Mark McClusky says for elite athletes today, pushing boundaries and breaking records is all about "the aggregation of marginal gains."
With the warmer weather, Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst‘s garden has been flourishing. As she tells host Robin Young, “seeing tender young greens come up in my garden, I’m like a little kid in a candy store, I am just so excited.”
That has her thinking of salads that can be meal options. She brings us recipes “that are so satisfying, that people aren’t going to be sitting there going ‘okay, but what’s for dinner?'” She also shares this “Guide to Greens.”
Kathy’s Note: This simple orzo dish, chock-full of sweet, fresh summer corn, peppers and herbs, is served at room temperature and thoroughly appealing. This is ideal picnic food. Look for corn on the cob that has been picked that day.
1 pound orzo pasta
2 cups fresh corn, cut off the cob
1 cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
1 cup black Kalamata olives, pitted and cut in half
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons shredded or coarsely chopped basil or opal (purple) basil
2 tablespoons drained capers
¼ cup packed fresh parsley, finely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt, or to taste
A few grindings of black pepper
Fresh nasturtium or other edible flowers, optional
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook, stirring, for about 7 minutes, or until tender. Drain well and place in a large serving bowl.
(The salad can be made about 2 hours ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving.) Decorate the salad with the edible flowers.
Kathy’s Note: I love the colors and textures of this simple summer salad. You can add anything else you like, making the most of summer produce. The pita chips can be made a day ahead of time and stored in a tightly sealed tin or plastic bag at room temperature. The salad shouldn’t be made more than a few hours before serving and shouldn’t be tossed until right before you serve it.
For the salad:
1 red pepper, cored and chopped
1 yellow pepper, cored and chopped
1 orange or green pepper, cored and chopped
2 cucumbers, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and chopped
1 fresh fennel bulb, chopped
3 to 4 tomatoes, chopped
About 1/2 pound fresh feta cheese
Just a touch of salt and a generous grinding of freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkling of za’tar,* optional
For the pita chips:
3 pita breads, white or whole wheat
About 1/3 cup olive oil
Sprinkling of za’tar*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the lemon-basil-za’tar dressing:
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon-Style mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons thinly sliced or chopped fresh basil
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Za’tar, optional
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
About 1/2 cup olive oil
Make the salad: In a large bowl, alternate adding one vegetable next to another. Add a pile of red pepper next to cucumber next to fennel, etc. Crumble the feta cheese in the center of the bowl. Sprinkle the salad lightly with salt and pepper and sprinkle the za’tar over the feta.
To make the chips: Preheat the broiler. Cut the pita breads in half width wise. Then cut each half into quarters so that you have 8 triangles from each pita. Place the triangles on a cookie sheet making sure not to crowd them. Brush each piece with the olive oil and sprinkle with the za’tar, salt and pepper.
Broil for about 3 to 4 minutes, or until the pita is crisp along the edges and golden brown. Let cool.
Make the dressing: mix the lemon zest, mustard, salt, pepper, basil, and Za’tar. Add the lemon juice and the vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning adding more oil if the dressing tastes too tart. Add salt and pepper as needed. The dressing can be kept in a tightly sealed jar for up to a week.
*Za’tar is a Middle Eastern spice blend that (generally) combines sumac, sesame seeds, thyme, salt and often oregano and marjoram and savory. There are as many spellings of the Middle Eastern spice blend as there are varieties: za’atar, zaatar, za’tar, zatar, zatr, zattr, zahatar, zaktar or satar.
Kathy’s Note: A classic bistro-style salad, made with frisée lettuce, bacon, poached eggs, and a little something special – ramps, or wild leeks or cultivated leeks or scallions. When you cut into the poached egg the yolk coats the salad with its delicious, creamy richness. You can prepare the ramps, bacon, and vinaigrette several hours ahead of time and poach the egg just before serving. If ramps are not available, substitute scallions or small, tender leeks.
For the salad:
1 head frisée lettuce, or about 4 cups mesclun greens, or a mix of bitter greens
5 slices thick, country-style bacon or pancetta (optional)
12 ramps, green leaves removed, bulb and pink stem sliced in half lengthwise, or scallions, or 3 leeks cut in half lengthwise and then into 2-inch pieces
A generous grinding of black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives, optional
Pinch of salt, or to taste
A few grindings of black pepper
For the poached eggs:
Clean the greens thoroughly and dry with paper towels or a clean tea towel and set aside.
If using bacon, in a large skillet, fry bacon or pancetta over medium heat until cooked and crisp, about 3 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness. Remove the bacon and drain on paper towels. Remove and discard all but 1 teaspoon of the bacon fat from the skillet.
