Dirt Candy, by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey

My brother recently handed me a copy of Dirt Candy, a collection of recipes from Amanda Cohen's NYC vegetarian restaurant of the same name. The book is an unusual blend of cookbook, memoir, and graphic novel, and while I won't be leaping to make one of Cohen's fantastically elaborate recipes any time soon, it does make for an unexpectedly satisfying reading experience.

Dirt Candy is co-written by Cohen, artist Ryan Dunlavey, and journalist—and Cohen's spouse—Grady Hendrix. The black-and-white illustrations are energetic, the recipes are clearly laid out, and the rest of the book is divided into mini-essays on topics ranging from “Legendary Weapons of Vegetables” to “Why Are My Salads $14?”. The back cover alleges the book is “a must-have for any home cook looking to push the boundaries of vegetable cooking”. I can't fully sign off on that statement, but Cohen's dishes are certainly impressive (and impressively time-consuming).

I'm a vegetarian, but a deeply lazy one, and most of Cohen's recipes are way above my skill and/or effort level—while I would eat her Smoked Cauliflower and Waffles with Horseradish Cream Sauce in a hot minute, I would expect a shiny medal for actually attempting to make said dish myself. I'll probably give her pickle recipes a shot, and I might try making something inspired by one of her meals, but most of them (Portobello Mousse with Pear and Fennel Compote? Broccoli Ice Cream? Stone-Ground Grits with Pickled Shiitakes and a Tempura Poached Egg?) are totally outside my wheelhouse.

Happily, only about half of this book's charm comes from its recipes. It's even more entertaining to read about Cohen's disastrous attempts to find an honest contractor to build Dirt Candy, her descriptions of her employees, and her pithy food-related advice (frequently delivered via her cartoon alter-egos, a monkey and a panda). Some of Cohen's stories slip into self-aggrandizement territory—she was the first vegetarian chef invited to compete on Iron Chef! Martha Stewart has eaten at Dirt Candy!—but her creativity and ambition are inspiring... even if it will be a cold day in hell before I attempt to make a batch of Kimchi doughnuts.
Posted by: Julianka


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