Back in 2012, I was asked to test this recipe for pea and courgette salad by my step-step-grand-daughter Niaomh, who was editing and publishing The Deptford Community Cookbook. Since then, the salad has become a spring-time favourite of mine. But before we get into peas and their pods, I suspect you’re trying to work out what is a ‘step-step-grand-daughter’? Let me explain…
Like many 21st century families, we are that modern creation, ‘the recomposed family’. A horrible term and far too similar to ‘decomposed’, which might be more appropriate in some cases! I prefer to think of us as ‘a tribe’ of McKenzie and Slaters with a sprinkling of Converys.
At the age of 27, when I moved in with my future husband, John Slater, I technically became a ‘step-mother’ of sorts to Imogen, Adam, and Emma – all teenagers. But given the age gap between Slater and myself, I was only eight years older than Imogen!
I guess that (and the inevitable pain of a family breaking up), made it quite difficult and those first few years were… how can I put it… somewhat challenging! It took time, a lot of patience, and a lot of understanding before we all felt part of a larger extended family. The births of our sons, Tom, Harry, and Jack – along with Adam’s decision to come and live with us in Wales – did a lot to help build those connections. Gradually, as a bigger family, we began sharing Christmases, Easters, and many happy times in between.
But over the years, our tribe became even larger. When Louis, Imogen’s son was born, she nominated me as a ‘step-granny’, and some years later, with her new partner Ian, I became a step-granny again when Sylvie was born.
Ironically, in her new marriage, Imogen found herself in a very similar situation to mine – becoming a step-mother to a much older teenager, Ian’s daughter, Niaomh. In trying to work out what my relationship to Niaomh was, we decided the only term that captured it was ‘step-step-granny’ and so Niaomh therefore became my ‘step-step-grand-daughter’ – and it’s been a pleasure.
Niaomh is a force of nature! Full of energy – and with an irrepressible laugh – she’s a talented photographer, singer, chef, and a committed activist who does her best to help other people. With her partner, Adam, she recently finished a year’s volunteering in a refugee camp for Syrians in Greece, and they are now setting up a new project based in Devon called The Ground Up, helping to support under-represented people in the UK.
Her cook book was another community project, aimed at bringing people together in Deptford to share recipes and participate in supper club events. When it came to recipe testing for her book, I volunteered my services and was given this recipe for a pea, courgette, feta, and mint salad. It can, of course, be made with frozen peas, but somehow, it’s not the same.
I used to grow peas in my vegetable garden in Wales and it was one of my great pleasures to sit outside with a cup of coffee and pod the peas, so long as I could pick them before my boys did! They adored fresh peas and I would frequently find them, knee-high in the vegetable patch, picking the peas and eating them straight from the pod.
With no vegetable garden here in Albi, I was able to buy fresh peas from the market, and this morning I sat on my balcony with a cup of coffee and slowly podded the peas. It’s a slightly zen activity, repetitive and yet satisfying as the bowl of podded peas slowly filled up. The sun shone, swifts swooped round the tower of the church, the bells rang, and tourists wandered past on the cobbled street below me. Slow is good.
This salad is a meal in itself – with the freshest of tastes. The combination of fresh peas, baby courgettes, rocket, lemon juice, mint, and feta, is like eating a bowl of Spring!
Spring Salad of Peas, Courgettes, Feta, and Mint
Preparation time, 40 minutes (if you include podding the peas). Cooking/putting together time, 10 minutes. Serves 3-4 as a main salad, more if it’s an accompaniment.
600 grams of peas in the pod to give you 300 grams of peas
3 small young courgettes (any larger and you have too many seeds)
150 grams rocket leaves
10 grams mint leaves
100 grams feta cheese
150 ml olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Black pepper – a chunky grind
Starting with the courgettes, slice the ends and peel long strips with a potato peeler. Arrange in layers (sprinkling salt on each layer) in a colander and leave to drain for 30 minutes.
Now put the mint leaves, 100mls of the olive oil, and a sprinkling of caster sugar, in a food blender/mixer. Once finely chopped, put the mixture into the fridge for the flavours to meld. Take the remaining 50 ml of olive oil and whisk with the juice of a lemon in a small bowl but don’t combine with the mint mixture yet.
Then sit in the sunshine with a cup of coffee (and preferably a friend), and pod the peas. Cook them by adding to a pan of boiling salted water for 5 minutes, drain, then put in a bowl with cold water to cool before draining again.
Rinse the courgette strips well in a sink of water to remove the salt and then drain – I use my salad spinner to dry them off and then dab dry with kitchen towel.
In a large salad bowl, put in the rocket leaves, add the courgette ribbons, the peas, and crumble in the feta. Finally whisk together the mint oil with the lemon oil and pour the dressing onto the salad before gently mixing. Finish with a sprinkling of cracked black pepper but you don’t need to add salt because of the pre-salted courgettes and the naturally salty feta. Serve with a crusty baguette.