HAVING COME to a point in our culinary history where "foreign" foods are no longer new to the American palate, cookbook authors are narrowing their topics. In the following group of cookbooks released this season, Indian cooking is limited to the vegetarian; Spanish to the little appetizers called tapas, Japanese to the "cross-cultural," and British to examples of what the author calls a "gentle revolution." Only one book repeats the American ethnic old standards, and while its recipes are not "new," they are so beautifully illustrated that the book itself is worth having -- or giving -- as a piece of photographic art. Great New British Cooking, by Jane Garmey (Simon and Schuster, $16.95). Rightly or wrongly, it has long been the consensus that English cooking is undistinguished at best. Not so anymore, says Jane Garmey who, from her travels, has concluded that there is a "gentle revolution" underway in the British Isles. No longer are the Mother Country's best ham-and-chicken pies found only in private homes. Meals in British restaurants both in and outside of London, she discovered, now include "fresh local produce . . . prepared by chefs who combined sophisticated cooking skills with a willingness to use traditional ingredients in new and imaginative ways." To wit: sweet onion and mint puree to be served with lamb or rabbit; crisp fried parsnips; trout poached in lemon and thyme; beefsteak, kidney and oyster pudding; a custardy smoked haddock and parsley pie; mustard and mushroom soup; tomato and horseradish sauce; deep fried stilton cheese balls with port sauce; chocolate and whiskey cake with coffee sauce; ginger biscuits and, of course, scones. For all us anglophiles who have for so long found ourselves on the culinary defense, the book includes a hotel and restaurant list, so along with chapter and verse by Garmey, we can now cite county and shire. An American Taste of Japan, by Elizabeth Andoh (Morrow, $30). Definitely a book of what's happening now. An American Taste of Japan codifies the current penchant for using "indigenous American foodstuffs to prepare dishes in typically Japanese ways." "California Rolls," a sushi made with avocado; raw tuna sashimi, with lime and soy sauce; and almost anything with shitake mushrooms -- the big, brown floppy ones -- that even the local supermarkets now carry, are among what the Japanese-trained American author calls her "cross-cultural" recipes. The recipes make use, Japanese fashion, of fresh, seasonal foods and provide explicit instruction in words and line drawings for making the food look as good as it tastes. Color photographs provide brilliantly imagive suggestions for presentation, such as green pea pods, golden chicken dumplings, white rice and yellow pickled radish fans nesting in a Shaker bandbox on the red and white geometric pattern of a Cherokee Indian blanket. One feels deprived to find only eight of these remarkable pictures. However, a chapter called "Setting the Cross- Cultural Table" fills in some of the gaps with detailed instructions on knot-tying, paper and napkin folding and a word on the symbolism of color and seasonal decor. (Hark, Washingtonians, the cherry blossom symbolizes the fleeting quality of life.) Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking, by Julie Sahni (Morrow, $22.50). Here is a thick volume that includes primarily the foods of the Hindus and Jains, the two groups of strict vegetarians in India. For confirmed vegetarian enthusiasts, the book provides exotica such as turn-fried spinach in scented mustard oil and shallot sauce scented with fenugreek. For the rest of us, who generally think of vegetarian food as those soy-filled compressed loaves that "health foods" stores sell as imitation meat, this book's recipes for cumin country biscuits, lace potato chips or creamed lentils make one sit up and take an interest. The recipes themselves are preceded by a detailed description of Indian ingredients, their American equivalents and their adaptation for the American table. Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain, by Penelope Casas (Knopf, $22.95; paperback, $12.95). Tapas, the latest "what's that" on the American eating scene, are eaten in Spain as appetizers to fill the gap between the 2 or 3 p.m. lunch and the typical 10 p.m. dinner. They are gaining popularity in the United States as hors-d'oeuvres and even as meals in themselves. The ingredients for tapas are as varied as Spanish cuisine itself. They may be cold or hot, sauced or plain, marinated, molded or served on or in bread or pastry. Tapas includes a generous sampling of each, with recipes ranging from fresh salmon pureed in red pepper sauce and served warm with a fork; to sausages with sweet-sour figs, served on toothpicks; cumin-flavored carrot salad; green olive paste canape; batter-dipped pimento croquettes; baby eels in garlic sauce; fried cheese with shallot dressing; and tuna-stuffed potatoes. Two pages of tapas menus and a page of recommended tapas bars in Spain, listed by city, round out this storehouse of new tastes for the American cook. False Tongues and Sunday Bread: A Guatemalan and Mayan Cookbook, by Copeland Marks (Evans, $24.95). To the uninitiated, it will be a matter of marvel that so many tempting dishes can be cooked up with corn, beans, chiles, tomatoes and squash. The author of this book, however, has culled some of the best of them from the native kitchens of Central America, in an effort to preserve some of the ancient Mayan Indian tradition of that region. Corn and beans, of course, are not the only foods the book explores. The "false tongues" in the title are miniature Guatemalan loaves of ground beef flavored with capers, olives and sweet red peppers, and the Sunday bread is a flat rectangle made with cheese, sour cream and sesame seeds that is traditional in El Salvador. The book has no illustrations, but the recipes are clear, simple and include skillful instructions for adaptation to the U.S. kitchen.