The Spanish-language cookbook "Personalidades en La Cocina," published to raise funds for victims of the earthquake that struck Mexico City last September, features favorite dishes of Mexican celebrities. Among the recipes are a watercress salad and a zesty lime-flavored stew of steak strips and beer, above. The pale custard called Jericayas, below, was contributed by operatic tenor Placido Domingo, who joined the relief efforts.
Cooking has become a tool to improve lives extending far beyond the circle of those who actually eat the food. An example of this is an intriguing collection of recipes published in Mexico City to raise funds for victims of last September's catastrophic earthquake. The book, a compilation of celebrity recipes called "Personalidades en La Cocina," was rushed into publication in December, only three months after the disaster.
In that scant time, its organizers, a group called Solo Por Ayudar (Only to Help), managed to produce a book that is not only valuable for its presentation of contemporary Mexican cooking but is attractively designed and illustrated. The drawings by Jose Luis Cuevas that appear on the cover and first page of each chapter would be as appropriate in a gallery of modern Mexican art as in a cookbook.
The introduction by Carlos Monsivais is a moving account of the spirit that activated the volunteers who worked so hard to save those caught in the rubble. One of the volunteers was operatic tenor Placido Domingo, who had relatives among the victims. Domingo contributed several recipes to the book.
Others in the long list of celebrity cooks include singers Lola Beltran, Alberto Vasquez, Marco Antonio Muniz and Rigo Tovar, actor Ignacio Lopez Tarso, the noted comedian Cantinflas, television personality Raul Velasco and artist Martha Chapa. More than 20 restaurants in Mexico City also gave recipes. Among them are La Cava, Hacienda de Los Morales, El Taquito, Loredo, Prendes, Rivoli, Rincon Gaucho and Meson del Cid.
Recipes range from traditional Mexican food to such nouvelle- sounding creations as beef filet with strawberries and black pepper, a contribution from the restaurant Les Bons Vivants. A disclaimer indicates that the recipes were printed in the form received and are the responsibility of those whose names are attached. This means they were not tested before publication. However, several worked very well in The Times' Test Kitchen. And many more appear to be in good form.
"Personalidades en La Cocina" is in Spanish only. Those who speak Spanish or can read the language well enough to cook in it might want to look for a copy when traveling over the border. The price is 3,000 pesos. The equivalent in American money depends upon the rate at which dollars are exchanged. The book in the accompanying photograph was purchased at Comercial Mexicana, a large store in the Plaza Rio Tijuana shopping mall in Tijuana. The exchange rate there the day of the purchase was 430 pesos to the dollar, which made the price of the book $6.98.
The following three recipes complement each other well enough to combine as a meal. The main dish is a rustic stew of beef strips flavored with lime peel, serrano chiles and beer. According to its contributor, Cantinflas, the dish is " a chuparse los dedos ," the Mexican way of saying finger-lickin' good.
The watercress salad, from singer Marco Antonio Muniz, includes bacon, pine nuts, avocado and mushrooms tossed in a dressing that contains only one tablespoon oil. A delicate, vanilla-flavored custard called Jericayas, contributed by Placido Domingo, is the dessert. Simple to make, the custard is lighter in texture than flan and makes an excellent ending to a rich meal. CARNE A LA CANTINFLAS (Meat Cantinflas Style)
2 pounds tenderloin tips or thin tender steak
Peel of 1 large lime
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 cloves garlic
1 onion, cut up
5 serrano chiles, seeded, if desired, and chopped
1 cup water
1 (12-ounce) can beer
Cut meat into strips 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide. Combine 1/4 cup oil, lime peel, salt and garlic in blender and blend well. Add to meat and marinate 30 minutes. Combine tomatoes, onion, serrano chiles and water in blender and blend well.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven. Add tomato sauce and fry 10 minutes. Add meat and bring to boil. Add beer. Simmer, uncovered, 1 hour. Makes 6 servings. MARCO ANTONIO MUNIZ'S ENSALADA DE BERROS (Watercress Salad)
1 pound watercress
1/2 medium onion, cut into thin slices
4 slices bacon, chopped and fried
1/2 cup pine nuts
3 large mushrooms, finely sliced
1 medium tomato, cut into thin wedges
1/2 large avocado, sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
3/4 teaspoon vinegar
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 teaspoon salt
Remove and discard watercress stems. Wash watercress and drain well. Place in large salad bowl and add onion, bacon, pine nuts, mushrooms, tomato and avocado slices. Mix olive oil, Worcestershire, vinegar, lime juice and salt. Pour over salad and toss until thoroughly mixed. Makes 6 servings. PLACIDO DOMINGO'S JERICAYAS (Vanilla Custard)
1 quart milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
Combine milk, sugar and vanilla and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and cool. Beat eggs and egg yolks. Stir into cooled milk mixture. Strain into 6 to 8 custard cups. Place in large baking pan and add water to come halfway up sides. Bake at 350 degrees 35 minutes. Cool, then chill. Makes 6 to 8 servings.