Tilapia nachos

I love fish. OK, maybe “love” is a bit strong, but suffice it to say I have a taste for the toothsome chicken of the sea.

My pescatarian addiction goes back nearly two decades to Anchorage, Alaska, and a naive belief that it would be fun to live in a state that was separated from the rest of the U.S. by an actual country and where it’s black from 4 p.m. to 9 a.m., pretty much a quarter of the year. Yeah, the darkness of the Last Frontier wasn’t really my thing. 

But, oh, the sushi! There’s something truly magical about eating a slab o’ salmon on the same day it was caught. 

Colorado has been home for a dozen years, now, and with it has come an interest in both brook trout and Southwest-influenced flavors. The former plays no roll in this recipe, the latter most certainly does. 

A few weeks ago, I had a fish craving. What I really wanted was ceviche, that delicious — entrée? stuffing? dip? something — where you basically take a slab of whitefish, whack it into tiny bits and “cook” it in citrus juice, onion, garlic, cilantro, tomatoes and jalapeño. But ceviche takes a while, and for that reason it’s not a great busy weeknight meal.

My husband’s solution was his always-delicious fish tacos. Too bad we didn’t realize until we were sautéing the meat that we didn’t have any taco shells. 

From this fishy faux pas arose a tasty solution: A platter full of tilapia nachos. 

This super-simple dish relies on some basic ingredients: tilapia (or your delicate, mild fish of choice), tomatoes, cilantro, onion, jalapeños, tortilla chips, cheese of choice and guacamole. But like everything, it can be customized in any number of ways. I highly recommend adding black olives, shredded lettuce, salsa, hot sauce and sour cream to your heart’s and budget’s content. 

And while this recipe does slightly top the usual $25 budget (it rang in at $28.09), it can feed a family of four as an entrée, or a platoon of pals as a side dish or snack. Best yet, it goes from raw ingredients to finished meal in about 30 minutes. 

That’s a good fish.

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2 fillets boneless, skinless tilapia, defrosted

½ teaspoon onion powder, divided

½ teaspoon garlic powder, divided

½ teaspoon seasoned salt, divided

1 large sweet yellow onion

1 cup cilantro

Juice of one fresh lime (about 1 tablespoon)

1 cup cherry tomatoes, divided

1 jalapeño

1 avocado

4 to 5 cloves garlic

½ tablespoon coconut oil

Tortilla chips of choice, to taste

Shredded cheese of choice, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Fill a large, rimmed baking sheet with tortilla chips and sprinkle with as much cheese as you like, or will fit. Set aside. 

While oven is warming, remove tilapia from plastic and pat dry with a paper towel. Chop fillets into ½-inch cubes, sprinkle with a ¼ teaspoon each onion powder, garlic power and seasoned salt, and set aside. 

Seed, devein and mince the jalapeño and set aside. 

Dice the onion and cilantro into ¼-inch or smaller pieces, mix them well, and set aside in a small bowl. 

Smash and mince the garlic cloves and set aside.

Chop tomatoes into ¼-inch rings and set aside. (Do you now have several small piles or bowls of raw produce? Good, we’re on track.) 

Carefully slice, pit and scoop out the avocado into a small bowl. Mash avocado with two cloves’ worth of garlic (about a teaspoon, or to taste), a tablespoon or so of freshly chopped tomatoes and some lime juice (about ½ tablespoon) to make guacamole. If you’re not a fan of heavy garlic or lime juice, feel free to adjust to taste. Set aside. 

Heat coconut oil in a heavy-bodied skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat, until it just starts to shimmer. Working very quickly, add about a quarter of the onion-cilantro mix, a good scoop of garlic and the remaining lime juice. Swirl to mix, then add seasoned fish and sauté until tilapia turns white and firm and is cooked through. 

Remove from heat and set aside, but keep warm. 

While fish is cooking, toast chips and cheese in the oven until the cheese has melted and the chips are warmed through. 

Sprinkle chips with cooked fish and the remaining onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeño and tomato. Garnish with guacamole or serve it on the side for dipping. 

— Recipe by Regan Foster and Andy Peterson

 

Editor

Founding Editor and General Manager Regan Foster holds dual bachelor's degrees in journalism and Spanish and a master's degree in journalism with specialization in political reporting and media management.