Friday recipe: mindfully eating salmon

This week’s recipe, I promise, appears below this rather long post; thanks for indulging me. I’ve got mindless eating on my, err, mind. Some time ago I read Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. The cover says the book “will literally change the way you think about your next meal,” and I heartily agree: Based on dozens of studies in his Cornell lab, Wansink probes the factors that influence how much we eat, revealing that — no matter how smart and savvy we think we are —we’re often tricked into eating too much because of the size of our plates and portions, the labeling on food packages and the visual cues in our kitchens, work places and grocery stores.

Do you eat to the bottom of the bowl?
Do you eat to the bottom of the bowl?

Stating the “best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on,” the wise Wansink shows that we overeat not so much because we’re truly hungry, but rather because of the “signals and cues around us that tell us to eat.” That includes the massive bucket of popcorn, the last piece of chocolate cake, the bread basket on the restaurant table, the open bag of potato chips on the counter, the “reduced fat” label on the frozen yogurt and the last cold, limp, soggy French fries in the bottom of the McDonald’s bag. We are powerless to resist.

That’s why the solution to such mindless eating, Wansink says, is not “mindful” eating; our crazed, media-saturated lifestyles and the marketing “strategery” that surrounds us make that too challenging. Rather, he encourages people to create environments that help them eat more healthfully. If you’re a snack-grazer, for example, don’t eat standing up, and keep unhealthy snacks in the back of the cupboard or refrigerator or — better yet — don’t buy them at all. If you’re a restaurant-indulger, ask the waiter to remove the basket of bread or tortilla chips and to pre-wrap half of your entree to take home. If you’re a desktop or dashboard diner, brown-bag healthy lunches at least three times a week.

I appreciate Wansink’s practical approach. I also gained wisdom from Barb Stuckey’s book Taste: Surprising Stories and Science About Why Food Tastes Good. She explores the science of taste and how one’s individual biology, genetics and brain influence how and what you taste, and how you can best enjoy it. While not a diet book, Stuckey (who references Wansink’s work) makes a great case against mindless eating — how we “speed through meals that poor people in developing nations would consider a king’s feast” — and teaches readers to slow down and mindfully use all five senses while eating to get maximum satisfaction from food. Example: Her book details an exercise in which participants consume a raisin over the course of five minutes.

Recently in The Washington Post, fitness trainer and freelance writer Gabriella Boston described mindful eating as “peaceful coexistence with food” in which we’re more aware of our automatic and reactive responses to food — whether we’re eating because we’re hungry or because we’re bored, upset or inclined to clean our plates. Boston notes several researchers who, like Stuckey, advise us to slow down; relish our food’s colors, tastes and textures; limit portion sizes; and, when you really want that chocolate chip cookie, to have it – guilt-free.

“Mindful eating is about cultivating that inner gourmet — really letting yourself enjoy the food you enjoy — just in smaller quantities,” Boston quotes Jean Kristeller, Ph.D., co-founder of the Center for Mindful Eating.

Do you consider yourself a mindful or mindless eater? If you’re the former, what’s your best advice to those of us who need to back away from the bag of chips?

On that note, here’s a recipe from Washington Post columnist Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, that you can savor slowly, mindfully and happily.

Photo: James M. Thresher for The Washington Post
Photo: James M. Thresher for The Washington Post

Chili-Rubbed Salmon With Pineapple-Avocado Salsa (makes 2 servings)
For the salmon:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 2 (4 to 6 ounces each) skin-on or skinless salmon fillets, pin bones removed
  • 1 lime, for garnish

For the salsa:

  • 4 ounces fresh or canned pineapple, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice (1/2 cup)
  • Flesh of half a medium avocado, cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 scallion, white and light-green parts, cut crosswise into thin slices (about 2 to 3 teaspoons)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Juice of 1 to 2 limes (to yield 1 tablespoon)

For the salmon: Combine the oil and vinegar in a shallow dish. Combine the chili powder, salt and sugar in a small bowl. Use it to rub the salmon fillets all over, gently pressing it into the flesh, then place the fillets in the oil-vinegar mixture. Turn them over so both sides are coated; let them marinate at room temperature for 20 minutes while you prepare the salsa.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees or prepare a grill for high direct heat.

For the salsa: Combine the pineapple, avocado, scallion, pepper, salt and the tablespoon of lime juice in a mixing bowl; toss to mix well.

If using the oven, heat a medium nonstick skillet that is ovenproof over medium-high heat. (Alternatively, lightly grease an ovenproof baking dish with nonstick cooking oil spray.) When the pan is hot, add the fillets (if skin-on, place them skin side up) and cook for 1 minute. Turn them over, then transfer the skillet to the oven. Roast for 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness or to desired degree of doneness.

If using a grill, place fillets over heat, skinless side down first. Close the grill lid. Cook 1-3 minutes on the first side, depending on how thick the fillets are. Once the fish fillets have been placed on the grill, do not move them until you are going to flip them over, otherwise they may fall apart. Carefully turn the fish onto the other side and close the grill lid. Cook for another 2-5 minutes, again depending on the thickness of the fillets. Salmon should be just barely opaque throughout when done.

Remove from the oven or grill; use a wide spatula to transfer each piece to individual plates. Spoon the salsa on top of each fillet. Cut the remaining lime in half and squeeze over each portion. Serve immediately.

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