LIANE HANSEN, host:
Summer is the season of spicy barbecue, juicy ripe peaches and sun warmed tomatoes. And to help you make the most of the season's bounty, there's a bumper crop of new cookbooks.
Susan Chang, a food writer and regular contributor to NPR's Kitchen Window, plowed through some of them and harvested her favorites. She's in the studio of member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. Welcome back to the program, Susan.
SUSAN CHANG: Great to be back, Liane.
HANSEN: I'd really like to start with barbecue. This is a classic summer tradition, and are there any new tips in your list of cookbooks?
CHANG: Yes, you can't have a summer cookbook's list without having a barbecue book. And we've got a really wonderful one this year called "Planet Barbecue" by Steve Raichlen. And this book is remarkable because it goes to the farthest outposts where barbecue is cooked and served, which is to say everywhere. We've got barbecue from Serbia. We've got barbecue from Burkina Faso. We've got barbecue from Uruguay, from Guam. It's just incredible how many places this guy has cooked over fire. And frankly...
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHANG: ...I dont see how this guy has managed to keep his eyebrows all these years.
HANSEN: Not to mention the mustache and the goatee.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CHANG: Not to mention the mustache, yes.
HANSEN: He's on the cover and really, there are little pictures of some of the different dishes. And they are just - I mean, that picture of fish on stakes in front of an open fire in Spain, and...
CHANG: Oh, yeah.
CHANG: Yeah, I tried one called, you know, with typical modesty, it was called "The Best Beef Satays in Singapore." And I dont know if its the best in Singapore but it's definitely the best in Leverett, Massachusetts.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: All right. So say you dont want to be in front of a grill when it gets hot or in front of stove, for that matter. What kind of cookbook is there for when I dont feel like cooking?
CHANG: I think the sleeper hit this time in this list is called "Fast, Fresh and Green." It's a real find. It's all vegetables cooked with easy techniques and they're all pretty fast.
You know, sometimes when we cook vegetables, it's kind of an afterthought. You know, youve spent all your time cooking the protein and you resent having to have some of kind or recipe for your vegetables, as well. So you end up steaming it or saut�ing in garlic, or whatever is your default when you have, you know, 10 minutes left on the clock.
So what this book does is it shows you how to take your green vegetable, which may or may not be boring all by itself, and then using stuff that you always have around, it magically transforms it into something irresistible. And it might instead of 10 minutes take you 15 cause you have to read the recipe. But you still have something wonderful really fast.
HANSEN: Fast, fresh and green could apply to some of those vegetables that a lot of people grow in their backyard. So let's talk about a little bit of using produce from the home garden, from the farmer's market. But I also noticed on your list you have the "Vegetarian Option," so this must apply to all kinds of summer cooking.
CHANG: It really does. It's a fascinating book. What I like about the "Vegetarian Option" is that it's a reading book as well as a cooking book. I think it's take the prize this year for most literary cookbook. And I just have to read you this little quote from the book that I couldn't get over that someone was willing to say this about cauliflower.
(Reading) When a freshly harvested cauliflower is in the peak of condition, I gain great pleasure in running my hand over its creamy white curds still wet with rainwater or morning dew.
You know, most of us only talk that way about bacon.
(Soundbite of laughter)
HANSEN: You know what, that sounds like a cookbook for reading instead of cooking.
CHANG: Well, you know what, it's a fantastic reading book but it cooks fantastic too. I've probably done eight, 10 recipes out of it. And, you know, sometimes the instructions are a little poetic and that may make it difficult for us to know exactly what you have to do. Like in one direction, he says: cook until the assembly is thick and unctuous. Now, I don't know if my unctuous is the same as your unctuous, you know, so - but it came out great.
HANSEN: Infiltrating your taste buds, that's what he's doing.
Okay. We're going to the dessert course now and we've talked about summer vegetables but I love this book. I mean, first of all, it just looks so homey and I want to heat that summer tart right off the cover. "The Farmer's Market Desserts." I mean, we think of, you know, ice cream and popsicles and snow cones, but what are some of these, what look to be healthier options?
CHANG: Yes. Well, you know, I actually made that tart that's on the cover. That's the aprium almond tart and it has like a cornmeal crust. And you suspend these wedges of aprium, which is like a cross between an apricot and a plum -one of the many hybrids. And it was, oh my God - it's one of those things that you just, like, have to tear into and worry about going to confession after. It was that good.
HANSEN: So, you could put recipes together from all of the books on your list and then you could go to this other book you have called "Porch Parties: Outdoor Entertaining." I love this idea. I have this vision of, like, a screen porch and, you know, everybody out there. What would be your best tips for throwing a great porch party?
CHANG: Well, I think you have to have a book every year that shows you how to enjoy yourself and how to just take it easy and do whatever you want. And this book has these wonderful rusticated, countrified drinks that are very easy to put together with fruits and generally some kind of liquor. There's also lots of non-alcoholic drinks. We made this wonderful raspberry mint tea from "Porch Parties" and it had the most beautiful color, you know, with crushed raspberries and fresh mint. It was like Kool-Aid for grownups.
HANSEN: So, cook in the morning, use local ingredients and then at the end of the day before your guests arrive, make yourself a nice watermelon cooler.
CHANG: That's right.
HANSEN: Food writer Susan Chang is a regular contributor to NPR's KITCHEN WINDOW, and she joined us from member station WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. Susan, have a wonderful summer.
CHANG: Thank you, Liane. You too.
HANSEN: And remember, there's a list of some of Susan Chang's recommendations for summer cookbooks as well as some recipes from the books on our website, NPR.org.
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