Heart Healthy Oily Fish for Lunch: Mackerel, Pepper and Bulgur Wheat Salad

by sophie on July 18, 2007 · 8 comments

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This salad is a regular fixture in our house for workday lunches. It tastes fabulous and provides a neat package of heart healthy ingredients: omega 3 rich oily fish, fresh vegetables and a wholegrain in the form of bulgur wheat.

There is just one area of contention in this recipe – it contains a green pepper! Personally I think green peppers are much maligned and love them in certain dishes (especially in this recipe and in a stir fry) but I know some people aren’t keen on them so feel free to substitute with a different colour (yellow looks good). Bulgur wheat is a low GI carbohydrate and so ideal for a lunchtime recipe – its slow energy release is tailored to prevent you from nodding off or reaching for the cookies mid-afternoon (my extensive desk-based trials show that this works approximately 95% of the time!). If you haven’t tried it yet bulgur wheat is super simple to cook, a bit like a sturdier cousin to cous cous; much less temperamental and with a bit more about it. In this recipe the bulgur wheat is made extra delicious by soaking the grains in stock – I’d definitely suggest trying this way of cooking it just once, even if you don’t fancy trying the whole recipe.

Oily fish and heart health
Back to the main ingredient, the mackerel. Did you know that we still don’t know exactly why the omega 3 fatty acids in oily fish are good for your heart? Some of the benefit is thought to be due to its effect in lowering triglyceride levels but increasingly it seems that one of the main ways that oily fish works is by correcting arrhythmias, abnormalities in the natural rhythm of your heart.
Different places recommend different amounts of oily fish and for different people. The Food Standards Agency in the UK recommends that most people have at least two portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be oily and the American Heart Association simply recommends fish twice a week. For people who have already suffered a myocardial infarction (a heart attack), the National Institute for Clinical Excellence in the UK, quaintly known as NICE, have recently published a recommendation (in May 2007) for doctors to advise these particular patients to have two to four portions of oily fish per week. While this may all sound like a big list of numbers and recommendations I think the important conclusion is that despite a little bit of adverse publicity a couple of years ago about oily fish and its impact on heart health, most groups are now recommending eating oily fish more than ever.


Other “oily” lunch ideas
A couple of other suggestions for oily fish lunches are tinned sardines in tomato sauce on hot toasted granary bread (with lots of black pepper) or a sandwich filled with tinned salmon that has been mixed with low-fat creme fraiche and horseradish sauce (watercress or rocket with this one). If you are really not a fan of the usual suspect oily fishies (the Food Standard Agency provide a good list of oily and non-oily fish), I recently wrote about certain types of tinned tuna which contain a little bit of omega 3 fat. Tinned ventresca tuna in oil is nowhere near as rich a source of omega 3 as, for example, Mackerel, but is a definite improvement on the staple skipjack tuna in brine.

With all that good stuff in it this recipe seems a perfect contribution for Ilva and Joanna’s Heart of the Matter round-up of heart healthy waterlife recipes.

Recipe for Mackerel, Pepper and Bulgur Wheat Salad

Serves 3 as a light lunch
This can get feistily spicy if, like me, you happen to have spicy seeds as well as the already peppered mackerel - make sure that you have a taste before you finish off the dish off with extra pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes. Do change the mackerel to bulgur ratio if you want to – I have included very modest portions of the fish just to fit in with the usual packet size.

Smoked mackerel is salty stuff so I haven’t added any extra salt to season this dish. If you have hypertension in the family and/or you are watching your salt intake then you can prepare the bulgur wheat with a low sodium brand of stock.

200g bulgur wheat (about a cup)
1 heaped tsp vegetable stock powder
1 large carrot, coarsely grated
1 green pepper, diced
2 Peppered smoked mackerel fillets (about 150g/5oz)
1 tbsp mixed seeds
Juice of half a lemon
Black pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes to season
Hot water

Optional but delicious: chopped flat leaf parsley

Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl and stir the stock powder into the dry grains. Pour freshly boiled water over the bulgur and cover the dish with a clean tea towel. I pour over about the same weight of water as I have used of bulgur wheat but feel free to use your own method.

The bulgur should be cooked after about 10 minutes (if it is still hard add a splash more just boiled water and leave for a couple of minutes longer). Stir with a fork to separate the grains.

Add the carrot, pepper, and seeds to the bulgur and stir in. Follow this with the lemon juice. Finally, taste and season with pepper and chilli according to your own taste.

Eat now while slightly warm or chill and remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want to eat it. It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days but make sure that you check the use by date of the mackerel.

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