A Manhattan chef reveals tricks for giving familiar vegetables exciting new flavors and textures. It's easy—and it's green!
Chef Amanda Cohen approaches vegetables in much the same way that some of the country's best chefs have come to embrace nose-to-tail animal cookery. She looks to use every edible part of the plant. It's a style that reduces waste while being respectful to the produce, and it can be a revelation to someone who tries a dish of carrots that also contains carrot tops: Suddenly, there are new taste dimensions to old-hat ingredients.
She offers beets as an example. "To think that you have this hard root vegetable that you can do so much with—but then there's this extra gift on top! The greens are just as delicious as spinach or chard. But people often just throw them out. It's so sad."
Eating healthy should still be delicious.
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Cohen helms the kitchen at the celebrated, cheekily named little New York restaurant Dirt Candy, which she calls a "vegetable restaurant," as opposed to vegetarian. "At our core, we don't have politics, the environment, or even health as a motivating factor. All I want to do is make delicious food." Her waste-not approach to vegetable cooking is part of her hook. "We realized that if we start to concentrate on other parts of the vegetable, people are going to want to come here. People are looking for the new."
Beyond carrot tops on carrot dishes, she makes celery leaf pesto for Chinese celery-based plates. For her broccoli "carpaccio," she utilizes broccoli stalks, a part that generally ends up in most home cooks' compost bins. Peeled and cut into attractive julienne slices and thin planks, the stalk brings amazing crunch and a green yet nutty flavor to the salad. "People look at broccoli, and all they see are those florets. There's so much more."
Cohen advises home cooks to broaden their thinking when working with produce. "Get the vegetables that look like they're going to be a little more work, if you have the time to bypass the ones in the bag."
Then feel free to experiment with the unfamiliar parts, and don't be nervous. "If it doesn't work out, don't be disappointed. Just try something else. Cooking should be fun, right? You're not trying for world peace with your next dinner, just a tasty meal."
Amanda Cohen Makes Us Eat Our Vegetables. More Please!
It’s as real as the mini Everest of galleys that has formed on my office desk: A lot of really interesting people in the food world write really boring cookbooks. Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of New York City restaurant Dirt Candy, is not one of these people. Since 2008, she’s been the loudest, and most-talented, supporter of a vegetable-based (restaurant) diet — preparing exceptionally flavorful dishes like smoked cauliflower with waffles and kimchi donuts. Dirt Candy is a vegetarian restaurant, sure. But it’s more of a vegetable restaurant, avoiding meat-proxy cookery like veggie burgers and wheat balls.
“We do not care what you eat the day or meal before, or the day or meal after — we just want you to come enjoy the vegetables for this one moment,” says Cohen in her maple syrup–thick Canadian accent. “And not necessarily think of it as a vegetarian meal, but rather as a really good meal.”
And about her just-released debut book — Dirt Candy: A Cookbook. It’s as fresh as her spin on red velvet cake (hers is made with the juice of bell peppers and is the truth). Part graphic novel, part recipe book, it tells the story of the restaurant’s first year through the illustrations of the talented Ryan Dunlavey. There are laughs and tears and plenty of bowls of grits topped with tempura–poached egg. Cohen tells me about why vegetables will never be cool. (Disagree!)
Vegetables were not really cool when you opened Dirt Candy in 2008. This was the time of the great pork belly insurgency. But now it’s 2012. Things are different. Do you think that vegetables have gotten cooler, or is it still a big struggle?
I think it’s still a struggle. We are on this cusp and we keep going back and forth over whether vegetables are going to be cool this year or not. And when they are going to be the next big thing.
In your book you refer to cooking with vegetables as “the wild west.” Is this still the case?
I think so. I don’t think that the vegetable dialog has progressed much further. People are doing stuff with vegetables — we are starting to see some more restaurants and cookbooks paying attention to them. But if you look at what has come out, I still feel that it’s mostly side dishes. They may be way more interesting than ever before, but they are still not saying, “Here is your broccoli and it’s your main course. Look what I have done with it.” Now it’s more about getting your broccoli appetizers, and maybe getting seven bites out of it.
That is a good point. And it ties into what you do at Dirt Candy. You are not a “meat proxy” type of restaurant, but a vegetable restaurant. You are not about veggie burgers or fake sausage.
We are not. That all has its place, but there are so many more interesting things to do. I would rather create something that is as new and interesting as I can than to take something and wonder: “How can I make that vegetarian?”
We have our cauliflower waffle dish, which is obviously based on chicken and waffles, but we wanted to take it and make it even more interesting and do more with it. It is a dish that stands on its own and you don’t have to think that you are missing out on something. Instead, you are like, “Wow, I just never knew that cauliflower and waffles went so well together.”
