Leftovers with Tamar Adler

Tamar Adler is a chef and writer I’ve long looked to for advice and inspiration. And her recent book, The Everlasting Meal, has quickly become the cookbook I reach for most often. In it she shares the ways she assembles meals from meals, guiding the reader, and giving them confidence to reuse, repurpose and reinvent what you’ve already made. Her easy to follow guidelines, in her warm, yet authoritative voice share how she cooks at home, but is informed by years cooking at some of the most celebrated restaurants in the country—Chez Panisse, Prune and Farm 255. Read on to discover how she makes meals from odds and ends, and welcome her, and her valuable insight into your kitchen.

What inspired you to create and write The Everlasting Meal Cookbook?  I cook with ingredients that don't look like ingredients: half a leftover sandwich, a moldy tomato, a little bit of chana masaala. I wanted to pass the knowledge along. I wasn't sure if it could be done — could I write recipes that included things like "a moldy tomato?" I ended up trying. I think it works! Having a child also helped. I wanted to give other parents as much of a leg up in cooking and feeding as possible.  


Have you always utilized leftovers in this way, has it always been a part of your cooking style?

I think it's grown with me, certainly. But I've always been a thrift store shopper, a lover of underdogs, and someone who's resistant to discarding anything that could be used. I've also been taught by chefs who value reuse, like Dan Barber and Cal Peternell. 



Do you have a favorite leftover meal that you plan on having while cooking the first meal?

Sometimes, yes! It obviously depends on the food, but I always make a lot of rice because fried rice is my standard, almost daily lunch. And beans just keep going until they're gone.  



Do you cook with the intention of utilizing the meal as leftovers?

I mean, I'm not making an extra souffle to have some left. But with rice, beans, cooked vegetables, whole pieces of meat, soups, yes, certainly. 



Are there certain foods that always work in a leftover situation?

Simple foods are best. That's why I always advocate focusing on turning ingredients from raw to cooked--and well seasoned, and perfectly tender. Something like orzo with olives and feta and broccoli is much harder to find a next life for than: orzo, cooked; broccoli, cooked. So I'm a great fan of simple cooking that relies on salt and good olive oil and leaves all paths open for ingredients' next lives.



Do you keep anything on hand to add to leftover meals, staples that add to the meal?

Yes! I love this question: pickled chilies, chili crisp, nuts to be toasted, lemon or lime, something bright and green, capers, pickles — things for livening up what's left. 


Do you entertain with leftovers, or start with fresh meals?

I don't think this is a binary. Tomorrow, for example, I'm making squid and chickpea stew for a dinner party. I cooked the chickpeas for it yesterday. Does that make them leftover? I cook lots of things in stages. If I had time, I'd make the whole stew today, because it tastes better after a day in the fridge. If I were roasting a chicken, I'd do it tomorrow, but probably earlier in the day, and either serve it room temperature or briefly warm it with its cooking juices. 


Any surprising combinations?

Favorite ever: leftover clam cooking liquid. I added leftover cooked rice and cubed tofu. It was so serene! 




What's your typical strategy for developing a dinner party menu, and more specifically, one during the holidays?


There are only a few things in the world I like as much as writing menus. I write them like some people doodle or do crosswords. My strategy in general is to get excited about one thing, and let the rest flow from there. I recently had houseguests who were pescetarians, and they were from out of town, and I really want to convince them to move to Hudson. So I needed a fish dish I could afford to make, not stress out about, and make for all of the people I wanted to invite to help convince my friends. I settled on braised squid and chickpeas, and the rest of the menu took shape around that. For holidays, I like dishes' difficulty to be in inverse relationship to the number of people and potential stress. The more people, the more central the holiday to their seasonal festivity, the easier I go. Thanksgiving this year was braised turkey thighs, beans, rice, homemade tortillas, and various salsas etc. I let myself do one a la minute hard thing IF and only IF I personally want to eat it. For Thanksgiving, it was fried squid with lime. Everything else was completely easy and ready to go. For New Year's, I often make little sourdough blini to eat with trout roe and my friend's gravlax.



What are your favorite dishes to make this time of year?


I love contrasts. So I love to make tiny, elegant things--like the blini I mentioned above, or little stuffed quail eggs--and then huge braised things served with enough simple starch--noodles, or good bread, or rice--that the number of people we have can expand to fit the number of people we run into that day. 


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