Coconut Lime Tilapia

coconutlimetilapia1As some of you know, lately I’ve been focusing more on diet-friendly foods to help me continue to lose weight (14 pounds since August!).

I developed this recipe for Coconut Lime Tilapia with Wilted Spinach for last week’s Standard-Examiner column. It takes less than 30 minutes to prepare, and it tastes SO good, especially if you love the flavor of curry.

I initially considered halibut for this recipe, but it was $15 per pound. Tilapia is a lot more budget-friendly. Cod would also work. I’ve noticed that cod and tilapia can be flavorless and a little tough in texture, depending on how they’re cooked.  Poaching in a simmering curry-coconut milk broth keeps it tender in texture, and punches up the flavor too.

Curry powder is a generic term for a blend of spices that may include turmeric, dried red chilies, coriander seeds, black pepper, cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, peppercorns and/or bay leaves. Research has shown both cinnamon and turmeric to be potent anti-inflammatory agents, and studies indicate that red chiles can help boost your metabolism. Curry powders range in color and heat. I used red curry powder and some restraint in the amount I added, so it ended up tasting pretty mild.

The nutrition pendulum swings back and forth on coconut milk — health food or junk food? It has saturated fat, but some say it’s “good” fat. Even so, it’s still fat — and calories. So this recipe calls for lite coconut milk, which generally has about 60 percent less fat and calories than regular.

The tilapia is poached in a lime-coconut-curry broth.
The tilapia is poached in a lime-coconut-curry broth.

The cooked fish and sauce are ladled over fresh raw spinach. The spinach quickly wilts with the heat of the broth, making it tender, but not overcooked.

Dark leafy greens have taken a lot of the nutritional spotlight lately, as they are considered “powerhouse” foods due to their many nutrients. They contain a wealth of fiber, calcium, vitamins A, C, and K, iron, magnesium, potassium, folate and chlorophyll, and other antioxidants and phytochemicals.

Although kale is the trendy veggie today, the spinach and cilantro in this recipe have much of the same nutritional profile.  Ladling the hot sauce over the fresh raw spinach causes the spinach to wilt and become tender, but not overcooked and mushy.

If you’re into the kale craze, you can substitute it for the spinach. But since kale is less tender than spinach, it should cook for a few minutes in the pan with the boiling sauce.

Use a fork to eat the fish, and a spoon to lap up all the sauce. For a heartier meal, you can also serve it over brown rice to soak up the thin sauce. (Brown rice is the heart-healthy choice, but of course you can also use white rice.)


1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1 tablespoon red or yellow curry powder
1 15-ounce can chicken broth
1 14-ounce can lite coconut milk
2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 green onions, green part only, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons lime juice
Freshly ground black pepper
6 4- to 5-ounce pieces of tilapia, or other white fish

6 to 9 cups of fresh spinach leaves

3 cups hot cooked brown or white rice, optional

In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown on the edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Add curry, chicken broth, coconut milk, sugar, pepper, salt, cilantro, and green onions.  Bring the mixture to a gentle boil.

Reduce the heat slightly so the sauce is simmering, but not boiling. Place the fish pieces in the pan so they are immersed in the sauce. Cook until the fish turns opaque and flakes easily with a fork, about 5-10 minutes.
Arrange a large handful of fresh spinach in each of 6 shallow soup bowls. Top each with 1/2 cup of rice, if using. Place one piece of fish in each bowl, leaving the sauce in the pan.

Turn up the heat so the sauce is barely boiling, to help it thicken slightly. Stir in the lime juice. Ladle about 1/2 cup of the sauce over the fish and spinach, allowing a few minutes for the spinach to wilt before eating.