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.
Step-By-Step Indian Cooking by Sharda Gopal (Barron's: $19.95, 160 pp., illustrated)
Gopal's book includes some photographs of Jaipur, including one of the same structure that appears on the back of the Singh book, for she has attempted to portray all of India rather than just one region. Nevertheless, Gopal was born in Kerala on the southwestern coast and later lived near Madras. Therefore her book is heavily laced with southern dishes.
In the south of India, coconut and coconut milk are widely used. So from this book you can learn to make a ripe mango curry with grated coconut; a Kerala-style mixed-vegetable curry with coconut, a potato curry with coconut milk and so forth. Interestingly, both Singh and Gopal have included a recipe for chickpeas (garbanzo beans) with green mango and coconut. Singh attributes hers to Madras. Gopal's is seasoned differently and the source is not specified.