Cookbook review: Cooking by taste and by hue

‘Cook Color: A Rainbow of 100 Recipes’ by Maria Zizka (Artisan, $35)
"Cook Color" by Maria Zizka (Artisan, $35)

Credit: Handout

Combined ShapeCaption
"Cook Color" by Maria Zizka (Artisan, $35)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

We “eat with our eyes,” the old saying goes, and so it’s only natural for us to consider the colors that go into our food choices. Often we think in terms of contrast: a sprig of parsley to spruce up a plain bowl of rice, for instance.

In writing “Cook Color: A Rainbow of 100 Recipes” (Artisan, $35), Maria Zizka encourages us to take the opposite approach now and then as an exercise in understanding how color, flavor and health are often intertwined.

“Our eyes see a certain color, our brain imagines specific textures and flavors, and our tongue confirms those expectations,” writes Zizka, a prolific cookbook author who studied biology at the University of California, Berkeley and food culture at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in northern Italy.

Recipes are organized as a gradient, from white to black, with every color in between. Each recipe aims to “show you how to make food that radiates a particular hue in all its glory.”

Seasonality, technique and plating guide the thought processes behind her creations. Produce is most vibrant, flavorfuland nutritious picked fresh from the field. The cooking method you choose can determine the brightness of a stalk of asparagus, or brownness of an onion slice. An ivory platter can provide a matte border to accentuate the golden shades of Lemon Turmeric Cake with Mango Blossom, or the purple skins of Sweet-and-Sour Eggplant, Sichuan-Style.

Cooking within a single color scheme can lead us to unfamiliar ingredients and exciting new flavor combinations we wouldn’t have discovered otherwise: Pavlova with Vanilla Cream, White Dragon Fruit, and Nectarines; Apple-Fennel Salad with Goat Cheese and Pistachio Pesto; Sungold Tomato Gazpacho ; Blueberry Branzino; Black Tahini Cookies.

In the back, Zizka offers ideas for creating color-focused menus to honor a nationality, celebrate a sports team victory, play up a holiday theme, or reinforce a chosen palette for a wedding.

One ingredient absent from these pages, though, is artificial food coloring. As Zizka makes clear, “There’s no need, when beets are already a rich magenta and purple potatoes look like the starry midnight sky.”

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at

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