A new batch of cookbooks: soups and stews to lotus root

The Complete Book of Soups and Stews, by Bernard Clayton Jr. (Simon & Schuster, $17.95). Bernard Clayton started his career as a reporter and foreign correspondent. While he retained his roving habits after switching to food writing, he also kept his clarity and succinct style. His first book, ``The Complete Book of Breads,'' was true to its title -- and so is this one on marvelous stews, chowders, and other common American classics as well as new and international dishes.

Among other tips, Mr. Clayton gives the pros and cons of homemade vs. canned stock, along with little gimmicks and tricks to improve the basics.

There are, for example, a half dozen recipes for pea soup -- including a Swiss version, an English one with mint, a couple made with green split peas, and one with curry. An excellent book, with many ideas for economical main-dish meals.

More of the Best of Bon Appetit (Jan Weimer Knapp Press/Crown Pub., $24.95). This is an all-new collection of colorful, easy-to-follow recipes for everything from hearty soups and elegant appetizers to spectacular main dishes and irresistible desserts. The accompanying photographs are beautiful, as they usually are in themonthly magazine.

The book gives tips on wise shopping, efficient preparation, and attractive serving. There are also interviews with chefs and experts who influence what we eat and how it is prepared, plus a group of readers' favorite restaurant recipes.

Chinese Cooking Secrets by Karen Lee (Doubleday $22.95). This book can take its place among anyone's basic cookbook library. It has detailed instructions for beginners but is also appropriate for a Chinese cook who has progressed beyond chow mein.

Photographs of specific techniques are great and help with such tasks as peeling a hairy melon or slicing lotus root. The first half of the book gives a fascinating history of Chinese cooking, regional distinctions, and eating in China today.

The Green Thumb Harvest by Johanna and Patricia Halsey (Vintage Books $8.95, paper). The two authors of this book, along with their parents and brothers, operate a roadside vegetable stand known as The Green Thumb.

People come from all around to buy and enjoy fresh vegetables -- sweet corn, green beans, and tomatoes -- grown on the farm which has been in the family since 1640.They chat and exchange recipes and cooking ideas as they shop.

Out of this sharing came the idea for the book, which consists mostly of recipes from customers, plus some from the Halsey family. Since the fresh produce business has only three seasons in New York State, the book is divided into Spring, Summer, and Fall sections with the names of the contributors on each recipe.

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