Lower East Side
Amanda Cohen is not Team Turkey. From a very young age, she decided that the grand dame of Thanksgiving, as she calls it, simply wasn’t worth it.
First off, Cohen — the acclaimed chef and owner behind Dirt Candy, one of New York’s preeminent vegetarian fine dining restaurants — had already begun to scorn meat as a child. She was a vegetarian for 15 years, but isn’t anymore, and says she’ll try anything once. “Sitting at a table with the whole turkey carcass was particularly offensive to my young self,” she laughs.
Secondly, growing up in a Jewish family in Canada meant that the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur took precedence over Canadian Thanksgiving, which occurs on the second Monday in October. And when her family did celebrate, it never seemed “as big a deal as it looked on American television.”
Still, that doesn’t stop her from going all out during her adoptive country’s national holiday. Dirt Candy isn’t open on Thanksgiving day. It’s a choice Cohen made, preferring to give her employees the day off to spend with their families. But year after year, the heightened holiday season always drew her and her team to new kitchen experiments, behind the scenes.
“We were trying to think of the most over-the-top Thanksgiving we could do as vegetarians, that didn’t just have your basic, like… sides, or risotto, or whatever it is that people put in front of you, like tofurkey,” Cohen says. “We wanted something that was more exciting than the turkey.”
This once led to a crispy, deep-fried butternut squash stuffed with truffles that could be carved out and shared, and boasted a multitude of textures, just like a turkey. Or to the trifle cake she and her team reimagined as a savory treat, studding the layers with colorful beets and goat cheese (recipe here). Most importantly, these dishes checked off all the necessary boxes: They were indulgent, stunning centerpieces made for family-style sharing, and in true Dirt Candy fashion, completely turned vegetables on their heads.
If you’d rather stick to unbeatable vegetarian sides though, Cohen fiercely believes that you can never go wrong with roasting. “There’s almost no vegetable that isn’t delicious roasted. I cannot think of one,” she says. However, she is adamant about one thing: You should completely disregard the entrenched “throw vegetables in at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes” thinking. That does a disservice to vegetables, she argues. Instead, she advises to either crank your temperature up and cook your vegetables for a much shorter time, or considerably lower your oven temperature and cook them for a longer time.
Otherwise, there’s always mashed potatoes, which to her means “lots of butter, lots of salt, a little bit of cream.” Regardless of what you do, Cohen reiterates, “Food should always be secondary. Loved ones are first.”
Dirt Candy is currently open for outdoor dining for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday. Order Dirt Candy takeout and delivery here.