Have you had your dirt candy today?

09/07/2012 09:01:00 AM
Amelia Freidline

Amelia Freidline, Fresh TakeAmelia Freidline, Fresh TakeI’ve heard some creative alternative names for produce over the years.

There’s the Sports Candy line of fresh fruit and vegetables — a tie-in to the LazyTown kids’ TV show — from Pelion, S.C.-based Walter P. Rawl & Sons Inc.

And let’s not forget Bolthouse Farms’ campaign urging baby carrot consumers to “Eat ‘em like junk food.”

But “dirt candy” wasn’t one I’d heard before.

When I stumbled across an article about chef Amanda Cohen’s new cookbook “Dirt Candy,” my curiosity was piqued. I’m a sucker for almost any kind of cookbook, but the idea of a graphic novel-style cookbook all about vegetables was especially intriguing.

Cohen opened her Dirt Candy restaurant in New York in 2008 not to promote a vegetarian lifestyle or to necessarily stump for healthy eating, but to bring attention to the vegetables themselves.

As she explains, it’s a vegetable restaurant, not a vegetarian restaurant.

On www.dirtcandynyc.com, the restaurant’s quirky website and blog, Cohen explains her name choice this way: “When you eat a vegetable, you’re eating little more than dirt that’s been transformed by plenty of sunshine and rain into something that’s full of flavor: Dirt Candy.”

In the introduction to her cookbook, she says, “I wanted people to think of vegetables as a treat, as soemthing fun. Like candy from the dirt.”

The website also proclaims “Anyone can cook a hamburger, but leave the vegetables to the professionals.”

With items on the menu such as chard gnocchi with grilled chard, garlic granola and fig jam or rosemary eggplant tiramisu with grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton candy and mascarpone cheese, I thought the recipes might all be complex dishes only chefs or foodies could appreciate.

While it does contain complicated-sounding things like portabella mousse or dishes that take several recipes to assemble, the Dirt Candy cookbook also offers easy-to-follow advice for ways to maximize the flavors naturally present in fresh vegetables.

Techniques such as sweating, caramelizing, blanching, reducing, dehydrating and juicing are explained in a series of comic panels with humorous captions. And while recipes build on each other to create fancy-sounding end results, a lot of them could stand on their own or be useful steps in everyday cooking.

Cohen’s cookbook — part biography, part love letter to vegetables — is probably not for everybody.

Its cheeky text and graphic-novel format replete with robots, laid-back panda bears and manic monkeys, however, are sure to appeal to 20-somethings, whether they’re already adventurous in the kitchen or looking for a way to ease into preparing vegetables.

Smoked cauliflower and waffles? Hey, I’d try that.

afreidline@thepacker.com

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