Cookbooks come in all shapes and sizes — there are regular cookbooks with recipes and photos, there are out-of-the-box cookbooks with illustrations and graphics, cookbooks written by a restaurant, and cookbooks written by a chef from a restaurant. And then there’s Dirt Candy, a graphic novel cookbook by Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of New York City’s award-winning vegetarian restaurant Dirt Candy.
Cohen’s goal when opening her restaurant in 2008 was not to be all hoity-toity about vegetarian food, which many people think is the case when they hear of a vegan or vegetarian restaurant opening, but to celebrate vegetables, which is conveyed in the name of the restaurant. After much success at her restaurant and pressure to put out a cookbook, Dirt Candy, said cookbook, was born. Illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Ryan Dunlavey, and co-written by Cohen’s husband, Grady Hendrix, Dirt Candy is a cookbook in the form of a comic book, Cohen’s way of giving her fans what they want while maintaining her resolution to not just write any old cookbook.
In an effort to create something outside the norm, Cohen includes animated stories woven throughout the book that are not your usual "this recipe was created on a cold winter day for a dinner party I had" stories — there are characters and storylines involved, and the that stories cover experiences like sketchy contractors Cohen met while building the restaurant, her experience on Iron Chef America, the breakdown of menu item pricing, and moments where Cohen has to explain to her 5-year old self that she is a vegetarian chef and not a princess.
"Food should be fun, and that's the premise of everything we do," Cohen notes in her interview with The Daily Meal, and it's through the vivacity of the illustrations that "the restaurant is alive in this book, " she explains.
Along with the stories, Cohen covers the basic techniques for cooking with vegetables and shares some of her must-have vegetable cooking equipment. And then there are the recipes — tons of them — which are illustrated and paired with each other to create fun and interesting vegetarian dishes. As the chef of one of the only Michelin-recommended vegetarian restaurants in America, Dirt Candy's success has come not from creating super-healthy dishes, but vegetarian dishes that are not only good for you but taste good, too. What’s more, she’s not even vegetarian, so the goal of her restaurant and the cookbook is not to preach about eating vegetarian food, but to just serve delicious varieties of it.
The book, published by Clarkson Potter, hits the bookshelves August 21, and is chock-full of recipes and is an entertaining read. You’ll feel as if you know Cohen personally by the end of it, you’ll probably want to eat more vegetables, and you’ll certainly have a lot more respect for any professional chef in the kitchen, and vegetarian food, for that matter. Here's a sneak peak of three recipes you'll find in the cookbook. Click here to see the illustration for the Asparagus Paella and Yellow Tomato Saffron Broth Recipes.
Cohen uses this recipe to get the sweetness that is usually found in socarrat, and uses it to garnish her Asparagus Paella.
Cohen suggests using this as a base for a summer soup, but when simmered with vegetable stock, it is the perfect accompaniment to her paella as well.
So many people shy away from paella because they think it's a complicated, time-consuming dish, but Cohen's recipe from her restaurant proves that it's a fairly simple process yielding incredibly flavorful results.
Anne Dolce is the Cook Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @anniecdolce