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.
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.
The Supper Book, by Marion Cunningham (Knopf, $22). Always an inspired cook, the author who brought the Fanny Farmer cookbook up to date restores supper to its traditional place as an easy, light, flexible meal. She lists foods to stock for simple meals to put together with what's on hand, including Shepherd's Pie, Tomato Rarebit, and Peaches on Sugared Toast.
Dining With Proust, by Anne Borrel, Alain Senderens, and Jean-Bernard Naudin (Random House, $40). Marcel Proust's masterpiece, "Remembrance of Things Past," contains an amazingly detailed portrait of entertaining, as Proust wrote about childhood memories linked to his early sense of taste.
His manuscripts, valuable records of the culture of the belle epoque in Paris before World War I, tell of dining, sparkling society, and marvelous food served at events.
Drawing on his knowledge of Proust's work, Alain Senderens, three-star chef of the French restaurant Lucas Carton, has revised recipes from the manuscripts to go with Proust's memories, such as the description of sipping tea with the madeleines that started all the remembering.
The book is a blend of food, literature, art, and history with 60 delicious recipes and magnificent modern photo illustrations, as well as vintage photographs and excerpts from the authors novels and letters.
Potager: Fresh Garden Cooking in the French Style, by Georgeanne Brennan, photographs by John Vaughn (Chronicle Books, $29.95, $18.95 paper). Green cabbages and kale, red pomegranates, cranberries, and pumpkins add color and flavor to the winter potager, or French kitchen garden. Getting fresh foods from a small space (or from a farmer's market) means learning the subtleties of vegetables' ripeness.
Divided into seasons, each group of simple recipes is beautifully illustrated.
Seafood: A Connoisseur's Guide and Cookbook, by Alan Davidson, illustrated by Charlotte Knox (Simon and Schuster, $20, paper). Davidson, a well-traveled scholar, is highly qualified to compare various traditions of seafood cuisine in this, his third book on seafood. He gives us an exquisite guide to clearly organized family groups of fish, crustaceans, and mollusks of the world's oceans. Recipes are selected from around the world, some from remote fishing villages.
Classic Russian Cooking, translated by Joyce Toomre (Indiana University Press, $39.95). This 150-year-old classic, "a Bible of upper-class Russian homemakers," is a treasure for culinary historians.
It gives a delightful and fascinating picture of the foods of pre-Communist Russia. Joyce Toomre's scholarship is on display in her translating more than 1,000 recipes.
Cooking Caribe, by Christopher Idone, with Helen McEachrane (Panache Press-Clarkson Potter, $25). A most attractive book, with recipes reflecting a melange of produce and cultures that typify island cuisine. It contains vibrant paintings of local scenes by Paula Munck, as well as witty vignettes and delicious sauces and stews. Among them: Curried Lobster and Squid, Snapper with Black Bean and Ginger Sauce, and Mango Fool.
Tasting Brazil: Regional Recipes and Reminiscences, by Jessica B. Harris (Macmillan, $23). Harris draws on her many visits to Brazil for cultural and historic background, and includes recipes developed for the the Brazilian's sweet tooth and voracious appetite for seafood. She includes lists of where ingredients can be found in the United States.