Disregard everything you’ve ever learned about cooking vegetables. With this edict as her guide, Chef Amanda Cohen has been delighting both minds and stomachs in the heart of New York’s East Village. Raised in Toronto, battle-tested across the kitchens of New York, Amanda is widely regarded as a pioneer for her innovative cuisine, and as a leading female voice in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
“At Dirt Candy we feature vegetables. We fought for this idea that we were a vegetable restaurant, and not a vegetarian restaurant, and that’s really how we think of it. The fact that we’re vegetarian is secondary. Our main focus is changing people’s perceptions about vegetables. Here we look at a vegetable as having many parts, as many parts as a cow. And then we think about how we can break it down into many smaller, delicious parts to bring out the most flavor.”
The Flavor Bible by Karen Page & Andrew Dornenberg “I’ve been obsessed with it for years.”
“I’ve been doing this for about 15 years, I’ve read hundreds of cookbooks and eaten in close to a thousand different restaurants; that all combines to serve as a sort of ever-boiling pot of ideas in my brain. When the next idea looks done, I fish it out and start experimenting with it.”
Before Dirt Candy, I’d never thought much about parsley. It was those little dried-up green bits sprinkled around a plate, the sharp, curly little stalks stuck on top of terrible dishes of Italian food you used to eat when you flew on airplanes. It’s a nonentity, an un-vegetable, the least exciting herb in the kingdom of herbs and spices. But it has become my go-to herb at Dirt Candy.
I love greens, and I love that herbaceous, green, springtime flavor that a lot of vegetables have. But sometimes, especially in winter, they don’t have it. They lack that last bit of green punch that I want to squeeze out of them. They’re not as green as I want them to be. Enter parsley. The same way that citrus brightens flavors without overwhelming them, flat leaf parsley (not the curly kind) brightens that green flavor without overpowering the vegetable’s original taste. It’s the citrus of the herb world, a flavor enhancer that truly enhances, not replaces.
It’s in the cucumber soup I make, puréed to add color and brighten the flavor, a taste that I don’t think anyone could identify on its own. I throw it into my stocks, stem and all, to add freshness. I blend it into oils all the time and I throw it on top of dishes, chopped up and sprinkled over them like confetti, sometimes hidden by sexier-looking microgreens, but always adding some herbaceous brightness. I add it into the hot oil along with garlic and onions at the start of a dish when I’m heating the pan before getting down to serious cooking.
As long as it’s properly cleaned (because it’s an herb that often shows up looking like it’s been rolling around in the mud), parsley is the greatest ingredient in my kitchen. Chefs often “finish” a dish with a dash of lime juice or one last bit of butter to tweak the flavor before it goes out to a table, sort of like that final blast of hair spray for a pageant competitor. To that arsenal, I’ve now added a last fistful of parsley, an herb that I never really thought about before but that has become an essential player in my kitchen.