AMANDA COHEN'S new Dirt Candy stands out for a few reasons: It's a vegetarian cookbook that focuses on innovative vegetable preparations, and it's got longish autobiographical chapters written in comic-book form. But where it really shines is in comparison with the average restaurant cookbook, those glossy hardbacks full of pretty photos, overblown writing, and the general sense that the white-clad chef on the cover hasn't spent much time in the kitchen recently.
In contrast, Dirt Candy is firmly rooted in the day-to-day experience of working in a restaurant. Restaurant kitchens are hot and everyone yells a lot; the customer is your mortal enemy, and your coworkers are probably crazy and definitely good with knives. As Cohen describes her experience opening a restaurant in New York City, writing about developing recipes and dealing with customers, she hammers home a point those other fancy chefs never do: Cooking isn't magic, it's work. The upside is that it's work anyone can do, and her blunt, no-nonsense instructions (some written in comics form, some not) break down complex recipes into simple, manageable tasks.
The innovative recipes in Dirt Candy include toasted carrot buns and kimchee doughnuts, fennel funnel cakes and molten beet cake; it belongs next to the Hot Knives cookbook and Yotam Ottolengthi's Plenty on your shelf of vegetarian cookbooks that focus on actual delicious vegetables. The world doesn't need another tofu scramble recipe—but broccoli ice cream? That it just might.