Dirt Candy:  a Cookbook

Vegetables are good, okay? They taste great and you can make great meals out of just vegetables! But, did you know that 75% of American meals have no vegetables at all? None!

Enter Amanda Cohen, her NYC restaurant, Dirt Candy, and the brand new cookbook/graphic novel she’s written to help get more people to appreciate veggies and incorporate them into their lives and diets. This hilarious and engaging graphic novel explores not only her very humble beginnings as a woman with a dream – a dream to not only own her own restaurant that would feature vegetables, but to also develop ways to make cooking veggies easy and fun for the reader. Making her dream become reality definitely wasn’t easy, from nightmarish contractors and unruly customers to Martha Stewart and the Food Network, she’s worked hard and Dirt Candy has earned a spot as one of the best restaurants in the country. Yay, veggies!

Yes; Amanda had a dream, but it took time, money, and sweat (human and vegetable!) to get there. Along the way she learned that vegetables have gotten a bad rap in America, whereas in other countries like India and China vegetables are important parts of every meal and they are used in much more creative and flavorful ways. As she worked hard to get Dirt Candy (vegetables are candy that come from the dirt) off the ground, she developed new ways to keep veggies fresh and bright and learned that different cooking techniques bring out different flavors and attributes of vegetables.

Luckily for readers, she passes that all along to us. How do you start a pan? How do you sweat or caramelize vegetables? You’ll find out thanks to Amanda’s explanations and Ryan Dunlavey’s great illustrations. Fun recipes like Spring Pea Flan, Portobello Mousse, and Carrot Risotto are included. And there are many, many more sprinkled throughout the book, from appetizers and salads to entrees and desserts, every meal is covered. Plus there are vegan variations for 99% of the recipes – awesome!

This book is a fun mix of Amanda’s story of how she got her restaurant off the ground as well as simple cooking techniques and recipes for the readers to try at home. Amanda does a wonderful job of seamlessly mixing her personal stories with directions for the readers, as well as delivering historical bits of information about vegetables and their journey through our culinary lives. From contractors that swindled her out of money to her stint as the first vegetarian chef on Iron Chef America, Amanda brings readers along on a fun journey of reminiscing and teaching.

Ryan Dunlavey’s illustrations fit this book perfectly with their whimsical, cartoony goodness in black and white lines. Readers meet many of the stars of Amanda’s restaurant and Ryan really brings them to life, giving them personality and spunk that make all the characters jump off the page. The recipes and illustrations work well together and readers will get a kick out of how Ryan chooses to illustrate certain situations. It’s set up in a basic panel format and it’s very easy to follow, even with the complicated captions that often accompany the illustrations. Just reading her story wouldn’t be as fun without seeing it in pictures. What a fun book for vegetarians, vegans, graphic novel enthusiasts, and cookbook lovers alike!

Dirt Candy: a Cookbook
by Amanda Cohen
Art by Ryan Dunlavey
ISBN: 9780307952172
Clarkson Potter, 2012

  • Traci

    | She/Her

    Traci has been a graphic novel selector and collections coordinator for kids and teens in libraries in Arizona and Oregon since 2005. She served as the chair of YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection committee, and served as a member of the Great Graphic Novels for Teens blogging team. She previously coordinated the Oregon Young Adult Network’s Graphic Rave list, OYAN’s yearly list of the best graphic reads for teens. Traci is a member of ALA, YALSA, and GNCRT. And, she achieved her greatest dream ever by serving as a judge for the 2019 Eisner Awards.

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