For The Lean And Green Gourmet

Eat your vegetables. That's not Mom talking; it's health experts, who say consuming more vegetables--plus fruits and grains--reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer. Nutritionists recommend seven servings of vegetables or fruit a day.

Now, there's a bumper crop of new cookbooks to make diets leaner and greener. Many aren't strictly vegetarian. But with their (mainly) easy-to-follow recipes, they offer tasty ways to boost the vegetable component of your diet.

Sweet Basil, Garlic, Tomatoes, and Chives (Harmony; $20) is one of the best. Its dishes, inspired by Tuscan and Provencal cooking, include items both fancy (zucchini-and-rice torte, baked dumplings with pumpkin) and simple (bell-pepper risotto). The book falls down only in its distracting commentary about the author's travels.

Gorgeous photographs make The Inspired Vegetarian (Stewart Tabori & Chang; $24.95) a beautiful book. Organized into courses for easy meal planning, it blends familiar ingredients in unfamiliar ways: coming up with dishes such as baked cheese with figs and arugula, and red pepper soup with cheese and herb floats. Try a few recipes, and you've got a tasty meal.

VERSATILE. The Cook's Garden (Viking; $25) also gets good marks for presentation, but it's illustrated with drawings and organized by vegetable. Many recipes are innovative--such as slivering zucchini into "pasta" and adding pesto sauce. Some, though, are a bit rich for low-fat diets.

Legumes, anyone? Try The Bean Cookbook (Simon & Schuster; $20), which pictures 14 kinds of beans, then tells how to store, freeze, and cook them. And that doesn't mean merely boiling and spicing them. Here are directions for jalapeno beans, mixed vegetable pate, lentil-onion soup, and sour-cream baked lima beans.

Riso (Crown; $16), a handsome book, makes rice a surprisingly versatile main ingredient, combined with all sorts of vegetables (or sometimes meat and fish). Among its dishes are risotto with barolo wine, and rice with pistachio and red pepper. The variations on basic recipes make Riso good for those who don't like to fuss in the kitchen.

Several publishers offer little cookbooks, in case you want to tiptoe toward healthier eating. Try Main-Dish Soups and Main-Dish Salads (Bantam; $10 each), from a "little vegetarian feasts" series. Each begins with basic facts, then cuts to the chase: 20-some recipes for unusual dishes--such as garlic soup with fusilli and broccoli.

Similarly, Lee Bailey's Tomatoes (Clarkson Potter; $14) contains more than three dozen recipes. Its mouth-watering photos make you want to try green-tomato ratatouille or a cold soup of roasted tomatoes and sweet peppers--not to mention such sweets as green-tomato-and-apple pie.

A little less original are The Goodness Book of Beans, Peas and Lentils and The Goodness Book of Potatoes and Root Vegetables (Random House; $12 each). But they still entice, with such dishes as eggplant in black-bean sauce and patatas bravas (fierce potatoes).

LENTIL BURGERS. If these books stir you to go more exotic, Thai Vegetarian Cooking (Clarkson Potter; $30) is full of rice and noodle dishes: grilled spicy mushrooms, fried white-cabbage soup, and curries. The Kopan Cookbook (Chronicle; $9.95) does the same with Tibetan recipes.

Hooked on healthful cooking? The 15th-anniversary edition of the classic Moosewood Cookbook (Ten Speed; $19.95) revises the recipes, cutting fat, and adds 25 new ones--such as pasta with caramelized onion sauce. With directions for concoctions such as lentil-walnut burgers, Moosewood is for true vegetarians--but meat-eaters will enjoy many of its dishes, too.

Finally, there's Cold Spaghetti at Midnight (Morrow; $19). Besides offering many vegetarian recipes (cucumber vichyssoise, Chinese asparagus salad), it expounds on the chicken-soup theory: that foods can comfort, even heal. Garlic soup, for example, may relieve colds or sinus pain.

If nothing else, these books should convince you of one thing: You don't have to be a vegetarian to love vegetarian cookbooks.

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