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For the Kitchen Bookshelf : Cookbooks. Big books, little books, showy cocktail table books . . . all arrive in time for holiday shopping each year. The Times' Food staff took a look at some of this year's offerings, many of which will make excellent gift choices for last-minute shoppers. Here's a rundown on some we found interesting.

December 21, 1986|BARBARA HANSEN

A Taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey (Atheneum: $29.95, 255 pages, illustrated).

Madhur Jaffrey manages a double-barreled career. Her moving performances in such films as "Shakespeare Wallah" and "Heat and Dust" span many years. Simultaneously, she has become an exponent of the art of Indian cookery through television and a number of books. This latest work is a regional cookbook, illustrated not just with photographs of food but with mood shots that show the jumbled traffic in Old Delhi, workers pausing for a tea break, a South Indian family on a picnic, sunset over Dal Lake in Kashmir, a glowing, misty Taj Mahal and much more.

Jaffrey's account of the meals she experienced growing up in Delhi and of her more recent travels through India are sustenance enough without the bonus of recipes. But the more than 100 dishes included should provide the makings for rewarding sessions at the table. Some samples: lamb cooked with pickling spices from Bhopal; Rajasthani grilled chicken; hot yogurt soup from Bombay; green beans with coconut from Kerala; mushrooms with fennel and ginger from Kashmir, and chicken with apricots and potato straws, a Parsi dish from Gujarat. The one category of food that seems slighted is sweets. One must apparently turn to another Jaffrey book for desserts beyond the carrot and semolina halvas included in a chapter of basic recipes.

"From childhood onwards, an Indian is exposed to more combinations of flavors and seasonings than perhaps anyone else in the world," an enthusiastic Jaffrey writes. That may be culinary chauvinism but it is not far off the track, and Jaffrey's beautifully written and illustrated book makes a good case for her claim.

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