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Mussels In Nice

We had our first enchanting glimpse of Nice en route from the train station to our hotel. Our taxi driver, who obviously took enormous pride in his city, asked us if he could take a slightly longer route, then proceeded to point out all the highlights along the way. He ended the tour by urging us to visit the famous flower market. Just the name conjured up visions of a real life market straight out of a scene from My Fair Lady!

A kaleidoscope of colours greeted us at the market. Vendors had travelled from all around the countryside to set up stalls; some bursting with blossoms of every kind, others filled with piles of fresh produce. There were even tanks of fresh seafood, ropes of cured sausages tied together, and mountains of various kinds of olives. The heady smells of newly baked breads and pastries were competing with that of fresh coffee brewing nearby. I couldn’t help lingering by a long table laden with spices from every corner of the world. This was my kind of heaven!

Sampling our way around the market, buying up everything in sight, we returned to our hotel to deposit our shopping. But, I still hadn’t had my fill of the market and wanted to stroll through it one more time. This time we were in for another pleasant surprise, for tables and chairs had replaced some of the stalls and there were people enjoying lunch in the sunshine, right in the middle of the flower market! Those tanks of fresh seafood we had seen earlier were being transformed into delicious lunch fare!

 

Taking a line from the locals who all seemed to be eating mussels, I decided to do the same. I ordered Moules à la Provençal, for which Nice is justly famous. Just one bite convinced me right away that this was by far the best version of the dish I had ever tasted! Must be something about the fresh mussels and the sun-ripened tomatoes that went in the making of the sauce. And perhaps a secret Nicoise recipe!

My recipe has fresh mussels and a tomato sauce too. But instead of trying to make that authentic Nicoise sauce, I’ve decided to stick with what I know best – a tomato butter cream sauce or as it is better known – butter chicken sauce! The mussels have replaced the chicken and added their own special flavour to the sauce. Try it, you’ll almost feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the flower market!

Butter Mussels Masala - Steamed mussels in a tomato cream sauce

For even better flavour, substitute white wine for the water. Serve with toasted naan wedges to scoop up the delicious sauce. Or serve the whole thing over a platter of basmati rice.

2 tbsp oil

½ tsp cumin seeds

2 cloves garlic, chopped

½ inch piece ginger, chopped

½ cup diced onions

1 can (796 ml, 28 fl oz) premium plum tomatoes packed in puree

Salt to taste

½ tsp sugar

1 tsp each: ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves

¼ tsp each: cayenne pepper, saffron strands

½ cup 35% whipping cream

2 lb fresh mussels

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium high heat. Add cumin seeds, sauté for 30 secs. Add garlic, ginger and onions, sauté for 5 mins until lightly browned. Add tomatoes, salt, sugar and all the spices. Cover and cook on medium low heat for 10 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened. Cool slightly for 5 mins, then puree with hand blender until sauce is smooth. Transfer sauce back into skillet and mix in the cream.

Meanwhile, rinse mussels in cold water and discard any opened ones. Place in a large saucepan and pour 1 cup cold water over them. Cover saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat to medium and steam mussels for 5 minutes. Uncover saucepan, discard any unopened mussels. Lift remaining mussels out of the cooking liquid and reserve them, discarding the liquid.

Bring sauce back to a simmer, add cooked mussels and mix well to coat them with the sauce. Cook for 5 minutes until mussels are heated through. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle fresh coriander over top.

Serves four