Thursday, May 3, 2007

Salad for Santa Capelina

After a day in front of my computer I'm like a little mouse emerging from its hole, blinking in the sunlight and talking with a squeaky voice. May 1st being Labor Day in France, I forced myself to leave my desk and took a walk up to the Parc du Château (don't look for a castle, it was destroyed in 1706), where I soaked up the spectacular views and felt happy as always to be back in Nice. Strolling through the Cours Saleya on the way back to my apartment I came across a parade of dancing people in hats carrying a paper maché figure towards the sea. It's not unusual to see a manifestation on May Day, when the unions traditionally take to the streets, but this was no ordinary workers' demonstration. Not that I was surprised: people always seem to be parading through the streets for one reason or another in Nice, whether for religious festivals or the two-week Carnival in February.
It turns out that the parade was an annual event in honor of Santa Capelina, the hatted patron saint of workers, which explains the hats (sort of). Each year an association called Batasuna organizes a giant fish soup party on the quai Rauba Capeu, followed by a delirious dance through the streets. To conclude the festivities Santa Capelina is tossed into the sea, signalling the end of winter. I found out only later that my son Sam and husband Philippe were in the middle of the parade, having come across the party on their way back from the park. Sam had improvised a rattle out of an empty plastic juice bottle and some pistachio shells, getting right into the spirit of the event.
To celebrate the end of winter it seems appropriate to offer you a spring recipe. I've been buying a lot of peas lately because they are so satisfying to shell, unlike those pesky little spring fava beans. Last night I had half an hour between coming home from my African dance class with the inimitable Aly M'Baye and watching the debate between the two presidential candidates, but wanted to have something fresh and green rather than the gnocchi with tomato sauce that Philippe and Sam had eaten for dinner. (Sam could eat gnocchi every day so I see this dish a little too often.) This salad proves that there is really no excuse not to shell peas, as long as you can find sweet ones.

Couscous, mint and pea salad
Serves 1

1/3 cup couscous
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp good quality olive oil
1/3 cup boiling water
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
A good handful of fresh mint leaves
A good handful of freshly podded peas

In a bowl, toss the couscous with 1 tsp olive oil to coat the grains, which will help prevent them from clumping. Pour the boiling water over the couscous, cover and leave for 5 mins.

Meanwhile, heat a small pot of water for the peas. Shell the peas. When the water boils, add a good pinch of salt and the peas. Boil for about 3 mins - the peas should not be too soft.

Squeeze the lemon juice and stir in a little salt and pepper, being sure to dissolve the salt. Whisk in the 2 tbsp olive oil. Chop the mint finely.

Stir the lemon dressing, mint and peas into the couscous. Adjust the amount of lemon juice and olive oil if necessary.

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