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.
Royal Indian Cookery by Manju Shivraj Singh (McGraw-Hill: $18.95, 188 pp., illustrated)
Singh's book focuses on the cuisine of Jaipur, which is the capital of Rajasthan in northwestern India. A niece of the last maharani of Jaipur, Singh had entree to royal functions and access to such recipes as the maharaja's favorite ground meat kebabs and the maharani's favorite spiced lentils.
A sample of the unusual recipes in the book is a white potato curry prepared at the palace for an October moon festival. The pale color, designed to match the moonlight, stems from a yogurt-milk sauce and the potatoes themselves. For novel cookery, few dishes could surpass phirni, a royal rice pudding linked to the same occasion. The pudding stands all night in the light of the moon, which is said to turn it into nectar.