You were at such a disadvantage when you opened. Most vegetarian food is terrible and vegetarian restaurants are just so bad. Can you talk about why those restaurants are so bad?
I am not quite sure that they are so bad, but I do think that they do not necessarily cater to a wide clientele. If you are looking for something healthy, or more lifestyle-oriented, we are not going to be your cup of tea.
Maybe I was harsh with my assessment. Let me rephrase. Vegetarian restaurants typically do not have their eye on flavors, and instead focus on politics or health or that Kumbaya stuff.
Right. Lots of people come to my restaurant and they do not love it. They are looking for a much different type of vegetarian experience than we want to give them. A lot of people want to go to restaurants that are a lot more relaxed, calm, Zen and healthier with more grains and pure protein…
Well, I would not say that a lot of people do not like your restaurant. I would say very few people do not like your restaurant. You are doing well right now and are pretty booked out. Is that still the case?
We are still crazy, even in this horrible and awful hot summer! We are about six weeks out for a table.
Do you take any walk-ins, or is it all reservations?
We try to hold some tables back for walk-ins, but it does depend on how long you want to wait. Sometimes the wait can be over three hours for the two or three tables we have held back and people will try to come back another time. Other people happen to come in at the exact right moment and can sit down right away.
You write a lot about the build-out of your restaurant. The drama and stress of it all. Seeing it in graphic-novel form is like…wow. Was this a terrible, or typical, first-time restaurant experience?
I think it was such a spectrum. We certainly got a lot of advice going into it, and I had people in mind, but sometimes you just don’t know. Our contractor really came to us with great references, and we thought it was going okay and my architect had worked with him before. Then you have that one day where it’s like, “Oh my gosh, what is going on?” Then you cannot stop it and it gets worse and worse. If you pull your contractor out, you basically have to start from scratch again, and we were so far into it. We were trying so hard and it just got so bad.
You beautifully detail why you should pretty much never open a restaurant in New York City. Like how your contractor tried to strong-arm you for money, and then held your building materials hostage. That’s typical though, right?
Yeah. When I told the story to people, I’m always expecting them to be surprised, and yet a lot of them say that they have heard that kind of story before.
Let’s talk about the book. It’s not a typical recipe book that you could knock out in six weeks. This is a graphic novel, essentially. And it took two years to complete.
The first thing we wanted is for it to be true to the restaurant and capture Dirt Candy in cookbook form. That was the guiding hand throughout the whole process. There is so much energy and everything is so alive, and that had to be on the page. Right away, the message is not a Vegetarian 101 Cookbook. It is The Dirt Candy Cookbook and if you want to learn to make what we do at the restaurant, this is the perfect book for you.
If you want basic, say, rice pilaf recipes, this is not going to be the book for you. We also knew that we had to deal with these complicated recipes and make them easier. We wanted people to be able to not necessarily follow the entire recipes, but to also be able to take four components of them and see what they could do with them. It really became natural that a visual graphic novel was the way to go. So much information can be packed into one little panel.
What was the process like to complete the book?
It was like how a movie comes together. There’s a script, then storyboards and editing. And instead of filming, there is drawing. There was a lot of back and forth between us and [illustrator] Ryan [Dunlavey] to make sure we had exactly what we meant.
Do you feel that this could become a movie?
I’m not sure if I could handle seeing myself in cartoon form! But it’s funny and it does seem that it translates well to a wide audience. You can see the trailer, which is somewhat animated, and think that it is kind of fun.
What are some of your favorite recipes featured in the book?
At some point we thought that there was no chance we could get these recipes onto the page and make it work as a cookbook. So scrambling all of these recipes into a cookbook and making them work is something that we are all very proud of – and to anybody who has ever worked at this restaurant to help us get it together. One of the things we have also been able to do in the cookbook is teach the new techniques used at Dirt Candy – dehydrating, juicing, blanching. We did it in a way that you can follow as a home cook. You can walk away with three or four new skills that you did not have before, and that’s a goal of the cookbook.
Have you ever cooked for Anthony Bourdain? I feel that at this point, it has to happen. You are both authors of graphic novels now.
No, I have never met him. I think once or twice I have been in the same room as him, but I do not have a relationship with him.
Hopefully it will happen! I think this is a good reason.
Yes, he loves graphic novels. This should definitely be one that he picks up.
He should try your food. He is very anti-vegetarian but clearly that is not what you are doing.
He is not only anti-vegetarian but he is also anti-vegan!
What are you up to now that your book is done? Do you take a pause and cook this fall, or do you have immediate plans?
