Tamar Adler shows you how to make the most of your leftovers in her new cookbook
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Potato peels, a mostly empty jar of peanut butter, salty crumbs at the bottom of a container of nuts - these were among the ingredients we assembled recently in a kitchen in the Washington suburbs for a cooking session with Tamar Adler, who has a new cookbook out. It's called "The Everlasting Meal Cookbook." And as you may have guessed, it's a bit unusual. It is essentially an encyclopedia on the subject of leftovers, which Adler knows is a tough sell.
TAMAR ADLER: I've even noticed that when I originally say it to people now, they often make a grossed out face.
ADLER: It's like a common, you know - I'm like, it's - yeah, so it's, like, what you do with your rotten tomatoes and your dry bread. And, like, there's visible disgust.
KELLY: But Tamar Adler's book is an argument that leftovers don't have to be disgusting or even disappointing. They can actually become better than they were when they went into your fridge.
ADLER: So many of our favorite dishes are actually only producible if you have, you know, what's left. Like, ribollita is the example that I always use, but there are so many others.
KELLY: The classic Italian rustic soup. Love it.
ADLER: Which you need - you actually need, you know, cheese rinds and the cooking liquid from beans and stale bread. But fried rice, which I feel like everybody loves, is another perfect example, where you can't fry fresh rice. You need dry leftover rice. And then with this book, I really wondered whether one could, like, take the traditional recipe format for anybody who's used to using a recipe but still learning how to look at an ingredient and meet it where it is. There's, like, this kind of, like, intermediate step of having a traditional recipe but having it start with whatever leftover thing.
KELLY: I want to throw in an example of how far you take this. One ingredient that is often in my fridge, and then I think, why did I even bother to refrigerate this thing? - salad. And I've dressed it the night before, and there's, like, a few handfuls left of really soggy, wilted lettuce. You have not one, but five ideas. Did you brainstorm those or is this stuff you were actually doing, and then you're like, oh, I should share these ideas?
ADLER: There's one for, I think, a gazpacho-type thing that I had already done. But for the same reason that I was like, why do I always do this? You can't throw it out, though. And also with...
KELLY: You could (laughter).
ADLER: You could. You could. No, but...
KELLY: It's been done in my house.
ADLER: It's emotionally hard because - especially if you've bought whole heads of lettuce, there's so much labor in there. You've - you know, you've cut the leaves off of the head. You've washed them. You've dried them. If you've done all that and then you've made dressing and then you've dressed it. And, like, maybe you've bought good, beautiful, organic, you know, special lettuce. You don't want to throw it out. You're like, I put a lot into this. So I think the gazpacho recipe came of my - just, I didn't want my labor to disappear.
KELLY: You had another one you can, like, really finely chop it up and throw it into a savory pancake. Like...
KELLY: ...I was imagining...
KELLY: ...Like, a potato pancake with my leftover lettuce and thinking, yeah, actually, that might be good.
ADLER: Yeah, totally delicious. And any kind of - you could do a - I have a cornmeal batter that it's great in. If you do a very, very simple cornmeal pancake batter and then put finely chopped lettuce or salad in that, it's great. But then other ones I try, you know, I would - I wanted there to be a number of recipes because it's so unlikely. And out of dressed lettuce there's a recipe for a - I think I call it a green sauce base - and it's so amazing. And it could be - it becomes a vinaigrette. This is essentially pureed, dressed lettuce with more vinegar and salt and maybe olive oil. When you add more vinaigrette ingredients to it, it becomes so good. The day I made it, I brought it to a dinner party, and everybody there was like, this salad dressing is so amazing. I was like, that salad dressing...
KELLY: Was yesterday's salad (laughter).
ADLER: ...Was made of salad. Yeah. It was like the mother and child reunion from the Paul Simon song.
KELLY: Do you find yourself intentionally cooking more so that you will have leftovers?
