Anatomy of a Dish: Brussels Sprouts Tacos
Amanda Cohen has always had a sense of humor—she is the chef, after all, who makes hot dogs out of broccoli and wrote a cookbook in graphic novel form. And now that she's moved her much-loved, critically acclaimed vegetarian restaurant, Dirt Candy, out of its shoe-box-size original location in the East Village and into roomier digs on the Lower East Side, Cohen is really letting her fun flag fly.
The bulked-up menu has some old favorites (like the aforementioned broccoli hot dog), but more space means more options, and bigger ones, too. "I knew I wanted to do some large-format dishes," Cohen says. "I wanted to make something interactive that people could share." That idea, combined with an eye-opening trip to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula for the culinary thinktank Cook It Raw, led to the creation of one of Cohen's most popular new dishes, Brussels Sprout Tacos ($30).
"We considered making a traditional Brussels sprout taco, but I thought that would be boring," Cohen says. Instead, she serves roasted and crisped sprouts on a sizzling-hot lava stone (more on that in a minute) with lettuce cups in lieu of tortillas, and a smorgasbord of toppings on the side. "It's fun to have something 'cooked' at the table," Cohen says. "It's like getting fajitas in the 90s!"
Here's how it's done.
① Lava Stone: The sprouts are served on a slab of sizzling rock, which, over the course of an hour sitting on the restaurant's grill, reaches a temperature of about 500 degrees. "They bake in fire and stay hot for a long long time," Cohen says. In other words: Watch your fingers!
② Brussels Sprouts: The sprouts are tossed in a black recado, an aromatic paste of herbs, vinegar, nuts and seeds that Cohen was introduced to in the Yucatán. "I'd never seen them before, but there are recados of all different colors and flavors in giant piles at the markets, and they're so fascinating," she says. The paste gives the sprouts, which are sautéed and then roasted, a deeply herbal aroma and flavor. A few crispy fried sprout leaves are scattered on top for crunch.
③ Smoked Avocado: Cohen pulls together a makeshift smoker with wood chips and a foil pan, then mixes together chunks of smoked and fresh avocado for a guacamole-esque topping that's tempting to eat straight.
④ Salsa Verde: Cohen grills tomatillos and serrano peppers until they're deeply charred and blends them with cilantro, garlic and onion to make the classic Mexican sauce.
⑤ Pickled Red Onions and Jalapeños: The onions are pickled with a simple lime juice solution, while the peppers get an escabeche-like treatment with white vinegar and salt. "Our last few batches of jalapeños have been really spicy, so watch out," Cohen says.
Etc.: Sliced radishes, tortilla strips, Mexican crema, queso fresco, fresh lime.
As for the perfect bite, Cohen is all about balance: "For me, it's always spicy, sour and a little creamy, so I'd do a little jalapeño, some lime and crema. You don't have to put every topping on every taco—that's why we give you a lot of lettuce, and we'll gladly give you more if you ask!"
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