For the next couple of months it is still all about the book. We are going to a bunch of cities and doing more events than we have ever done in the past, really trying to get the word out about the book. Come December, we will sit down and start to seriously think about the future and what to do. It’s funny, because the book is a bit of a litmus test. It’s going to go to a much wider audience than we have ever been able to reach, and so we are waiting to see how we are received and what people want from us. When we have done events before, it has generated some really good press and pushed us in different directions. We’re going to a wider audience now with all that, and I think it will also help us.
Reviews ( 10 )
Great and quick recipe that my family enjoyed!
I have been making this recipe for years. It's DELICIOUS as is! Don't forget the pinch of crushed red pepper!
From one glance I could tell that this was a suspicious recipe.
Full review in case it is truncated: https://wordwelter.tumblr.com/post/643601824939737088/awful-broccoli-recipe
First, it allegedly has 1,118 ratings at time of writing but only 7 reviews. There's no space to rate or review without an account, so how can all of those even be real?
Second, they are all 5 stars. No real recipe I've ever seen has had such a unanimous response with even a tenth of the reviews.
Third, it says it takes 20 minutes of prep work. To slice 3 cloves of garlic and two heads of broccoli a whole one time? It took me maybe 5 minutes in total, but I'm willing to forgive only this point, because recipes tend to understate prep time.
Fourth, you are frying and then steaming broccoli. Broccoli is delicious any way you make it except steaming. Steaming completely removes any and all flavor this might've had from "caramelizing" in olive oil.
Fifth, the name. Don't listen to the blurb, this is not caramelized by any definition of the word, but it sounds a whole lot better than "fried and then steamed", because anyone can tell that that's not going to be good.
Sixth, there is only one step, Step 1, and it is 8 steps. Pet peeve, and this makes it harder to read and tell that that the recipe stinks.
Seventh, there is no way for the garlic flavor to go anywhere. You just drop the garlic onto the broccoli, but it's not soaking the broccoli? Maybe if you had put it in the steaming step it'd be fine but you're just toasting it as it is, completely separate.
After following the instructions to a T, I can say I was correct on every account. Yet, it still had the gall to surprise me with just how bland and mushy it ended up being. Also lemon juice made it much much worse, and I like both broccoli and lemon juice.
Dousing it in garlic powder had no effect, nor did black pepper. The only thing that made it palatable was a generous shaking of Cajun seasoning, which is cheating because that makes anything taste good.
15 Of The Best Vegetarian Cookbooks, Tried and Tested by a Vegetarian
When I was 10 years old, I told my parents I wanted to be a vegetarian. They responded by telling me that was all well and good, but I had to learn how to cook healthy meat-free meals for myself. And so my search for the best vegetarian recipes began in earnest at a very young age. After years at the vegetarian cooking game, I can confidently recommend these vegetarian cookbooks.
Plenty More by Yottam Ottolenghi
Plenty More is the follow up to London celebrity chef Yottam Ottolenghi&rsquos first vegetarian cookbook Plenty, and it features over 150 new recipes organized by cooking method. Ottolenghi is often praised for his originality and his unique mixture of flavors, and this cookbook features plenty (pun intended) of both. This book promises to change the way you cook and eat vegetables.
Love Real Food by Kathryne Taylor
Blogger Kathryne Taylor of Cookie + Kate offers over 100 healthy recipes in this, her first cookbook. In addition to providing recipes for delicious and wholesome vegetarian meals, Taylor offers easy substitutions to make all of her meals special diet-friendly. So if you&rsquore looking for gluten-free, dairy-free, and egg-free options, this cookbook has you covered! The recipes are all extremely easy to follow as well.
Vegan Richa&rsquos Everyday Kitchen by Richa Hingle
You might recognize Richa Hingle from her blog Vegan Richa, where she posts recipes and photographs of her delicious vegan meals. Hingle&rsquos love for food and crafting recipes is clear on her blog, and that has translated well into her two cookbooks. Her first was Vegan Richa&rsquos Indian Kitchen, and in this, her follow-up, Hingle branches out to include meals from across the globe: Thai, Ethiopian, Pizza, Burgers, Casseroles. They&rsquore all here, and more.
Veganomicon by Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero
This monster of a vegan cookbook has so many recipes in it that I swear I find a new one every time I open it up. What&rsquos more, Moskowitz and Romero recently released a 10th anniversary version with 25 additional recipes, meaning this book now has a total of 250 delicious vegan recipes. I wouldn&rsquot call the majority of these recipes quick or easy, but they&rsquore definitely manageable and have always been tasty.
Bowl: Vegetarian Recipes for Ramen, Pho, Bibimbap, Dumplings, and Other One-Dish Meals by Lukas Volger
I don&rsquot know why, but something about eating food out of a bowl makes it taste so much better. This is why Lukas Volger&rsquos vegetarian cookbook Bowl appeals to me. Volger includes recipes for one-bowl meals from various cultures, starting with the Japanese ramen bowl and branching out all the way to burrito bowls. If it&rsquos delicious and it fits in a bowl, it fits in this cookbook. In addition, Volger includes many tips and techniques for broth, handmade noodles, garnishes, sauces, and much more. So when you start feeling really bold, you can begin work on your own bowl creations.
