Back To Basics: 2011's Simple, Summery Cookbooks This season's standouts praise America's culinary traditions from coast to coast — and everywhere in between. Authors of these plainspoken and charming cookbooks craft memorable recipes around just a few well-chosen flavors: meals for every day that are anything but.
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Back To Basics: 2011's Simple, Summery Cookbooks

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Back To Basics: 2011's Simple, Summery Cookbooks

Back To Basics: 2011's Simple, Summery Cookbooks

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S: Welcome back.

SUSAN CHANG: Hi, Jacki. Good to be back.

: So I like to envision you with this pile of tempting cookbooks at your elbow. What looks good?

CHANG: There's a wonderful book that looks exclusively at recipes based in Maine. And that's kind of interesting to me because a lot of the time when we think of Maine, we think snowbound or win...

: Lobster chowder.

CHANG: Right, right. And we also think of snowbound winters and bleak lighthouses. But Maine has a barefoot summer place as well. It's a place where you can gather berries, it's a place where you can gather mushrooms. And I went to Portland a couple of years ago and I basically just ate my way from one end of town to the other.

: You know, speaking of Maine, it makes me think of a situation we all find ourselves in at some point in the summer. You're at the farmer's market and you are confronted with piles and piles of blueberries. And you could just eat them by the handful or you could prepare them.

CHANG: Absolutely. Every year there's a book that you want to take the farmer's market with you, if you want to take a cookbook at all. This year, there's a book called "Fresh and Fast Vegetarian." This book has some really interesting flavor combinations for fresh produce, like broccoli with tamari walnuts and curried corn with mint. There's a lot of things that you just haven't seen before which might freshen up your repertoire or give you the inspiration to improvise.

: What about the beach? A lot of people like to go to the shore and there seem to be cookbooks really sort of suited for that.

CHANG: If you are going to a beach house, I have one special tip, which is in addition to whichever these cookbooks you take with you, bring a good knife. There's never a good knife at a beach house.

: Yes, or something to shell the fish with, the shrimp with.

CHANG: Exactly, yes.

: What if you don't feel like cooking? You know, we've had some very, very hot days in the D.C. area recently and I thought to myself it's too hot even to grill.

CHANG: Oh yes, absolutely. Every year this happens. But what you can do - why would you buy a cookbook when it's this hot out? There's a very good reason. And that's because there is always some food-crazed sucker out there who will cook - somebody like me. So, you know, you go buy them a cookbook, a beautiful cookbook, like "Supernatural Everyday," which is one of my best picks.

: Oh, I like that title.

CHANG: And, you know, you hand it to them. It's seductive, it's got pretty pictures, and before you know it they're slaving away at the stove and you're waiting for them to give you something to eat.

: Susie, I just want to say I love that title, "Supernatural Everyday." Is that a cookbook that you can just page through and enjoy?

CHANG: You absolutely can. I think what's so great about this book is that it's natural foods but you can find most of the ingredients in any supermarket. And it is some of the most unpenitential health food you will ever eat. I like to call this whole food for sinners. You know, she uses very strong flavors like citrus zest and butter within reason. It's a decadent cookbook that's actually good for you.

: Well, I have to confess I've been kind of, you know, stopping by the deli the last few nights. You're making me think, OK, time to dive back in there.

CHANG: Yes, yes.

: Any tips for summer cooking?

CHANG: I think the most important thing you can do when you're cooking in the summer, if you're going to cook in the summer, is cook in the morning when it's still cool and you still have energy and you're not pouring sweat and frustrated and, you know, rushing towards dinner. You can boil pasta for pasta salad in the morning, you can marinate things, you can prep things. All of that stuff can happen in the morning and just leave yourself, you know, maybe 20, 30 minutes of preparation in the afternoon if you're going to cook.

: Susie Chang writes for NPR's Kitchen Window blog. She joined us from WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts. It's a great pleasure.

CHANG: It's been a pleasure speaking with you, Jacki.

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