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Cookbook Watch: 'Ripe' by Cheryl Sternman Rule, Paulette Phlipot

June 5, 2012 |  8:00 am

RIPE_optCelery pretty much equals boring, right? It conjures up images of stringy diet food or rabbit fare, and it's not exactly photogenic. Or is it?

If you flip to page 173 of the new cookbook, "Ripe: A Fresh, Colorful Approach to Fruits and Vegetables," you'll find a stop-you-in-your-tracks photo of celery that might best be described as a lovely, flower-tipped bouquet. Accompanying that is a suggested dish that probably isn't on anyone's diet plan: a braised celery gratin rich with butter, wine and Gruyere.

That's mission accomplished for the cookbook's authors, food writer Cheryl Sternman Rule and food photographer Paulette Phlipot, who set out to reset the nation's mindset about fruits and vegetables.

This is not a cookbook aimed at foodies -- although foodies will certainly find much to enjoy in its pages. Instead, Rule and Phlipot envisioned their audience as the very people who wrinkle up their noses at the thought of eating anything green and blanch at the thought of a meat-free meal.

"If I were eating broccoli or string beans boiled until they were gray, I would hate them too," said Rule, a Silicon Valley food writer and author of the popular food blog 5 Second Rule. "When people tell me they hate vegetables I ask them: 'How are you cooking them?'"

More often than not, she's met with blank stares. That's because they're not cooking their own vegetables, and have no idea where to start.

Enter "Ripe."

It's a charming, playful guide to the most common fruits and vegetables you're most likely to encounter at supermarkets and farmer's market. Organized according to hue -- the "red" chapter brings you cherries, watermelon, pomegranates, etc. -- the cookbook thankfully sidesteps the preachiness that you might fear in a primer intended to coax us into eating more veggies.

Each piece of produce is beautifully photographed by Phlipot, and followed by buying and preparation tips as well as simple dish suggestions and recipes. (For the cooking-phobic among us, many of the recipes involve zero cooking. Like, avocado and tangerine salsa. Or watercress butter. Or this recipe for a colorful tower of thinly sliced persimmons and apples and radicchio leaves drizzled with a simple apple cider vinaigrette.)

"Ripe" is a nearly 50-50 balance of photos and text, making for an airy, inviting style. "We did not want to overwhelm people with information. We wanted to welcome people into the fold without hitting them over the head," Rule said in a recent interview with the Times.

Rule, like all food writers, is well aware of the nation's obesity problem. And while she doesn't blame food writers for it, she feels they can be part of the solution if they would only remember the many Americans standing on the outside looking in.

Many Americans want to learn how to cook but simply never learned how, she says. They have no idea what to do with a stalk of broccoli. And they would have a hard time picking kale out of a leafy lineup.

"There are so many people out there who want to eat better, but they don't know where to start," she said. "They are busy and they have other priorities. That's our opportunity -- not just me, all food writers -- to reach out to those people and broaden the umbrella a bit."

ALSO:

MAP: Explore your local farmers market

Market Fresh: Cooking through the seasons

Eat and drink: L.A. Times restaurant reviews and finds

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Cover photo: Paulette Phlipot

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