Saffron Soul by Mira Manek
I really, really love Indian food, and Mira Manek&rsquos vegetarian Indian cookbook is one of my absolute favorites. This vegetarian cookbook is full of delicious recipes that are easy to follow. What&rsquos more, Manek focuses on a healthier, lighter take on traditional Indian cuisine without sacrificing flavor.
Vegetarian Dishes from my Korean Home by Shin Kim
South Korean native Shin Kim offers up 30 delicious Korean recipes in this vegetarian cookbook. More importantly, in this quick and easy cookbook, Kim provides her culinary expertise from years of experience in Seoul and New York City. With Kim&rsquos instructions, readers will learn to mix and match different seasonings and ingredients to create their own Korean dishes.
Chloe&rsquos Vegan Italian kitchen by Chloe Coscarelli
With its creamy sauces and decadent desserts, Italian food doesn&rsquot have much of a reputation for being vegan-friendly. But popular vegan chef and winner of the Food Network&rsquos Cupcake Wars Chloe Coscarelli says it&rsquos time to rethink Italian food with a vegan twist. In this cookbook, Coscarelli rethinks traditional Italian fare, making everything healthy, totally vegan, and even more delicious than the originals. And if you need gluten free options, she has you covered there too.
Green Kitchen at Home: Quick and Healthy Vegetarian Food for Every Day by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindhal
If you&rsquore looking for the mother of all quick, easy, healthy vegetarian cookbooks, you have found the one! All of the recipes included in this book are accessible for cooking newbies and are perfect for weekday nights when you need to throw a meal together in a hurry. Even better, Frenkiel and Vindhal offer a few recipe short cuts for nights when you&rsquore really low on time.
Why Vegan is the New Black by Deborrah Cooper
If you&rsquore new to veganism or just want to dabble a little bit before fully committing, Why Vegan is the New Black is the perfect introductory vegan cookbook to try out. Deborrah Cooper features simple, classic American and soul food recipes that the entire family will enjoy, whether they&rsquore vegan or not.
A Couple Cooks: Pretty Simple Cooking by Sonja and Alex Overhiser
Sonja and Alex Overhiser are the husband-and-wife blogging and podcasting power couple behind A Couple Cooks. And now, they&rsquove put all of their vibrant personality and joy for cooking delicious vegetarian meals into this cookbook. The focus here is just what the title says it is: pretty simple cooking. Recipes are arranged from quickest to most time-consuming, so you know exactly what you&rsquore getting into before you start.
Eat Feel Fresh: A Contemporary, Plant-Based Ayurvedic Cookbook by Sahara Rose Ketabi
If you&rsquove never heard of an Ayurvedic diet before, it&rsquos an eating plan that emphasizes mindful eating and whole unprocessed foods. Even if you&rsquore not fully committed to an Ayurvedic diet, the healthful practices involved in such a diet translate to a thoughtful and healthy vegetarian cookbook with recipes that are accessible, easy to follow, and, most importantly, delicious.
Cafe Sunflower: Recipes You Can Cook At Home by Lin Sun
These last few books are from some of my favorite vegetarian restaurants, starting with Cafe Sunflower in Atlanta, Georgia. Let&rsquos just say I fed some of this food to my angry anti-vegetarian grandfather, and he loved everything (I never told him there wasn&rsquot meat in any of it). Lin Sun&rsquos recipes are diverse and delicious, and this book is a real treat. The recipes are easy to follow too!
The Grit Cookbook: World-Wise, Down-Home Recipes by Jessica Greene and Ted Hafer
Hands down, The Grit Cookbook is my most-used, most-loved, most-favorite vegetarian cookbook in all the land. And The Grit in Athens, Georgia, is one of my favorite places in all the world. At this point, my copy of this book is pretty much covered in vegan yeast gravy, and I should probably invest in a new one soon. Many of the recipes in this book have become staples at my family gatherings, which is good because all of these recipes make A TON of food. Like, invite a bunch of people over to help you eat this stuff or expect leftovers for days. If you&rsquore looking for delicious vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) comfort food recipes that will make your tummy extremely happy, get this book.
Dirt Candy: A Cookbook by Amanda Cohen and Ryan Dunlavey
Dirt Candy in New York City is truly a unique dining experience, and fittingly, this book is a unique vegetarian cookbook experience. I mean, why has no one else thought of a graphic novel cookbook before? My favorite thing about this cookbook, though, is that Cohen&rsquos love for vegetables really shines through. Not only does she provide delicious recipes, but she also gives a lot of background information about different styles of cooking and types of foods. The recipes are a little more complex than most of the other cookbooks on this list, but Cohen breaks everything down so that I felt confident I could do anything.
