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The Dirt Candy Cookbook

Plant yourself in a world of tasty wonders
Wayne Alan Brenner, 12:38pm, Thu. Nov. 8, 2012
Vegetarian? Um … no?

New York City's Dirt Candy isn't a vegetarian restaurant,
insists its owner and head chef Amanda Cohen.

Dirt Candy is a vegetable restaurant, she says – because the idea of a vegetarian eatery is bogged down with outmoded and sometimes boring uses of plants as merely ersatz meat, as food eaten mostly due to health concerns.

Fuck that, says Dirt Candy – if not in so many words.

We're gonna celebrate (and cook and eat) vegetables for themselves, says Dirt Candy, for what those vegetables are – natural reservoirs of deep, rich taste – and not for what they're not.

Amanda Cohen does say that in so many words. But in so many words and pictures, too, because this Dirt Candy Cookbook was created in graphic-novel style with cartoonist Ryan "Action Philosophers" Dunlavey and journalist Grady "Amanda's Husband" Hendrix.

It's a remarkably successful project, this book.

This is due, in part, to the undeniable excellence of the food it presents – empirical evidence having been provided at this recent Alamo Drafthouse event. Because this Cohen, she's not messing around: She's slicing and dicing and blanching and cranching and drying and frying and flaking and baking and doing whatever it takes to turn vegetables – and fruit and fungi and anything non-faunal – into delectable, mouth-watering, potentially addictive versions of themselves. She uses traditional methods, visiting upon the freshly harvested plants a variety of time-honored veggie stylings, but also involves techniques previously reserved for meat. Her cutting tools are, you might say, often on the cutting edge. Cohen's not averse to raiding the larder of molecular gastronomy, even, if that's what works best to make a dish reach the level of taste and mouthfeel and sense-of-nourishment that's required in the more professional uptown markets of Heaven.

And the success is due, in part, to the visuals. Because the cartoons, the sequential-art vignettes that surround and enhance the wealth of these unique recipes? They go a long way to providing context. They necessarily illustrate a few details of food prep, of course, but they also effectively show what it's like to work in a restaurant – in Dirt Candy, specifically – in ways that mere text could only suggest in the theatre of your mind. Dunlavey's cartoony style works well for this: A more realistic depiction might distract from the transmission of culinary knowledge.

And that context mentioned above? The feel of the barely controlled nightmare that foodservice can occasionally become? This Dirt Candy Cookbook nails it.

(Listen, I waited tables for 12 years at Austin's Magnolia Cafe, and I tell you this: Dirt Candy knows what's up.)

But, mostly, Dirt Candy know what's extremely delicious, vegetablewise.
And this entertaining book will show you how to prepare it yourself.

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Pro tip: When you do? Invite this reviewer to supper.

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