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Tamar Adler shows you how to make the most of your leftovers in her new cookbook

Tamar Adler is the author of <em>The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z,</em><em> </em>which focuses on creatively reusing leftovers.
Keren Carrión/NPR
Tamar Adler is the author of The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z, which focuses on creatively reusing leftovers.

If the thought of leftovers grosses you out, Tamar Adler is here to change your mind. Her new cookbook, The Everlasting Meal Cookbook: Leftovers A-Z, is a seemingly endless encyclopedia of recipes that rely on what's left after we finish the initial meal.

Adler gives new life to the foods that many of us leave in the fridge to waste away until they wilt to the point of no return and go into the trash. The way she sees it, by making something new, you're honoring and extending the labor you put in the first time around.

"If you've bought whole heads of lettuce, and ... you've cut the leaves off of the head, you've washed them, you've dried them ... 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," Adler told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly.

Adler relies heavily on garnishes such as cilantro, lemon zest, and garlic.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
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Keren Carrión/NPR
Adler relies heavily on garnishes such as cilantro, lemon zest, and garlic.

That feeling of not wanting her hard work to disappear resulted in five different recipes of what to do with leftover dressed lettuce, ranging from a gazpacho to a savory pancake. One of the recipes even gets a bit meta.

"This is essentially pureed dressed lettuce with more vinegar and salt and maybe olive oil," Adler said.

"It becomes so good that 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 is made of salad. It was like the mother and child reunion from the Paul Simon song."

With other dishes like her "Empty Jar Nut Butter Noodles," Adler shows you how there's an opportunity to make a meal out of just about anything – and it can often come together quickly.

Tamar Adler's new cookbook is all focused on creatively reusing leftovers.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
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Keren Carrión/NPR
Tamar Adler's new cookbook is all focused on creatively reusing leftovers.

In this recipe, everything that helps the sauce comes together – hot water, garlic, salt, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chiles – goes into the nearly empty nut butter jar and gets shaken up until you're ready to coat the noodles and add some veggies and herbs.

There are no hard and fast rules here, and Adler encourages you to look around and use what you have. Just because she wrote the recipe with carrots doesn't mean you need them to complete the dish. That little bit of onion or pepper will also work great here. Don't have a lime? Use the lemon in your drawer.

"I think I started making a version of this not because of a leftover empty jar, but because I was like, oh, I have, like, the vegetables I have are a quarter of a cucumber and a single carrot, you know? And it's like it could end up solving any number of problems."

Adler cuts pieces of gouda cheese for the crispy potato peels in a kitchen in Bethesda, Md.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
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Keren Carrión/NPR
Adler cuts pieces of gouda cheese for the crispy potato peels in a kitchen in Bethesda, Md.

Many of the recipes don't have measurements, and that's the point. You will have however many leftovers you have and you'll do with it what you can. Adler said she often cooks more at the start of the week knowing that it will yield other meals later.

"I would never cook just a little. Even when it's just 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," she said.

"I don't even think of it as sort of like cooking extra. If I think of it as like it's on the path that's always on some arc toward a dish, then it looks different when I take it out."

Now, there are times when Adler will deem something not worth saving and chuck it into the trash, but for the most part, the success of leftovers comes from how much effort you put in up front.

"If something didn't taste good to start, it's not going to taste good now. That is the circularity of this cooking mindset," she said.

"It's worth putting the time in the first time around, and it's worth making sure the ingredients are good and it tastes good because then you've got, you know, days and days or weeks of use."

Adler tosses the peanut butter sauce with rice noodles and various veggies.
/ Keren Carrión/NPR
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Keren Carrión/NPR
Adler tosses the peanut butter sauce with rice noodles and various veggies.


Recipes

EMPTY JAR NUT BUTTER NOODLES (15–20 min)

  • 1/4 cup hot water
  • An empty almond butter (or any nut butter) jar
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce
  • 11⁄2 tbsp lime juice (about 1 lime)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1–2 fresh or dried chiles
  • 1 pound or so mung bean or rice noodles (soaked in water)
  • Salt
  • A handful of chopped peanuts
  • A big handful of chopped herbs (cilantro, basil, mint, or any combination)
  • A big handful of julienned carrot and cucumber (or just one of them)
  • Any "nut dust" you have at the bottoms of cans/bags/containers of nuts
  • Add the hot water to the empty jar and scrape all the remaining nut butter down to the bottom. Mix well into a nutty liquid, closing and shaking if helpful. Pound the garlic to a paste with the salt and add to the jar. Add the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, and chile(s). Shake well. Cook the noodles in salted boiling water, then drain and mix with the sauce. Top with peanuts, herbs, julienned vegetables, and "nut dust." Great at any temperature.

    The crispy potato peels are tossed with salt, and topped with cheese and scallions to create a nacho-like dish.
    / Keren Carrión/NPR
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    Keren Carrión/NPR
    The crispy potato peels are tossed with salt, and topped with cheese and scallions to create a nacho-like dish.

    CRISPY POTATO PEELS WITH SCALLIONS AND CHEESE (25 min)

  • Potato peels
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • A grateable cheese (gouda or cheddar)
  • As much thinly sliced scallions as you like (I like a lot)
  • Heat the oven to 400°F. In a bowl, toss the peels with a lot of olive oil and salt. Spread on a sheet pan. Bake until very crispy, 15–20 min, mixing at least once. Remove from the oven to a plate, blanket with grated cheese and scallions, and eat. These are best eaten immediately.

    Excerpted from The Everlasting Meal Cookbook by Tamar Adler. Copyright © 2023 by Tamar Adler. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

    Audio produced by Connor Donevan and edited by Courtney Dorning.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Wynne Davis is a digital reporter and producer for NPR's All Things Considered.
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