I don&rsquot know about you, but now I&rsquom very hungry. For even more vegetarian cookbook suggestions, check out this post on Vegan Cookbooks, or this one about Vegetarian Cookbooks for Meat Eaters.
The ninth season of Sara’s Weeknight Meals kicks off with a trip to Florida to dive into the best local home cooking in the Sunshine State. First up, Miami and its delicious Cuban food. I go on a culinary tour of Little Havana before joining a Cuban Abuela (grandmother) to make a traditional dish with fresh Florida shrimp. Then I learn how to prepare Vaca Frita, crispy fried onions and shredded chicken with a spicy mango salsa, with another Cuban American. Finally, it’s off to Key West with the king of that island’s cooking, Norman Van Aken. We make a Fish Stew layered with spicy flavors, and assemble a Key West version of pot luck, a salad composed of fruit picked from everyone’s backyard trees. With trips to Charleston, the Louisiana Bayou and Savannah, plus easy weeknight favorites from my own kitchen, it’s another season of discovery with me and America’s best weeknight cooks.
Episode 901: Havana Weeknights
Episode 902: Simple Elegance
Episode 903: Latin Twist
Episode 904: French Eggs
Episode 905: Ginger Mix Up
Episode 906: Meaty Salads
Episode 907: Key West Eats
Episode 908: America’s Favorite Sandwiches
Episode 909: Chicks Rule
Episode 910: Mouth of the South
Oceania Cruises is THE cruise line of choice for travelers who are dining connoisseurs, want immersive experiences in sought-after destinations and enjoy a luxurious vacation that is also an extraordinary value. Our six ships designed for 684-1250 guests cruise to more than 450 of the world’s most alluring boutique and marquee ports of call. Our award-winning cuisine, country club or relaxed ambiance, genuine service and value are what bring our guests back time and time again.
Welcome to season 8 of Sara’s Weeknight Meals. This season I travel to Europe. In Tuscany I will learn how to make tortelli, turned pink by the addition of chianti at an old villa. And then it is on to a lemon farm on the Amalfi coast to make homemade lemon cheese and lemon pasta (with a classic lemon cocktail along the way). In Spain, I visit the fairy tale village of Madremanya, north of Barcelona to prepare 3 different tapas with a local innkeeper followed by a trip to Valencia to learn everything there is to know about paella from a seasoned paella chef. Back in the states a young Californian rice farmer with his own video blog schools me about rice farming and I learn how to make sushi from a local sushi chef. In Napa I connect with a cookbook club to prepare several dishes and dine in the middle of a vineyard. Back at home a viewer joins me to make her beloved family dishes – arroz con gandules and tostones from Puerto Rico. I prepare Asian and middle eastern dinners with two special guests. And finally, I head out to the garden to forage with a professional forager and turn our “weed” harvest into a meal.
How Do You Use Whole Wheat Pizza Dough?
If we've got extra dough after a pizza party, we form it into a 14-inch-thick rectangle, then brush lightly with melted butter and dust with brown sugar, chopped walnuts, and cinnamon. After rolling it back into a log (starting with a long edge), we slice it into 1-inch-thick pieces and set them in a lightly buttered baking dish so they're just touching. Bake until puffed and browned.
--Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, authors of Pizza: Grill It, Bake It, Love It!
I Fill Veggie Pockets
Cut the rolled-out dough into squares and top with your favorite veggies combined with tomato sauce. Then fold over and seal to make handheld pockets. You can bake them immediately or freeze for later.
--Cat Cora, Food Network Iron Chef
I Bake Bread Sticks
Roll out the dough, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt, thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Toss on lemon zest and grated Parmesan, bake, and slice into strips.
--Amanda Cohen, chef/owner of Dirt Candy in New York City
Flatten your belly with delicious recipes. Order the Flat Belly Diet Cookbook!
I Build a Hearty Roll
Whole wheat pizza dough makes a wonderful, chewy dinner roll. Simply knead in dried cranberries and pecans or walnuts and shape into balls. Place on a baking sheet, leaving space between them, and let rise till puffy. Then bake until golden brown. When they're done, brush with melted butter, if desired.
--PJ Hamel, editor of The King Arthur Flour Baker's Catalogue
I Twist Soft Pretzels
Form the dough into 2-foot ropes and twist into pretzel shapes. Boil about half a minute, one at a time, in a large pan of water with baking soda, which helps the pretzels brown in the oven. Place on a lined baking sheet, brush with beaten egg yolk and water, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake until they're deep brown.
