Mark Peel has had a busy summer. In addition to working on the new bar up the street from his La Brea Avenue restaurant Campanile, opening a new take-out place (more on both projects coming), competing in Top Chef Masters and appearing as a judge in the new season of Top Chef, he's got a new cookbook coming out. New Classic Family Dinners, Peel's third cookbook, is being released October 19th by Wiley.
"It's my favorite book," said Peel yesterday while flipping through pages of his only copy at the bar at Campanile. The book was written with Martha Rose Shulman; the photography was done by Lucy Schaeffer. The book was designed around the restaurant's Monday night family dinners. "It's about recreating old classics; they didn't become popular because they were bad. And it's amazing how easy they are to make, with a little technique."
Technique is something Peel showed off during his run on Top Chef Masters, an event eventually won by Rick Bayless. "It was a lot of fun, a lot of pressure. By the time she [Padma] finished her spiel, I already knew what I was going to do. Everybody did." But there was a lot of standing around waiting. "We did a couple of takes. It was maybe 7 minutes instead of the 45 seconds it looked like."
Peel's new book won't, obviously, have his Top Chef recipes in it. What it will have is dishes like clams casino, Santa Maria barbecue, sand dabs Meuniere, and this simple cold cucumber and yogurt soup, perfect for the hot end of summer in Los Angeles. At Campanile they use their own house-made yogurt, which Peel says is extremely easy to do at home, but you can use purchased whole milk yogurt instead.
Cold Cucumber and Yogurt Soup
From: New Classic Family Dinners, by Mark Peel with Martha Rose Shulman.
Note: Use Japanese or European cucumbers, not regular cucumbers. Also use high quality plain whole milk yogurt, or Greek yogurt.
2 pounds Japanese or English cucumbers
2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
1 cup flat-leaf parsley (about 1/2 bunch), washed, dried and chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves, washed, dried and chopped, plus 1 tablespoon leaves, cut in fine slices (chiffonade) for garnish
1 quart whole milk yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
6-8 ice cubes
1 tablespoon chopped chives
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1. Peel the cucumbers, peeling deep so that you get some of the flesh with the peels, over a bowl. Place the peels in the bowl. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Discard the seeds. Roughly chop half the cucumbers and place in a bowl with the peels. Cut the remaining cucumbers into 1/4-inch dice and toss in a colander with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Set the colander with the diced cucumbers over a bowl or plate for 15 minutes.
2. Working in batches if necessary, combine the cucumber peels, the roughly chopped cucumbers, the celery, parsley, mint and 1 cup of the yogurt in a blender. Puree, stopping and starting the blender if necessary to make sure all of the ingredients are finely pureed. Scape into a bowl and stir in the remaining yogurt, the lemon zest, lemon juice and 2 teaspoons salt. Let sit for 10-15 minutes. Strain into another bowl through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing the solids against the sides of the strainer to extract all the juice.
3. Rinse the salted cucumbers in fresh water. Stir into the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for several hours before serving.
4. Place one ice cube in each of 6-8 soup bowls. Ladle in the soup. Top with a sprinkling of mint and chives and serve.