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Cookbooks Capture New Tastes

By Phyllis HanesSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 10, 1992


ALTHOUGH there are occasional old-fashioned dishes and "comfort food" recipes in this year's cookbooks, bookstore shelves indicate Americans are exploring the cuisines of many countries - from China to the Caribbean, from Mexico to Greece, and from Brazil to Nepal.

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New York bookseller Nach Waxman says, "There is tremendous interest in stronger-flavored foods from the Caribbean, Asia, Africa, wherever there is something new, different, and challenging for the cook. Opposed to that is the appeal of very traditional, homey food - these cozy American books."

Italian cuisine is by far the favorite way to cook all over America [see Italian cookbooks reviewed in the Nov. 19 Monitor, page 12], but many other new subjects make for a wide selection for home cooking and holiday giving. Here are some to consider:

Food From My Heart: Cuisines of Mexico Remembered and Reimagined, by Zarela Martinez (Macmillan, $25). This ebullient writer brings to life a Mexican family through her fascinating personal adventures, from a childhood spent on a Mexican cattle ranch to the opening of her restaurant. Here is a broad picture of the cultural life of her country, going beyond the mechanics of cooking. A genius with flavors, Martinez also weaves in a most readable story in explaining her own modern Mexican cuisine.

China Moon Cookbook, by Barbara Tropp (Workman Publishing, $24.95, paper $14.95). This new book is a stunning combination of Chinese tastes and techniques, with a California flair. Chef and owner of San Francisco's China Moon Cafe, Tropp's bistro recipes are stir-fries, sand pots (casseroles), baby-green salads, and dim sum. There are noodle pillows, Buddha buns, and wonderful duck dishes that are light and fresh, yet as balanced as yang and yin.

Fanny at Chez Panisse, by Alice Waters with Bob Carrau and Patricia Curtan (HarperCollins, $20). Fanny, the 7-year-old daughter of Alice Waters, tells the story of a child's life at her mother's celebrated restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. There are 46 recipes, all Fanny's. "Some of them I learned from my mom and friends," she says, "others I've just made up." Line drawings are charming and colorful.

Back to Square One: Old-World Food in a New-World Kitchen, by Joyce Goldstein (Morrow, $23). As in her first book, "The Mediterranean Kitchen," this well-known California chef delves into cuisines of many countries, combining Portuguese ingredients with Italian techniques in Duck and Sausage Risotto, an Italian fritto misto with a subcontinental twist from India, and Ashe Maste, a classic Persian yogurt soup. Her multicultural recipes are cooked with simple techniques in a cuisine that is modest in fats and sugars, and includes lots of grains.

Yamuna's Table: Healthful Vegetarian Cuisine Inspired by the Flavors of India, by Yamuna Devi (Dutton, $23). Yamuna's first book, "Lord Krishna's Cuisine," won top awards five years ago for its classical Indian vegetarian dishes. In her new book, Devi has a way of mixing Indian and Western foods for exciting, original flavors. A dish is as likely to be seasoned by ancho chiles as by ginger, or to include cranberries as lentils. Intriguing is her use of olive-, vegetable-, and fruit-oil sprays, and a reci pe for maple cream as a substitute for whipped cream.

The easy recipes use natural foods for light, lively, meatless cooking.