--David Joachim, coauthor of The Science of Good Food
I Top with Leftovers
Pizza gives me the chance to use up whatever is in my fridge--with or without tomato sauce (I actually prefer without). I scatter the dough with bits of cheese, sliced onion, leftover cooked veggies, the meatball from that restaurant I reviewed last night. I drizzle it with olive oil and bake. Once it's done, I often plop a green salad right on top.
--Stephanie Lyness, chef, writer, and restaurant reviewer for the New York Times regional section
I Make Pigs in a Blanket
I'll admit to a weakness for those little pastry-wrapped cocktail franks. They inspired this easy treat: Roll or press out the dough, paint it with mustard, and cut in strips. Wind the strips around fully cooked sausage links (Farmland's are best) and bake. So easy, and they're just as addictive as the original!
--Judith Hill, Prevention's food director
I Roll Pinwheels
Stretch the dough very thin, bake it until just done, and spread with black bean hummus, fresh cilantro, rehydrated sun-dried tomatoes, and shredded chicken. Roll it up and cut into 1-inch-thick pinwheels.
--Dale Van Sky, executive chef at Red Mountain Spa in St. George, UT
The Ultimate Burger
Lekka Burger satisfies comfort food cravings with nutritious ingredients.
For the past 11 years that she’s helmed her East Village vegetarian paradise, Dirt Candy, the James Beard-nominated chef Amanda Cohen has had one goal in mind: “Getting people to eat more vegetables.”
Cohen explains, “I live in a world of vegetables, and that’s what I always wanted to focus on.” Easier said than done, apparently, even when her inspired creations have included such legendary dishes as the sublime smoked cauliflower with waffles and addictive Korean fried broccoli. So when South African hospitality scion and philanthropist Andrea Kerzner approached her about creating a new vegan burger joint in Manhattan, with plans for expansion to other markets, the answer was an immediate and emphatic “Yes!”
Cohen sees it as a gateway food to bring people into the plant-based fold: “When it comes to comfort food, what’s more iconic than the hamburger?” she notes. “Every chef’s dream is to have a fast-casual place. I am no different than every other chef.”
She discovered the formulation that would become the Lekka (Afrikaans slang for “awesome” and “delicious”) burger while working with a Chinese food historian and testing ancient recipes. A top-secret technique, that, she allows, includes “a couple of different flours, beans, and mushrooms” and a combo of “sauteing, smoking and baking” creates a burger that’s not overly processed (like the lab-created options out there), decidedly not mushy and holds up on the grill for a wonderfully charred flavor. (They are now shipping nationwide for at-home grilling, via goldbelly.com.) Free of gluten, soy, GMOs and chemicals, and made fresh every day, “our burgers are really, truly whole food,” she says. “I’m not going to split a bean into molecules and atoms and just pull out the protein.”
Kerzner, Cohen’s business partner in the venture, which launched late last year with a space in Tribeca that pays homage to the American diner, notes that the health benefits are significant, compared to the competition: “A Beyond Burger is about 260 calories per patty, and ours is 160. If you start comparing ingredients, fiber and sodium, we’re way ahead of them.”
Not to mention the personal and planetary benefits over a beef patty. Lekka clocks in at roughly less than half the fat of USDA grass-fed beef (6.8 grams compared to about 15 grams) and zero cholesterol (compared to 88 mg).
“Thirty-one percent of our carbon footprint depends on the cattle and dairy industry,” notes Kerzner, citing a United Nations report that inspired Lekka’s birth. “My background has been in the nonprofit world, and working with children in poverty. Growing up in the hospitality field, I thought about what I could do to have some kind of impact on climate change. So my idea was to make a vegan burger that’s as delicious a burger as any meat-eating person would want.”
Recipe: Woman Crush Wednesday
WCW oh how I’ve missed you! It is great to be back after a bit of a break, to honor Woman Crush Wednesday recipient #94! Today’s fabulous female chef is the amazing Amanda Cohen of the famous Dirt Candy in New York City. This groundbreaking restaurant has set the bar for innovative and delicious veggie food! With scorching temperatures in London this week, I am looking forward to a quick, healthy recipe that doesn’t require turning on my oven! HELP Amanda!
While I was recently in New York, I had to forget about getting a reservation at the popular Dirt Candy any time soon. Though it is on my bucket list for sure. I am known for craving vegetables at all times, while still eating animal protein. Amanda, who is originally from Toronto, became a vegetarian in her teens. And her quest to find decent and flavorful veggie dishes on offer in restaurants compelled her to create her own. After formal training and stints at some well known NY eateries helped hone her craft, she opened Dirty Candy back in 2008. It’s on every magazine and food critic’s “best lists” and deservedly so. I really admire Amanda’s ethos of not allowing tipping for her wait staff. She pays them a fair wage and the diner just pays a little extra for the food as gratuity is built into the price. Talk about a Gorgeous Girl Boss!
