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."
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."