Whether you're buying gifts for a culinary novice or an expert, an ideal present is as close as the nearest bookstore. The Times' Food staff looked at a sampling of the cookbooks released in time for this holiday season and offers the following reviews to assist last-minute shoppers. Some of these books get down to the basics, some deal with ethnic cuisines while still others are as much a feast for the eyes as for the appetite. These--or the host of other cookbooks you'll find on sale at local stores--will not only delight the recipient but might ensure the giver some memorable repasts during 1988.
Asia the Beautiful Cookbook by Jacki Passmore (Knapp Press: $39.95, 256 pp., illustrated)
Asia is an enormous chunk of territory to bite off in a single book. Somehow the foods of Japan seem austere and otherworldly beside a raucous curry from Malaysia or a wildly pungent mixture of dried shrimp and shrimp paste from Burma. But if an overview is what you want, here it is--gorgeously illustrated.
Fourteen countries are mentioned in the book. Despite their roles in the international limelight, the Philippines and Korea get short shrift--only five pages of recipes each, about the same space that is allotted to Sri Lanka, Burma and Laos and Cambodia and less than one-third of the space given to Indonesia. This sort of once-over is typical for the Philippines. The food of that island nation is potentially the most agreeable to Westerners yet remains surprisingly unknown.