Since I am super hungry just thinking about this dish of Amanda’s that I will recreate live on Snapchat (username blissbakery) I’d better get cracking on it! The star of the recipe is the often forgotten zucchini (or courgette as it is called over here on the other side of the pond). And with the help of my spiralizer I am looking forward to the Zucchini Noodles with Garlicky Sauce
Review: A secret vegan restaurant for real food lovers
Is this restaurant for me? It’s a question they’ve been asking on Sporkful, a great American food podcast. How do restaurants send out coded signals about the kind of people they want to attract and whether a restaurant can be for everyone? Chef Amanda Cohen of New York restaurant Dirt Candy nailed the two things restaurants do to say women aren’t welcome. The first is when the waiter hands the wine list to her husband. He knows nothing about wine. So that’s not just sexist it’s also stupid. The second is when the female wait staff are dressed differently to their male counterparts, in uniforms designed to be alluring.
I thought about it in a Dublin hotel recently, for a meeting with two people, when our coffee came with a side order of assumption. A black coffee and two cappuccinos arrived with the (manlier?) cup put down in front of the man, and the frothy cups given to us ladies. Except the black coffee was mine.
Tonight is all about assumptions. There’s been a vegan eye-roll thrown in the direction of the teenager by his Dad as we head out the door for dinner. In a warehouse. Served from a vegan food truck. Someone is in full-on judgy mode. He’s pretty certain this restaurant’s not for him.
It was during an interview with Trev O’Shea, the brains behind Dublin’s Eatyard, that I decided to visit Veginity. Food trucks aren’t bothered by reviewers coming in to slate them, O’Shea said. We flock to the bricks and mortar places. So this is a restaurant that’s not for me.
Veginity is a place for people in the know. It’s probably Dublin’s most secret dining spot. There are vague instructions about dodgy-looking laneways down by the Bernard Shaw pub on South Richmond Street. We’re really not sure until the metal door gives with a horror-movie creak that the place is even open. The only sign of life is a small green neon V high up on the unmarked warehouse and the smell of food.
Inside all is good – really good, not just virtuous good – so much so that I will have been back for more by the time you read this. Even the vegan sceptic sees the light by the end of the night and has sussed out where Veginity can be found when they’re not here.
Australian chef Mark Senn is at the helm and he greets lots of his customers by name. There is a high face- to head-hair ratio. A beard and buzz cut will make you blend in nicely. But they have proper tables, cutlery and water bottles, all of which are delivered with tonight’s menu. It’s Indian food. Each week there’s a different theme. We sit beside a shelf filled with glass sweet jars full of vegan ingredients: grains, pulses and spices. There are ginger roots the size of babies’ arms and mismatched jugs of water.
And it’s delightful, even a soybean burger, and those are words I would never have imagined uttering.
Curry leaf cauliflower comes on a beautiful plate like something from a much more expensive menu. The florets have been cloaked in batter and fried and then the whole lot is sprinkled with a finely chopped tomato coconut and red onion “chutney” that’s all lightness and zing with some lime juice and fennel seeds to lift everything.
A dosa, or airy pancake made from green mung bean flour, has been cooked and folded into a perfect tent over a bowl of tofu tikka masala. That would be enough but there’s also a beetroot thoran or salad. These are squares of beet laced with spice with the proper bite that lets you know these were cooked from scratch, not the mush that comes from boiled beets slithered from a vacpac. Then there are juicy celeriac bonda: deep fried balls of flavour.
My burger (which must come from the curry chips canon of Indian food) is as good as meat apart from its texture. Senn explains that he uses a seaweed jus and caramelised vegetables to add those base notes of umami that meat eaters crave. The result is a burger that is all burger apart from a tendency to disintegrate as you munch. The skin on triple-cooked chips tastes great right down to the last one.
Dessert is a shared plate of gulab jamun. These are deep fried golf ball sized mouthfulls typically made with milk solids but here they’re puréed pumpkin drenched in rose water syrup and sitting on a puddle of date and tamarind sauce. “I’ve found the secret of good vegan food,” the newly impressed dining companion says. “Deep fry everything.”
There is that but there is plenty else going on here too. Veginity is not a preachy, joyless experience where you forget the flavour and feel the virtue. It’s far from a luxurious setting. (You have to take care to step over the tow bar of a truck when you open the door to the loo.) The luxury is all on the plate in food cooked by a chef taking care to not only make it vegan but also to make it great, for prices that are a steal. And that’s my kind of place.
Verdict: 8/10 Yes it’s vegan but if you love food you’ll love it
Dinner for two with a mango lassi (it’s BYOB) came to €41
Veginity, Richmond Place South, Dublin 2 Thursday to Saturday nights from 5pm.