Heat the skillet with the bacon fat over medium-low heat. Add the ramps and cook, stirring frequently, for about 6 minutes, or until the ramps are soft and golden. Remove from the heat and set aside. If not using bacon, sauté the ramps in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
To make the vinaigrette, whisk together all the ingredients in a small bowl, and set aside. (The recipe can be made several hours ahead of time up to this point; cover and refrigerate the vinaigrette, cooked ramps, greens, and bacon.)
To serve the salad, fill a large saucepan or pot with cold water and bring to a boil on high heat.
Meanwhile, place the greens in a large salad bowl and toss with the vinaigrette. (You can serve the salad in the bowl or divide it between four salad plates). Place the ramps on top of the greens and crumble the bacon (if using) into 1-inch pieces and scatter on top of the ramps.
Reduce the heat to medium and carefully crack the eggs into the water, one at a time, and cook for 3 minutes. (This will give you poached eggs with a soft, slightly runny yolk; if you want firmer yolks cook another minute or two.) Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs and let drain for a few seconds before gently placing the eggs on top of the salad. Add a grinding of black pepper and serve the salad immediately.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Summer's coming. After the soups and stews of winter, perhaps you'd like some lighter fare. Have no fear. HERE AND NOW resident chef Kathy Gunst has a suggestion. And she's here with some options. Kathy, good to see you as always.
KATHY GUNST: Hi, Robin.
YOUNG: And in some parts of the country, they have been doing this for months. We are so jealous because of the different weather. But it's not just here and not other parts that we feel like lighter fare. The lighter fare is available. We've got more fruits and vegetables.
GUNST: Exactly. It's garden season. I mean, here in New England, after the most brutal winter I can remember in a long, long time, seeing tender, young greens come up in my garden - I'm like a little kid in a candy store. I am just so excited - the mint patch is rolling, it's all there - color.
YOUNG: Well, and you have a beautiful, colorful salad here. But we're talking meals. I can do salad. A big guy I know cannot.
GUNST: Yeah, because most guys, particularly, but many women also, tend to think of a salad as the side dish or the first course. What I would like to propose is that you think about salads not in that kind of cliche salad-bar way, where you see these people overloading their plates. And it's like, oh, there's bacon. Let's put that on.
YOUNG: And macaroni, what?
GUNST: Yeah, pineapple, great. No, no, no.
YOUNG: A steak.
GUNST: Exactly. The idea with these salads is that we use the best of what the season has to offer. We try to do a few things ahead of time. And you have salads that are so satisfying that people aren't going to be sitting there going, OK, but what's for dinner?
YOUNG: What's next. Well, talk about the process here. Building flavor, what does that mean?
GUNST: OK, for example, let's go to the most basic. Let's talk about iceberg lettuce or romaine, OK? You clean, you spin it dry, you throw some in a salad bar. You have an element there that's got crunch. It's got water. It's good. You know, people pooh-pooh that, but it's great.
But it's like listening to music with one note. You want to add other flavor and other dimension. So you want to throw in a bunch of different greens. You want to throw in something bitter, maybe frisee or dandelion greens.
YOUNG: Uh oh, what's frisee?
GUNST: Frisee, a French green. It's now becoming way more readily available. It's got these wonderful crinkled leave,s and it's got the kind of bitterness that's pleasing. You might not want an entire plate of it, but when you mix that was something crunchy and watery like romaine or arugula. You know arugula that's everywhere. You can throw that in.
So now we're building some flavors. We have slightly bitter, a little bit bitter. We have crunchy. We have a very moist green. Maybe a bib lettuce, which is very buttery and tender. So I'm talking about experimenting with different greens that you'll see in farmers markets and you always think, well, what's a black seeded Simpson? Well, ask the farmer.
It's a crinkly-like green lettuce that adds juicy crunch to salads. Or, there's something called mache, which is also called lamb's lettuce that's been very popular throughout Europe, and you're just starting to see here. That has a sweet nuttiness to it. So building flavor means mixing greens.
YOUNG: But you still, at this point, have greens.
GUNST: Yes, you have greens. But I want to mention one more green before we get to what you might call the substance. Fresh mint leaves - throw a few of those in. Shred some fresh basil, so all of a sudden you'll be eating these greens and you'll get this pow of flavor. Like, what was that? Oh, it was fresh mint.
But you know what? You don't need it to be greens. You can use grains - couscous, farro - a wonderful whole grain that is also very nutty. Let's say orso, a pasta. So you boil up some orzo and you add some black olives, pitted, and some cherry tomatoes, and some fresh basils and maybe you throw in almonds. Maybe you throw in last night's chicken shredded up. Suddenly you've got a meal. Maybe the orso was left over also. These - you can really experiment with whatever you've got.
What I brought for you here is a Middle Eastern flavored, chopped salad. Now, the reason it's called chopped is pretty obvious. Everything's just chopped up into similar sized pieces.