ADLER: Oh, yeah. I mean, even when it's just, you know, the three of us in my family, I will always cook a whole chicken. I don't cook one head of broccoli. I cook, like, two to three heads of broccoli and then use them over days. And if I think of it as, like, it's on the path - it's always on some arc toward a dish - then it looks different when I take it out, also. It doesn't look like a leftover from Monday. It looks like, who are you today, on Tuesday?
KELLY: And with that we get to cooking.
ADLER: Should we do the empty nut butter noodles?
KELLY: Let's do it.
KELLY: This is where that empty peanut butter jar comes in. To the untrained eye, it is empty. But in fact, it has just enough peanut butter clinging to its sides and bottom to provide the base for the sauce that we're about to make. Into the jar goes a quarter cup boiling water.
ADLER: This is the technical part. So let me close it up.
(SOUNDBITE OF JAR LID SCREWING SHUT)
ADLER: And shake it.
KELLY: Highly technical.
ADLER: Highly technical. Culinary school.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIQUID BEING SHAKEN)
ADLER: You can see it starts to come off the sides.
KELLY: Yep, kind of light brown...
KELLY: ...Peanut butter water.
ADLER: Light brown sludge.
KELLY: Let's stir it.
ADLER: At one point I talked about wanting to change the name of my book from "The Everlasting Meal Cookbook" to "Beautiful Brown Food" because, I mean, if you're going to get into this sort of evolution of food mindset, you have to embrace Tam.
Now, the whole sauce, it's made right in this jar. So in goes a clove of garlic mashed with a pinch of salt.
(SOUNDBITE OF UTENSIL POUNDING)
KELLY: Also the juice from one lime, which we forgot to have ready. But remember, the name of the game here is use what you have.
ADLER: This is like super "Everlasting Meal Cookbook" because we're going to use a lemon.
KELLY: Citrus substitution.
ADLER: Citrus substitution.
KELLY: Plus a quarter cup fish sauce.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIQUID POURING)
KELLY: A tablespoon of sugar.
(SOUNDBITE OF UNTENSIL TAPPING)
KELLY: Then a chili, fresh or dried, whatever you've got.
So what are we working with here?
ADLER: This looks like a jalapeno. How's your spice tolerance?
KELLY: Oh, yeah.
KELLY: I love spice.
ADLER: I'm going to leave those in then.
(SOUNDBITE OF UTENSIL STIRRING)
ADLER: If you don't want spice, then you would take out the seeds.
KELLY: Now a final shake.
(SOUNDBITE OF LIQUID SHAKING)
KELLY: And it's ready to toss with a pound of cooked rice noodles, whatever herbs you have around. We used basil and cilantro, and julienned cucumbers, or in our case, carrots or really anything.
ADLER: It could be just the noodles. It's really not about what it's supposed to be at the end. It's about what you have and how much time and patience you have to get to the meal.
KELLY: Then out come the bowls.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOWLS TAPPING)
ADLER: Should we try it?
KELLY: Here we go.
ADLER: They're really good, right?
KELLY: They're totally flavorful.
ADLER: They don't taste like your empty peanut butter jar.
KELLY: And this is the message that Tamar Adler is evangelizing - that what was once good can be good again in a new way and that you can transform it.
ADLER: We all have stale bread. I mean, I feel like there's always one bendy stalk of celery in every fridge. If there isn't, it, like, repopulates itself.
KELLY: Start with what you have, she says. Keep your skepticism in your pocket. Stay open.
ADLER: I think once you start, things seem more promising.
KELLY: Tamar Adler's new book is "The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A To Z." Find the recipe for empty nut butter jar noodles on our website, npr.org; plus, another literally scrappy dish - scallions and cheese on top of crispy potato peels.
ADLER: They're definitely what you would, you know - they're, like, generally treated as animal food or garbage or compost. So we're going to roast them.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOTHER AND CHILD REUNION")
PAUL SIMON: (Singing) When the mother and child reunion is only a motion away. Oh, when the mother and child reunion...
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