Slideshow: Vegetable Heroes: Dirt Candy

Carrot ($13): steamed barbecue carrot buns, cucumber & sesame ginger salad
Carrot ($13): steamed barbecue carrot buns, cucumber & sesame ginger salad
Replacing pork with carrots might not be the easiest way to make friends, but Chef Cohen coaxes crazy richness from the root vegetable in her steamed buns. Each has a different hue that corresponds to a specific carrot variety. The sweet carrot "hoisin" sauce is for dipping, and a zippy salad of white carrot and cucumber, with a carrot halvah crumble, is a refreshing counterpoint.
Celery ($12): king oyster mushrooms, celery, pesto, grilled grapes, cheese curds
Celery ($12): king oyster mushrooms, celery, pesto, grilled grapes, cheese curds
Although this dish celebrates celery, it's the grilled grapes that first jump out and grab you. They have a deep, dark caramel sweetness, an unexpectedly complex flavor. Grilled king oyster mushrooms have a texture like calamari, the chef says, so they're here for their meatiness as much as their earthiness. A celery leaf pesto binds this composed salad together. Celery-crusted fried cheese curds—like mini-mozzarella sticks for veg-heads—will be the first things to disappear.
Chard ($19): chard gnocchi, grilled chard, garlic granola & drunken fig jam
Chard ($19): chard gnocchi, grilled chard, garlic granola & drunken fig jam
"People go crazy for it," says Chef Cohen of this, her most popular dish at the moment. The gnocchi here keep company with flavors both sweet (caramelized yogurt, drunken fig jam) and sour (pickled chard stems). A thick goat cheese sauce at the bottom provides richness, and garlic granola scattered over the top brings pungency and crunch into the picture.
Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu ($12): grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton candy, mascarpone
Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu ($12): grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton candy, mascarpone
Every vegetable they use at Dirt Candy becomes a dessert at some point, Chef Cohen says. Spinach is the only exception that comes to mind. Eggplant, then, is fair game. First conceptualized as a sweet take on baba ganoush, her eggplant tiramisu layers rosemary ladyfingers with mascarpone and grilled eggplant. A fat cloud of rosemary cotton candy—sweet, savory, and most importantly, fun—floats alongside.