Coconut Tilapia with Cucumber Radish Garnish


Aaah tilapia. The elevator muzak of fish. Bland, totally uninspiring, and nearly infuriating in its sheer inoffensiveness.

I’ll admit: after being served this fish nearly every day in high school and eating it pretty frequently at home, I’ve actually come to tolerate, even occasionally enjoy, the utter beige-ness of tilapia. You can pair it with any sauce or spice or marinade or side. You can cook it any way you like. You can even put it in the microwave under a wet paper towel and voila: dinner.

I would never have thought that adding a little coconut would actually make tilapia taste good, but lo and behold, this dish from Big Girls, Small Kitchen was a smashing success.

What it was not: easy to make. My kitchen was a total mess by the time I was through. But if you have some time on your hands and don’t mind the extensive clean up, this recipe will totally wow anyone who associates tilapia with flavorlessness.

First of all: Do not do what I did and skim the instructions, only to belatedly discover that the garnish involves dicing vegetables (which, at least for me, is time consuming) and needs to marinate in the fridge for an hour. Make the garnish first!

The ingredients for the garnish:

After you get done chopping the vegetables, the garnish is actually super easy to make. So first, chop one red pepper, one cucumber, and around 8 radishes.

Now add the rest of your ingredients (except the mint) and combine! It should look something like this:

Stick that in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Or, you can skip that part. I did, and it still turned out pretty good.

Now, start on the fish. The ingredients:

All of your ingredients will vary based on the amount of fish you want to cook. I used around 2 lbs of tilapia, so I doubled the original recipe.

Combine 2/3 cup flour, salt, and pepper in one bowl. In a second bowl, whisk 2 eggs well. In a third bowl, combine 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs and 1 1/2 cups shredded coconut (I realize I only doubled the coconut here. This was intentional — I wanted my fish to be really coconutty). Arrange the bowls into a little fish-battering assembly line, which should go in this order: plate of tilapia filets, flour mixture, eggs, coconut mixture, empty plate, stove. Trust me. This will make your life a lot easier.

Take a filet and dredge it through the flour, egg, and coconut mixtures, in that order. Get as much of the coconut mixture as possible on the fish. Stack them on your empty plate. Step back and marvel at the mess you are creating.

Next, heat some neutral oil (I used canola) in a frying pan over medium heat. Another rookie mistake: don’t turn your heat all the way up; it will burn the coconut and weld it to the bottom of your pan. If medium heat is too low, you can always gradually increase it.

Fry the fish for 2-4 minutes on each side, or until the coconut starts to look a nice golden brown.

Top with garnish and a few mint leaves, and enjoy!

Oh, and PS. I found a way to use up some of the pesto from my last post. I made a mini caprese salad by cutting up some string cheese and grape tomatoes, then mixing them with the kale pesto!

I’m taking some to work tomorrow as a snack. 🙂

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