ingredients in new ways.

CORNISH: And that definitely points to one of those selections on your list, which is called "Fish Without a Doubt." Now, it looks like it has really basic fish recipes frankly, and it even has tutorials and pictures of how to filet a fish. What is it that made you put it in the top ten.

Ms. CHANG: This book tells you every way you could possibly cook fish - poaching it, roasting it, grilling it. It's like a fish Wikipedia. It's great. If you know that you want to sauté a fish but you're not sure exactly what you want to do, there's, like, 20 recipes for that. And if you had a plan to get halibut, say, but there's nothing but cod. It tells you all the fish you can substitute. It's just a terrific basic fish book. If you wanted to have one fish book, this would be the one.

CORNISH: And one of the books you've selected is called "Simply Organic." And the title is great. It's a cookbook for a sustainable seasonal and local ingredients and it's broken down into seasons. Does this help people at all in terms of when they're going to the grocery store and they're trying to figure out am I a better person getting something that's local, organic or sustainable? How does it help us out there?

Ms. CHANG: Well, "Simply Organic" is not really a manifesto. It's a really inspirational book. You look at this book and you feel as though you can eat the food. As you said, it's organized by seasons going from the first of spring all the way through mid-summer, Indian summer, autumn harvest, deep winter. And for each of these it's designed differently.

It kind of is designed in these pastel colors in the beginning and then it goes on to these rich rusts and harvest colors. And the food looks like that too. It goes from, you know, really light, fresh dishes to almost dark, rich stews. It's like a mood ring of seasonal living. I love it.

And I remember the very first recipe I tried from this was this asparagus and scallops dish, which is perfect for spring, right, 'cause the asparagus is coming up. And it has this cornmeal crust on it. I was looking at it and the grains of cornmeal were just popping off the page. I mean, I was sold before I even made this dish. It had me at hello.

CORNISH: What do you cook when it's just too hot to cook?

Ms. CHANG: Well, I did a couple of things. If it's way too hot to cook, you have basically two choices. And one is not to cook, and in summertime that's really easy to do because you have this fantastic produce. You can just go and pick the sugar snap peas off the vine and just have a big bowl of those or you can make a cold soup like gazpacho where all you have to do is chop up the tomatoes and the cucumbers and basically you're done. You can have salads, you can have fresh pickles. It's endless.

The other choice that you have when it's way too hot to cook is to cook outdoors, just fire up the grill. And I think there's something about sitting outdoors and smelling the smoke from the grill and the taste of grilled food that's irreplaceable. It's the most wonderful summer experience you can get.

CORNISH: Well, Susan Chang, thank you so much for sharing your selections with us.

Ms. CHANG: You're very welcome.

CORNISH: Susan Chang reviews cookbooks for the Boston Globe and NPR's Kitchen Window. She joined us from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. And remember, you can find out more about today's featured summer cookbooks and tasty recipes at NPR.org.

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