The First Vegetarian Elementary School Is Changing More Than Meals
Lunch at many public schools across New York City means chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks and mystery meat sandwiches. But at P.S. 244, The Active Learning Elementary School, in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, the menu sounds like this: Roasted Organic Tofu with Sweet Curry Sauce, Braised Black Beans with Plantains and Herbed Rice Pilaf, Chickpea Falafel with Creamy Tofu Dressing, Lettuce and Tomato and Loco Bread, and Mexican Bean Chili. In April, it became the first public school in the nation to become 100-percent vegetarian. But there's more. To drink, there's low-fat milk and water. No juice, no soda. And the salad bar looks like something from a very expensive day spa, not the 24-hour corner mart.
For Bob Groff, a co-founder and the principal of P.S. 244, and the man who turned his menu meatless, the need for better food was obvious. Kids were drinking neon sugary drinks, eating cheese puffs, losing focus and gaining weight. His students were not alone. Nationwide, one in three children and adolescents is obese or overweight, and childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. "There is a strong correlation between academic achievement and student health and nutrition," said Groff. "I wanted to prove that better nutrition could make a difference to students' lives."
The road from processed nuggets to homemade sesame tofu was a long one. It began in 2008 when Groff, who has a master's degree in public administration from Cornell and was a corps member of Teach For America, engaged a nonprofit called Fan 4 Kids to provide a health and nutrition class to grades kindergarten through three. "For the first couple of years, we felt like we needed to educate the kids about health and nutrition," he says. The classes include learning about food groups, information on exercise and how to read nutrition labels.
Groff also created a school Wellness Counsel with staff, parents and kids, and offered parent workshops on nutrition as well. In one of the meetings, Groff says, a student asked a question that truly put the ball in motion for bigger change. "The student said, 'chocolate milk has a lot of sugar -- why are we drinking this?’" Groff remembers. "I realized that the kids had learned how to read nutrition labels. For us, that was the real starting point to changing the menu."
To do so, Groff partnered with the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food (NYCHSF), a nonprofit that works with the New York City Office of School Foods to introduce plant-based foods and nutrition education in schools.
After a few months of wrangling, chocolate milk was a thing of the past. Next, NYCHSF received approval to serve one vegetarian dish a week, and effectively turned P.S. 244 into the test kitchen for vegetarian dishes across the city. To involve the entire school community, Groff and the NYCHSF started hosting annual family dinners to show parents the kinds of foods they wanted to serve at the school. Some parents were suspicious about what was being served to their kids. But others came around. "I had one father come up to me and say, 'I send my daughter to school with lunch every day, but now that I have tasted what you are serving I will never send her with lunch again,'" Groff remembers. Once kids started going home and requesting brown rice instead of white, and actually asking for broccoli, Groff knew those seeds of change had taken root. "You really see a transformation in the kids, because they are learning, and making changes at home," Groff says.
By 2012, Groff and NYCHSF were able to bump up the vegetarian meals to three per week. Groff also created an annual Health and Wellness week with yoga, family Zumba, races and parent workshops on healthy eating. By April 2013, the entire menu was vegetarian, a first in the nation, and a model ripe for reproduction.
Looking back on the journey, Groff says it was important to ramp up slowly and to start with education so that kids and their families understood the importance of the changes he was trying to make. He also says, emphatically, that he could not have done it without the help of the NYCHSF. "It’s a difficult road to navigate, in particular the process of ensuring that these dishes met the dietary requirements of USDA. Without the NYCHSF, we could never have made these changes. They bridged the gap because of their connections to the New York City Office of School Foods."
Since implementing these changes, Groff says he has seen evidence of improvement of more than just kids' eating habits. Attendance has increased every year to its current 96 percent attendance rate for the year (well above the city average of roughly 85 percent for 2012 to 2013). Groff’s kids also eat their lunch more than other kids about 77 percent, compared to the citywide average of 68 percent. His teachers have noticed that kids are more attentive in the afternoons whereas they used to see the sugar crash in full effect. But it's the school's test scores that have perhaps been the biggest indicator that good eating means good grades. His school is ranked 11th in New York State based on test scores, and that's without having a gifted and talented program.
In the future, Groff hopes to continue to introduce new menu items and plans to incorporate changes to the school's fitness program as well, including working with PTA to install a rock-climbing wall. "I am really excited about what we have been able to do as a school and I am looking forward to continuing to do that and helping other people do the same."
Andrea Strong is a freelance writer whose work often appears in Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She's probably best known as the creator of The Strong Buzz, her food blog about New York City restaurants. She lives in Brooklyn with her two kids, her husband and her big appetite.