Ripe: Crayola Wishes It Could Make These Colors

Crayola can't make these colors, but we can eat them. The unique cookbook Ripe approaches fruits and vegetables in a way we haven't seen before. Pick a color, any color, and you can find it in the book and then at your local market.

Author Cheryl Sternman Rule and photographer Paulette Phlipot arranged the book by color and filled it with more photos than recipes. But make no mistake, this is a cookbook; it's just not tied to the conventional photo plus recipe, repeat method. Cheryl gives us so much more than recipes, and Paulette saturates our senses with jaw-dropping photography.

The book is arranged into color chapters: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Purple, Blue and, finally, White. You can find all the common vegetables and fruits (cherries, bananas, plums, corn, potatoes and kale) but also a few uncommon but very tasty ones (kumquats, persimmons, lemons, jicama, parsnips and squash blossoms). Lemons aren't an uncommon fruit, but it is uncommon to cook with them as the major ingredient.

While neither Cheryl nor Paulette are vegetarians, according the cookbook, they "prefer the freshness, flavor, and simplicity of produce. On any day of the week, at any time of the day, we'd just rather make out with a juicy watermelon than a floppy piece of chicken." There is nothing floppy about any vegetable or fruit in this book.

Cheryl has included some truly inventive, delicious and comforting recipes: Thai-style pomelo salad; wine-braised artichokes with feta and orecchiette; apricot frangipane galette; and papaya with coconut ice cream. She takes you on a journey of sweet, savory, tangy, salty, creamy and peppery, with only fruits and vegetables. What's special is how each fruit or vegetable is presented. If Cheryl didn't include a single recipe, it would still be one of the more useful tools on my library shelf.

Cheryl introduces each fruit or vegetable with some history, trivia or a personal story. Her writing style is inviting, compelling and even sometimes jaunty. It is a joy to read. Cheryl shares a tip about how to prepare, find, cook, substitute, etc. each vegetable that is very useful. Then she does something that no other cookbook author, that I have read, has done. She includes a section under each fruit or vegetable called: Simple Uses. For every piece of produce presented, she gives three simple and quick uses - salad, side, gratin, soup, grilled, pudding, etc.

For example, under corn, the simple uses are: "Quesadillas = whole wheat tortillas + roasted corn + pepper jack cheese + red pepper + salsa, Salad = corn + black beans + cotija chesse + shredded romaine + chile vinaigrette, Corn pudding = corn + diced onion + dices bell pepper + cream + eggs + cheddar cheese." The recipe for the corn section is Corn with Cilantro Lime Salt, so Cheryl gives you three extra simple throw-togethers in addition to the actual recipe.

Her simple uses for clementines are: "Side = clementines + stock cooked couscous + capers + pine nuts + chickpeas + shallots, Basic Salad = clementines + baby spinach + kidney beans + red wine vinaigrette, Sophisticated Salad = clementines + Belgian endive + black olives + clementine vinaigrette." The main clementine recipe is Clementine Creamsicle Milk Shakes.

The Simple Uses sections in Ripe are what separate this cookbook from every other cookbook. Cheryl will please the cook who has to have exact measurements or likes very complex recipes. But Cheryl also addresses the foodie who loves to just cook with the ingredients on hand, by what sounds good at that moment. I, for one, am grateful, as I am exactly that kind of cook. I rarely follow a savory recipe to the letter, so I like the idea of a list of ingredients that I can combine as I taste, see and feel.

Paulette Phlipot has taken some of the most beautiful pictures of fruit and vegetables that I ever may have seen. They are vibrant, crisp, colorful, fresh and artful. It is clear she shares Cheryl's love for produce. The pictures make you feel like you're in a farmers market at the peak of every season on a bright sunny day, an icy glass of lemonade in hand as you stroll the stands. As a foodie, I would buy Ripe as a photography book alone. This book does not deserve to stay on a shelf. It demands to be out in the open so everyone can see its beauty.

As Cheryl and Paulette say, "Don't eat your fruits and veggies because your mama told you to. Eat them because you want them in every sense of the word. Because seeing them in the market, at the produce stand, on an iPhone, or in the pages of a cookbook accelerates your pulse and makes you very, very hungry."

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Patrise Shuttlesworth