Miso Roasted Salmon Bowl with Quick Pickles and Sesame Spinach

This easy miso roasted salmon bowl is packed with flavor from an easy Asian marinade, quick cucumber pickles and sesame sauteed spinach! 

This miso salmon bowl has become a favorite in our house because it’s so quick and easy, yet packed with tons of complex flavor. You can dress it up with lots of fun garnish, like kimchi, sesame oil, fresh herbs and toasted nuts, or keep it simple and use precooked brown rice and store bought fermented kraut in lieu of the quick pickles in this recipe.

When I plan out my recipes for the week, I usually include some kind of seafood at least once. I’ve learned that eating fish definitely makes me feel more clear mentally - it’s those omega 3’s doing their brain work! I noticed this when I went from broke nutrition intern to broke underpaid dietitian and stuck to a mostly vegan/vegetarian diet both for health and to save money. Going from eating fish a few times a month to a few times a week really helped with my anxiety and overall mood.

Last week I was working with a client who was really concerned about getting the right amount of fish - not too much and not too little. The concern extended to other foods, like soy, meat and dairy. There was this idea that if she could hit the right “benchmarks,” she could breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that she was doing everything she could to ensure her future health and longevity. Yet, her concern and anxiety over trying to figure out what these benchmarks were and to hit them, was causing stress that was undermining her attempts to promote health through diet. I’m 99.9% sure she’s not the only one, so I wanted to talk about her fear a bit on the blog today.

There’s this idea that there’s a dietary sweet spot – just the right amount of certain foods to ensure health, wellness and longevity. Considering how the media and research studies talk about food, it makes sense that people would have that idea. “Eat 3 servings of dairy a day to prevent osteoporosis.” “Eat ½ cup of beans each day to reduce your risk of diabetes.” “Eat fish twice a week to reduce your risk of heart disease.” It gives the impression that if we meticulously plan our diet, and can make room in our stomach for all the recommended foods, then we could live forever!

But this type of thinking about food is not only misleading, wrong and potentially harmful.

That’s because studies look at statistics, not real, complex human beings, whose health is affected by a variety of factors, including but not limited to genetics, stress, socioeconomic status, age, sleep, relationships, and environmental exposures. For example, we know that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day can increase the risk of colon cancer by 18%. But there’s a lot more to it. The lifetime risk for colon cancer is around 4.5%, and that includes early cases which are easily treatable through regular colonoscopies (p.s. by no means am I trying to minimize the fact that colon cancer is an awful disease and more should be done to promote prevention). If genetically, you’re someone with a very low risk for colon cancer, even if you eat a ton of processed meat, it’s unlikely you’ll develop the disease (although it may harm you in other ways). On the other hand, if you have a high genetic risk of colon cancer, you could never eat a single bite of processed meat and that may not be enough to top the balance, especially if you’re exposed to other risk factors, like smoking, heavy alcohol use, or exposure to certain environmental carcinogens. Does that mean you should just throw in the towel? Absolutely not – our diet and other behaviors we engage in pay a huge roll in determining health, but there’s nothing we do that comes with a guarantee. In the end, weather you get 2 servings a week of fish or 3 probably means very little for your overall health.

If you still think there’s a “right” way to eat, keep in mind that one of the reasons that humans are so successful as a species is because we can adapt to a wide variety of eating environments. In the extreme north, humans thrive off a diet of meat, seafood and the occasional seasonal berries. In other areas where plants are more plentiful, humans thrive off an almost exclusively vegetarian, almost vegan diet. Genetically, we differ in what pattern of eating is most health promoting, but we’re all such a melting pot these days, it would be hard to predict!

As much as you hear about gluten and vegetarianism and phytonutrients and fermented foods and fiber, we don’t really know much about nutrition. Show me 10 studies saying one thing and I can show you 10 studies saying the opposite. If you boil down all the nutrition research, really all we know for sure is that we thrive off eating mostly whole foods, eating too much sugar is harmful, eating plenty of plants is super important and so is how much we eat (although I would disagree with using calories as a measure and instead say eating according to hunger and fullness is better for getting the right amount for you).

Moral of the story – don’t stress too much about getting too much or not enough of a certain food. Instead, focus on variety over rigid food rules, eating mostly whole foods without getting obsessive about it, and pay attention to what makes you feel good. Health is much more complex than what food goes into your body!


Miso Roasted Salmon Bowl with Quick Pickles and Sesame Spinach

Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE, CLT
Serves: Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1 cup short grain brown rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cucumber, very thinly sliced
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon sesame oil, divided
  • 1 lb salmon filets, cut into four equal pieces
  • 1 6-ounce bag spinach

Instructions

  1. Bring rice and water to a boil in a medium pot. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 40-50 minutes until water is absorbed and rice is tender. Let sit, covered, for 5 minutes to finish steaming, then fluff with a fork.
  2. White rice is cooking, make the pickles. Mix cucumber, rice vinegar and salt in a lidded container. Give it a shake and let it pickle for at least 15 minutes while preparing other ingredients.
  3. Preheat broiler. Mix miso, soy sauce and 1 tablespoon sesame oil in a small bowl. Place salmon on a large baking sheet and brush with mixture. Broil 6 minutes until fish is flakey and cooked through.
  4. While fish is cooking, heat remaining tablespoon sesame oil on medium-high heat. Add spinach and cook until wilted. Season with salt.
  5. Divide rice between four bowls. Top with pickles, salmon, and spinach.

More seafood dishes:

Curry Salmon Noodle Bowl
Curry Salmon Noodle Bowl
Fish Taco Salad with Spicy Mahi and Mango Salsa
Fish Taco Salad with Spicy Mahi and Mango Salsa
Salmon Burger with Creamy Dill Sauce
Salmon Burger with Creamy Dill Sauce