Tamar Adler’s new cookbook is a love letter to leftover snacks and sustainability at its most delicious

Leftover kid’s sandwich crusts taken out of the school lunchbox and turned into a main course? If you’re immediately intrigued by the idea, you should definitely look for a copy of an author (and Vogue contributing editor) Tamar Adler The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers from AZ, which offers inventive and surprisingly practical recipes that include everything from stale donuts to next-day burritos to the little dust left at the bottom of a bag of nuts. (Trust me: Once you become Adler’s disciple, you’ll start exploring everything from unused pasta water to oil stains left in a nearly empty can of cannellini beans for food potential—and that newfound ingenuity is part of the fun. ) Read our interview with Adler below.

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Vogue: When did the idea for this book come about?

Tamar Adler: My first book, which came out a decade ago, was the seed of this book. Well, maybe not the germ, but it was kind of a plan to cook with what you have and cook everything. This whole book is sort of an elaboration of the claim that cooking should be a way through our shifting 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, not avoiding 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 benefits of nutrition. Then I had a kid 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’s a chance someone hasn’t read Eternal food 10 years ago and that they – like me – had a child. I thought, well, maybe there’s another way of teaching this that’s almost like CliffsNotes; you can just look at, say, the greens that you have, and I applied that set of solutions. Then, according to your own schedule, you can conclude that all greens can be treated this way.

What’s the most common thing you hear from people about why they think they can’t cook more sustainably?

Well, let’s just say it, the biggest problems with our food and climate are structural and exist on a much bigger stage than personal choice. So I just want to make it clear that we as individuals, especially in the US, are under an insane number of different kinds of pressures to make small-scale decisions that are less harmful and less wasteful. When you put all of this together, there are very real obstacles for everyone, and especially for working and middle-class people. There is not much time in people’s days and if you have a household with two working people and you still have no knowledge of cooking, it is really difficult. I also think the way our culture has almost fetishized expiration dates and the idea that things go bad is part of it. American culture fetishizes novelty in a way that is truly pervasive and affects every part of our lives. And I think when you combine our fetishization of the new with 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 sometimes I look at cookbooks that have recently come out and they’re so beautiful and so exciting and I love them so much, but at the same time in every new thing there’s an implicit statement that what you have is not enough . I feel like here in American culture it’s supercharged; I mean, of course people are always creating new things, but I feel like there’s a speed and a ferocity with which we seem to simultaneously create and consume new things that end up being aesthetically, morally, and economically, and determining how we treat all that is not new.

Speaking of all the cookbooks out there right now, is there anything you’re really excited to create?

Well, I was just watching Five bites of love again this morning. Even though I don’t have a sweet tooth, I adore Natasha Pikovic’s book More than a cake; I will open it and cook from there. I also really love ube, which is a purple sweet potato, so I’m excited Mayumu, which has ube ice cream on the cover. I will also read anything Clancy Miller works on. I’m cooking dinner tonight and making saag paneer and chana dal and basmati rice and every time I cook an Indian dish I end up rereading Usha’s Digest of Pickles; this is a dream. It’s like Dr. Bronner’s cookbooks.

Is there anything you’ve somehow burned through in your recipe testing, and is there anything you’ve found a new love for?

I think only one or two made it into the book, but there was a time when I was dealing with bread crusts from my son’s sandwiches and what to do with the stuff that comes home from the lunch box. I was excited to do it and they can be great; I’ve even found that if my son brings home a half-eaten cheese sandwich, I can totally put butter on the outside and grill it, and he’ll have it for breakfast tomorrow. I’ve kept the crusts for so long, though, and tried so many different things with them, that I’m excited I don’t have to right now. I still make fried rice almost every day; I never tire of it because I never make the same thing twice, and it continues to amaze me how amazing fried rice is, how adaptable it is, and how reliably it feeds me.

Is there anyone you particularly hope this book reaches?

I would say Murray Bartlett and Pedro Pascal from The last of us. It is simply out of admiration and love; I want the book close to them while they eat their Cheerios or whatever.

The Eternal Meals Cookbook: A to Z Leftover Recipes

The Eternal Meals Cookbook: A to Z Leftover Recipes

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