Dirt Candy

Comics and food are two of my favourite things, and Dirt Candy: A Cookbook: Flavor-Forward Food from the Upstart New York City Vegetarian Restaurant blends the two in an exciting way. It’s part autobiography of a restaurant owner and chef, part learning resource for kitchen skills, part history book and part cookbook. It’s entirely rewarding.

Dirt Candy includes explanations of complex cooking terminology and clearly explains, through comics, how to do many of the steps called for in advanced recipes. There are cooking methods explained within that I hadn’t attempted in part because of intimidation, but after reading I feel I have a good grasp of concepts such as blanching and shocking foods. The comics format is perfect for this kind of instructional material.

The book is full of great surprises, such as a section on why hiring illegal immigrants is valuable to everyone involved. It included the heartbreaking story of a family who had immigrated illegally. The book is about food broadly; it covers a lot of what it takes to operate a restaurant, food history, how meals are priced and reveals some of the challenges faced before the doors opened.

I usually gravitate to simple recipes and there are not many of those in this book. It has actually been nice to explore some food ideas outside my normal comfort zone. The dishes tend to be complex and have suggestions for presentation; the cookbook is decidedly coming from restaurant culture, and that has been an interesting shift to make when working with them. The recipes are vegetarian but usually have suggested modifications for making them vegan, which I appreciated.

Dirt Candy is packed with content and the comic format makes it very easy to digest. It has joined the ranks of both my favourite cookbooks and my favourite comics.

The Dirt Candy cookbook is 224 pages of pure comic book madness: the entire Dirt Candy experience wrapped up between two covers. Part graphic novel, part cookbook, it’s written by the chef and owner of Dirt Candy, Amanda Cohen, drawn by Ryan Dunlavey, the award-winning comic book criminal behind Action Philosophers, and ably assisted by the writer Grady Hendrix (who is also Amanda’s husband). This book answers all your burning questions.

Why is your salad $14? What are the tawdry, over-sexed roots of vegetarian food? How hard is it to open a restaurant? What’s the secret to cooking awesome vegetables? Does Martha Stewart like Dirt Candy? Who is the panda? What is the monkey? How do you make deep fried cheese curds? Why is corn not on the menu? Is cooking magic? What are the three myths of vegetables? All of these questions and more, plus dozens of recipes (both vegan and non-), can be found between the covers of the Dirt Candy cookbook.

Dirt Candy can be ordered in paper and ebook formats. All Things Considered did a feature on the book, “‘Dirt Candy’: A Visual Veggie Cookbook With A Memoir Mixed In” that included a sample recipe, “Roasted Cauliflower With White Wine Pappardelle And Pine Nut Parmesan”.

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