It’s a rare cookbook that inspires not only several new recipes, but also a whole new way to think about cooking. Then again, Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal is no ordinary cookbook. It is based on MFK Fisher’s 1942 book How to Cook a Wolf, which, in sparkling prose, taught home cooks to produce simple, elegant meals cheaply in spite of wartime privations. Like Fisher’s, Adler’s is the kind of book you’ll want both to spill sauce on at the stove and curl up with in bed.
“Cooking is both simpler and more necessary than we imagine,” she writes. “It has in recent years come to seem a complication to juggle against other complications, instead of what it can be—a clear path through them.” I’ve ruminated on this theme in a previous post, at the time when I was first coming to understand cooking as a source of deep relaxation rather just another item on my to-do list.
Adler’s work inspired another turning point for me, though, in her guidance on “picking up loose ends” in the kitchen and letting the ingredients of one meal lead naturally into the next. “Continuity is the heart and soul of cooking,” she reminds us. “If we decide our meals will be good, remanded kale stems, quickly pickled or cooked in olive oil and garlic, will be taken advantage of to garnish eggs, or tossed with pasta. Beet and turnip greens, so often discarded, will be washed well and sautéed in olive oil and filled into an omelet, or served on warm, garlicky crostini.” You can relish her words with your tastebuds as well as your mind.
After reading An Everlasting Meal, I started grinding chunks of stale baguette in the food processor to make breadcrumbs, which I toast in the oven and sprinkle atop quiche for a bit of crunch, or use to form a crust on pan-fried fish. I began taking note if fresh herbs were going to waste in the fridge, chopping them up finely and freezing them in ice cube trays to add later to soups, curries, or pots of beans. I realized that roasting seven sweet potatoes on Sunday need not mean I eat the same thing every day: one can be turned into crisp little fries to dip into garlic-yogurt sauce, another sliced thin and layered on salad with beets and feta cheese, a third simmered in coconut milk with green beans, basil and mint and served over rice.
If you are the type of cook who depends on recipes to guide your hands in the kitchen, this book will help develop your confidence to “let go of the handlebars” now and then, freeing you up to make the most of what you already have in the fridge. If you are already confident improvising in the kitchen, it will teach you to see fresh possibilities in ingredients so common we forget to notice that they, too, can be dinner on their own: eggs, onions, garlic, bread. And if you rarely venture beyond the bare minimum of cooking chicken and heating vegetables, it may at the very least inspire you to do the same thing more mindfully, noticing how oil takes on a sheen and skims faster across the bottom of a pan when it is hot, how quickly the aroma of garlic fills the kitchen when tossed into this oil, how sweet onions become as they soften and turn golden.
It is observations like these that make each meal a pleasure and bring us back to the kitchen time and again with renewed curiosity and anticipation.