As chef of Dirt Candy, the indulgent East Village vegetarian restaurant, the trouble for Amanda Cohen isn’t figuring out what to eat but remembering to. “It’s easy to forget to eat when you work in a kitchen, oddly enough. My only concern is making sure I’m eating enough and a wide range of things,” she says.
Cohen, who’s played a role in a number of New York City’s high-profile vegetarian kitchens like Teany and Pure Food and Wine, doesn’t think of vegetarianism in terms of health, per se, and her rich haute-vegetarian fare at Dirt Candy reflects this. Take a look at what she stocks for her long nights in the kitchen.
You have Chinese pastes! What do you make with them? I have a ton of Chinese sauces. Every few months I find myself at Grand Dynasty supermarket, which has an endless sauce aisle, and I wind up buying anything that grabs my eye because they almost never go bad, and they’re great on noodles or rice. Except, of course, for the sambal, which I put on anything that holds long enough to be eaten: toast, pizza, my finger.
What else? Can you give us a quick tour? There’s orange juice—I have it on my cereal instead of milk. There’s broccoli for roasting, maple syrup, Frank’s hot sauce—it’s the hot sauce you use to make Buffalo tofu and I’ve gotten addicted to it. Rick’s Picks pickles, and then behind that are several quart containers of pickled squash blossoms that I use to make squash blossom relish at Dirt Candy. I ran out of room in my fridge at the restaurant for them so they’re living in my home fridge for now.
Is this pretty indicative of what’s usually in your fridge? I usually have a few vegetables that are in the process of going bad on the lower shelf (or beer). But my fridge has been having issues lately, so I’m trying not to use the crisper drawer. Also I’m often stocked up on Middle Eastern dips and flatbread from Kalustyans, an Indian spice store/supermarket/wonderland around the corner from my apartment. I’m big on toasting flatbread and having it with baba ghanoush or hummus and some feta.
As a vegetarian chef, what are some of your favorite vegetables? I spy baby carrots. Actually I really dislike baby carrots. My husband must have bought those. I go through a lot of spinach and I roast lots of cauliflower and broccoli. Mainly because all of those require little-to-no work. But I usually buy whatever vegetables I can find.
Is getting enough protein ever a concern? I eat a fair amount of cheese, nuts, and tofu and vegetables. I think a big deal is made over the whole, “Are you getting enough protein?” thing, and I’m not sure how much it matters. I eat what I feel like eating, and I’ve done so for years and I haven’t fainted yet.
Please tell us about the Vegemite! Is there anything you do with it aside from putting it on toast? Doing anything with Vegemite besides putting it on toast is blasphemous!
Dirt Candy dishes are not shy of butter or oil, do you ever worry about your health? I really don’t worry about my health and what I eat. I have a salad almost every day as part of our family meal here. My only concern is that it’s way too easy to snack on bread at the restaurant. Nothing’s wrong with bread, but when it starts to become 50 percent of your diet simply because it’s right there, it’s a sign to cut back! —Bora Chang
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