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Fit to Eat: Package Deals

Three succulent, good-for-you salmon dishes -- all cooked in easy-to-make parchment packets -- deliver a full meal plus a side of heart health.

Salmon needs no introduction. With its lively orange-pink color, distinctive taste, and rich texture, the fish is as beautiful on the plate as it is delicious.

But even if you already know and love salmon, you may not love grilling the same plain fillet over and over. So it's nice to discover new ways to prepare the fish, such as this simple parchment-packet method: Wrap up salmon with a smattering of vegetables, herbs, and other add-ons, and place it in the oven. The parcel will practically cook itself. Trapped in moist heat, the ingredients create a flavor-packed dish with very little added fat. For health-conscious diners who love to eat, nothing is lost and everything is gained, including time (the pouch bakes in less than 15 minutes).

Health experts, of course, have all kinds of reasons to love salmon. And even if we've heard many of the benefits before, they're impressive enough to bear repeating: Salmon contains abundant amounts of omega-3s, which protect the heart in multiple ways, says Andrew DeFilippis, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "Like aspirin, they keep platelets in the blood from getting too sticky and clogging up arteries. They lower triglycerides, which may in turn help raise good cholesterol levels, and they reduce blood pressure -- potentially enough, over the long term, to help prevent heart disease," he says. According to a 2008 report from the Harvard School of Public Health, one to two servings of oily fish a week can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 36 percent.

If that's not reason enough to visit your fishmonger, recent evidence suggests that fish oils help fight inflammation and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as arthritis. Eating fish regularly may also reduce the risk of strokes and age-related memory loss.

Salmon -- farmed or wild -- is significantly lower in mercury than other fish. Many chefs recommend splurging on wild varieties, since they're richer in flavor and don't contain synthetic dyes. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch, wild salmon is also a better choice environmentally; some offshore farms use pesticides and antibiotics, which pollute the water. Thanks to conservation efforts, wild salmon, especially varieties from Alaska, are available fresh seasonally and frozen at other times, so it's easy to reel some in.

Prep, Wrap, Eat
Start by arranging the ingredients on a sheet of parchment. Fold the paper to form a compact, half-moon shape, pleating the edges to close. (The more pleats you fold and the sharper the creases, the tighter the seal, which will keep aromatic steam from escaping.) Bake the parcels, and unwrap at the table.

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