YOUNG: Well, there is no lettuce in here.
GUNST: There's no lettuce in here. So we have three types of sweet peppers. We have an orange pepper a yellow pepper - oh four, a red pepper, and a green pepper. We have fresh fennel. We have fresh cucumbers and tomatoes and feta cheese. And the dressing has lots and lots of lemon juice and a spice called za'tar or za'atar, which is a Middle Eastern combination of sumac and thyme - very fresh.
But this is incredibly satisfying with the feta cheese there. And what you also have with it is I made homemade crackers using pita bread. You just slice it in half. You brush it with a little olive oil and again this spice za'atar, za'atar. And you broil it. And you get these homemade chips. And suddenly a bunch of vegetables is starting to look like a meal.
YOUNG: Keep going. I'm just eating here.
GUNST: Let's move along.
YOUNG: But I just want to mention one thing. You have the feta here. But I love the fact you can get so many cheeses crumbled now - goat cheese, blue cheese.
GUNST: It's true. I mean, that's just another step. But it's much less expensive if you buy it in a block and chop it yourself. And it's an extra minute. So all that is are these fabulous colors. This is an extremely colorful salad. But you've just got all - you've got crunchy and juicy in the tomato and the salty with the feta. Could you add some leftover steak if you were not a vegetarian? Absolutely.
YOUNG: Or tuna. Dump a can of tuna...
GUNST: Exactly, or a piece of grilled salmon on top of that. So here we've got textures, color, flavor and it's starting to become a whole meal
YOUNG: It is amazing.
GUNST: Can I tell you what else makes that salad so good?
GUNST: The lemon. A lot of people are scared of making their own salad dressing, which to me is like being scared of walking. I just don't get it. That salad dressing - you ready - this is what I did. I took mustard, some salt and some pepper. I shredded some fresh basil, and then I grated a lemon. so that's the lemon zest, not the white, bitter pith - but just about a teaspoon of the zest.
YOUNG: Of the yellow.
GUNST: YEp. The yellow. Good. You can do it with lime, with the green. You can do it with tangerine, the orange. Anyway, and then I squeezed two whole lemons in there and good olive oil. And that's it.
YOUNG: That's it?
GUNST: And I have a whole jar of it in my refrigerator, which is going to last about two weeks if I don't eat it all by then. You can add a little bit of yogurt. It will become creamy. You can add a little bit of heavy cream, it will become even creamier. You can add other fresh herbs. You can throw it into the blender with fresh chives and parsley and it would be like a green-goddess. This is all it is.
YOUNG: Sort of like you, except for the green part.
GUNST: Just the goddess. Let's focus on the goddess.
YOUNG: That is so simple.
GUNST: So simple. So you know what? If you're really stretched for time, go for it, buy the bottle. But take a look at the label. You're not going to like some of the things that are in there. Make your own dressing, keep it in a Mason jar - tightly sealed glass jar. It'll keep for several weeks. And you can keep changing that dressing - add miso, add a little soy sauce, add a little fresh ginger. The salad takes you a whole other way.
YOUNG: Just fantastic. And again, we will have all of this at hereandnow.org. I can see cars driving off the road all over the country. I've got to write thi down. We'll have it at hereandnow.org.
GUNST: And pictures.
YOUNG: And I know you have another salad.
GUNST: I do. Another - this is a more traditional French salad. It's a bistro-style salad with a lot of bitter greens. We talked about the frisee and arugula. And then what you do is you poach an egg. So you've got your protein. Takes three minutes. You crack an egg into simmering water. That's it. You take a slotted spoon, you take it out. You put it while it's hot in the middle of your salad.
If you eat meat you could have chopped pancetta or bacon around it. You could do some sauteed leeks or ramps. We've talked about that before - the wild leeks. And you got this gorgeous, main course salad with bitter, crunchy, delicious greens, a poached egg - maybe the bacon, maybe not - maybe you do some little sauteed tomatoes around it. That's a whole other direction. Using eggs, using grains, using leftovers.
One of the things I think that makes it easier for people is to do things like make the salad dressing - make enough for the week. If you're going to use carrots in a salad, grate four or five of them. They'll keep for several days. And then you're not starting from scratch every single time. It's really a time to get creative. Spend a lot of time outside and using the best that the season has to offer.
YOUNG: Fantastic. Summer main course salads from HERE AND NOW resident chef, Kathy Gunst. Again, all the recipes, a guide to salad greens and a salad slideshow.
GUNST: Yes, something new.
YOUNG: So exciting.
GUNST: The fun never stops.
YOUNG: Exactly. At hereandnow.org. Kathy, thanks as always.
GUNST: Thanks, Robin.
YOUNG: HERE AND NOW is a production of NPR and WBUR Boston in association with the BBC World Service. I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm hungry. I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.