Q&A with A Couple Cooks on Their New Recipe Book

Alex and Sonja Overhiser are 30-year-old professionals in Indy, a graphic designer and a technical writer/partner, respectively, at the same small company. They are also voracious food bloggers, and now authors by way of their new culinary tome, Green Mango Cafe & Bakery: Cooking for a Better Tomorrow, available online (sans shipping charge) and, soon, at a couple of farmers market signings (see dates below). This husband-and-wife team was inspired by a week-long trip to a just-opened cafe in Cambodia in March 2012 to write their book. All proceeds go to the Center for Global Impact (CGI), headquartered in Greenwood. They gave us peek inside their recipe files.

Jonathan Scott: The Center for Global impact had the idea for the book? Or there was some interplay there?

Sonja Overhiser: I had started learning about human trafficking through several organizations that were based locally, including Purchased, which is an organization that seeks to educate about human trafficking and help to raise up advocates. At the same time, I  had a friend who I knew had been doing work in Cambodia with an organization called Center for Global Impact. I e-mailed [Chris Alexander, CGI president] and said, “Hey, I’m feeling this calling to use some of my specific skills and passions to do something related to human trafficking, potentially in Southeast Asia.” He listened to my little spiel and said, “Why don’t you write a cookbook?”

JS: That simple?

SO: He looked a little bit at our blog, but he doesn’t know anything about food blogging. He told me about the program there, the Green Mango Cafe, which is a two-year vocational training program. The Culinary Training Center is a two-year program to train girls in culinary and hospitality skills and English, so that they can work in the tourism industry in Cambodia. The Green Mango Cafe is the training restaurant that is connected to the center.

JS: The process of the book, from beginning to end, was something like five months. You ended up with 40-plus recipes. From how many did you pare it down?

SO: We knew we wanted it to be a smaller cookbook, and we knew we didn’t want it to be an anthology of recipes. So we targeted around that number when we were there. We had maybe 50. We tried to get a nice eclectic mix of things that the restaurant is known for. Like their banana bread French toast; It’s a favorite at the restaurant. They also have the bakery that’s attached to the restaurant. We tried to highlight some of the baked goods as well.

JS: What are the top items in Green Mango Cafe?

SO: Banana bread French toast, mango pie, a lot of the baked goods. They make fresh tortillas every day, which is funny, because it’s Cambodia. But they sell a lot of those. Biscuits and gravy. There’s a mix of tourists.

JS: Out of these 40 or so recipes, what one is your favorite?

Alex Overhiser: I’m going to go with the tom yum soup. It has so much flavor.

SO: I really like the black bean hummus. It has an interesting flavor. I’m a vegetarian, but I like the beef stir fry recipe a lot. We’re flexitarians. The time we started our blog was when we started learning about food and sustainability and environmental issues. We read a book called Food Matters by Mark Bittman. It really caused us to take a look at what we were eating and the way that affected the planet and our bodies. We read about how, if you just scale back on meat, it takes a little less toll on the planet. If you can just do Meatless Monday, do that. If you can, just eat meat at dinner but not at lunch. We started trying that, and then we found we could do it basically all the time. We decided what we were going to do was try to eat vegetarian most the time except when we’re traveling or celebrating special occasions. Or, if there’s local meat we know is good. I’m going to enter my other favorite recipe, though, Cambodian curry, because it’s delicious, and it’s one of the recipes that the girls showed us how to make.

JS: It doesn’t really get more legitimate than that.

SO: And you can see the promo video on our blog. There’s a little bit of video clips showing us making it. The green mango is an unripe mango, and they actually use it fairly frequently in Cambodian cuisine, because the mango season is pretty short. We found them at Saraga [in Indianapolis].

AO: They’re hard to find.

JS: Are they seasonal?

SO: We don’t know. They are in Cambodia. You can probably just use a really firm mango if you can’t find a green one. Just get the hardest one you can find.

JS: Your blog is mostly vegetarian.

SO: We have a few meat items on there, but not very many. It’s mainly vegetarian. We don’t use the word “vegetarian” a lot on it because we don’t think of it that way. We don’t think of ourselves as vegetarians. We usually like to say “meatless.” We like to make it sound more approachable. And we don’t cook with a lot of tofu and so on. We enjoy them, but we tend to like using more natural products and more natural proteins.

JS: What is the first full run of your cookbook?

SO: A thousand copies. We’re going to do a couple book signings. Broad Ripple Market on Oct. 27 at 9 a.m. We just figured out one for the Winter Market, which will be Nov. 17 at 11 a.m.

JS: What’s next for A Couple Cooks?

SO: We have the signings and stuff. And probably focusing on the blog. We just did a major redesign. We’re hoping to be more invested in that again, and we’ve toyed with the thought of writing an original cookbook. We’ve also thought about branching out into electronic media, like apps. But that’s still pretty early going.

AO: It’s always been my dream to have a book at the Marion County Public Library, and they bought five copies. So I can find myself on the stacks.

Photos courtesy A Couple Cooks