Cookbook author Tamar Adler takes a comprehensive look at the leftovers

NEW YORK — Not long ago, Tamar Adler’s husband was cleaning up and getting a handkerchief that her son had hardly used. Adler stopped her husband from throwing it away.

“I thought, ‘No, no, the handkerchief still has a use!’ And he said: “I think that’s actually how we would identify a zombie you versus your real self: just try to throw something away – anything – and if you don’t pounce on it, we know you’re.” you’re not.” she recalled.

Adler can demonstrate this strong reuse ethic in her new 500-page cookbook, The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers AZ, a comprehensive guide from Scribner to reusing leftovers, from potato cooking water to day-old sauerkraut.

“This is not a cheapskate practice. It’s a flavor-packed practice and a way to preserve what you have. Use it instead of throwing it away,” she said from her home in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Adler turns stale Pad Thai into an omelette, makes broccoli stalks and wilted leaves into pesto, turns stale meatloaf into pizza, turns stale bread into bread pudding, adds stale bacon to make cornbread, and even uses peanut shells as kitty litter.

Many things, she points out, taste better the next day, like beans, rice, slow-cooked meats, and soups. Other dishes require inventiveness, like turning coleslaw into a soup and cheesecake into a milkshake.

“What I was hoping for was that the sheer volume of it would somehow secretly infiltrate everyone’s mind so that things started looking just useable instead of looking like they should be thrown away,” she said.

“Slowly, it could start to shift and move towards ‘Oh, maybe I shouldn’t just throw that old iced tea down the drain’ – not to save the world, but simply because tomorrow it’ll be awesome as something else becomes.”

Adler has always had a bit of a recycler in it; As a teenager, she loved shopping at thrift stores. “There was something in me that was always like, ‘We don’t always have to have new versions. The old versions are cool,'” she said.

This trend followed her as she became a James Beard Award-winning author and food writer with cooking experience at restaurants like Chez Panisse and Prune. Her books include Eternal Meal and Something Old, Something New.

“As I became a chef and learned how much better things taste and how much easier it is and how much less expensive it is to take things further, it certainly got more pronounced,” she said.

Adler began work on her new cookbook alphabetically, listing foods from A to Z and then attacking them in order rather than starting with dishes she already mastered. “That might have been a really bad idea, but it might have saved me from ruts,” she said.

She discovered that leftover sausage and vegetables add flavor to stews and pasta sauces, and frying an item was another way to breathe new life into it. South Asian or Southeast Asian flavors proved to be great ways to liven up veggies — whether cauliflower or cabbage — and throwing in a little citrus immediately woke up many leftovers.

“These are culinary practices around the world and in so many cultures,” she said.

An empty jar of almond butter is used to make Tamar’s Empty Jar Nut Butter Noodles, which create a sauce from the leftover nut butter in the jar.

And beyond food, Adler finds that empty vinegar and dressing bottles are also natural vessels for making and storing vinaigrettes.

Kara Watson, the managing editor at Scribner and Adler’s longtime publisher, credits Adler with a leftover dish that just keeps getting better: She turns leftover pasta into a pasta frittata the next day, and then tops each leftover frittata on top of a piece the next day Toast.

“This is the most delicious version of the meal – three days later, and it’s the most interesting in terms of flavor and texture. So it’s kind of eye-opening,” Watson said.

The Everlasting Meal Cookbook comes at a time when food prices are plummeting, environmental concerns are urging us not to throw away reusable items, and the pandemic has compelled us to become better cooks. Adler emphasizes saving time and improving taste.

“It’s not about virtue, is it? You’re not bad at throwing things away, nor good at saving things. It’s only good for you because it’s delicious, and then you have it and you don’t have to do it again,” she said.

Now that the book is finished, Adler can laugh at the times when her experiments didn’t always work, like when she tried to turn stale cider donuts into hearty bread dumplings and a recipe tester wrote a “scathing” review.

Then there was an attempt to save unripe melons with shrimp, which she liked. “My husband tried it and said, ‘This is enough for one bite when you’re hungry.’ And I thought, ‘Well, maybe that’s okay.’ And he said, ‘No, that’s not okay.’”

Looking back on that experience, Adler sees her final recipes as the product of an arduous process, but one that elevates what she poetically refers to as “the remnants of former hunger.”

“There were difficult ones that I finally conquered. And then there were tough ones that conquered me,” she said, laughing.


Mark Kennedy can be found at

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