Kids’ leftover sandwich crusts, plucked from the school lunch box and turned into a main course? If you’re instantly intrigued by the notion, you definitely need to seek out a copy of author (and Vogue contributing editor) Tamar Adler’s The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A–Z, which offers inventive and surprisingly practical recipes that incorporate everything from stale donuts to next-day burritos to that little bit of dust left at the bottom of a bag of nuts. (Trust me: After becoming a student of Adler’s, you’ll start examining everything from unused pasta water to the slick of oil left in an almost-empty can of cannellini beans for meal potential—and that newfound resourcefulness is part of the fun.) Read our interview with Adler below.
Vogue: When did the idea for this book start coming together for you?
Tamar Adler: My first book, which came out a decade ago, was the germ for this book. Well, maybe not the germ, but it was sort of the blueprint for cooking with what you have and cooking all of everything. That whole book is sort of an elaboration on the proposition that cooking should be a way through our variable priorities; it’s a way of making it possible to cook affordably and cook sustainably and cook deliciously that forces you to actually use cooking and not avoid it. Then I finished my second book, which is about reviving old recipes, and I was going to write this kind of crazy, very abstract book about the virtues of eating. Then I had a child, and I realized how differently time moves and how priorities shift and how much the brain space you have changes when you have a kid, and I realized that there was a chance that somebody hadn’t read An Everlasting Meal 10 years ago and that they—like me—had a child. I thought, Well, maybe there’s another way of teaching this, which is almost like CliffsNotes; you could just look up, say, the greens that you have, and I was applying this set of solutions. Then on your own schedule, you could draw the conclusion that all greens could be treated that way.
What’s the most common thing you hear from people about why they feel they can’t cook in a more sustainable way?
Well, just for the sake of saying it, the biggest problems with our food and the climate are structural and exist on a much larger stage than personal choice. So I just want to make it clear that we as individuals, especially in the US, are under a crazy number of different pressures to make small-level decisions that are less harmful and less wasteful. When you stack it all together, there are a lot of real obstacles for everybody and especially for working- and middle-class people. There’s not very much time in people’s days, and if you have a household with two working people in it and you don’t already have the cooking knowledge, it’s really hard. I also think that the way our culture has almost fetishized expiration dates and the idea of things going bad is part of it. American culture fetishizes newness in a way that’s really comprehensive and touches every part of our lives. And I think when you combine our fetishization of the new with the little time and little experience and not a lot of support, I mean…even look at the cookbook industry! I’m a cookbook writer, and I sometimes look at cookbooks that are newly out and so beautiful and so exciting, and I love them so much, but at the same time, there is an implicit statement in every new thing that what you have is not enough. I feel like it’s supercharged here in American culture; I mean, of course, humans are always creating new things, but I do feel like there is a rapidity and a ferocity with which we seem to be both turning out and consuming new stuff that ends up being aesthetic and moral and economic and defining how we treat anything that isn’t new.
Speaking of all the cookbooks that are out right now, is there anything that has you really excited to create?
Well, I was just looking at Five Morsels of Love again this morning. Even though I don’t love sweets, I love Natasha Pickowicz’s book More Than Cake; I will open that up and cook from there. I also really love ube, which is purple yam, so I’m excited about Mayumu, which has ube ice cream on the cover. I’ll also read anything that Klancy Miller works on. I’m cooking dinner tonight, and I’m making saag paneer and chana dal and basmati rice, and every time I cook an Indian meal, I end up rereading Usha’s Pickle Digest; it’s a dream. It’s like the Dr. Bronner’s of cookbooks.