Southwest Tilapia recipe is light, healthy and full of flavor

It’s the start of a great new year and, for me, that always means the start of a brand new diet!  Southwest cooking?  Diet food?  You bet!  Who said Southwest cooking can’t be light and healthy.  The zesty spices are a perfect way to add flavor to any dish without adding fat or calories.

Tilapia is one of the best fishes you can eat – it is sustainable and is fairly low on the food chain, so it has less harmful residual stuff like mercury – we should all eat more tilapia! To learn more, check out this great post on the Chocolate and Zucchini food blog.

This Southwest Tilapia recipe is one that Donna and I cooked up together. We paired it with calabacitas (a traditional zucchini dish), Green Chile Rice and a terrific Avocado Citrus Salad with Chile Lime Vinaigrette to make a complete meal.  The vinaigrette recipe is from our trip to the Santa Fe School of  Cooking. It was served on a citrus and diced jicama salad, but it is so versatile that it has become one of my favorite dressings for just about anything that needs a vinaigrette.  Try it on a diced fruit salad or even sliced apples for a little snack.

Other food bloggers’ tilapia recipes:
Chile and Cilantro Tilapia, Cook. Eat. Share.
Tilapia with Pimento Sauce, Simply Recipes
Sweet Chile Glazed Tilapia, Picky Palate
Baja Style Fish Tacos, Serious Eats

Southwest Tilapia with Avocado Citrus Salad with Chili Lime Vinaigrette, Calabacitas and Green Chile Rice

4 6 oz tilapia fillets

2-3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Spice Mix:

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

1 teaspoon chipotle powder

1 teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Prepare Green Chile Rice.  Recipe follows.

For tilapia, combine spices in a small bowl.  Mix well.

Place tilapia fillets on a dish and pat dry.  Sprinkle 1 teaspoon spice mix evenly over one side of each fillet.

Heat oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over medium high heat.  Place 2 tilapia fillets into the pan, spice side down.  Cook without moving for 3 minutes.  Turn fillets over and cook for 3 -4 minutes or until done.  Place fillets on a warm plate.  Add remaining fillets to pan, spice side down and repeat cooking process.

Remove tilapia from pan and place all four fillets over the Green Chile Rice.

Avocado Citrus Salad with Chili Lime Vinaigrette

1 head red leaf lettuce

1 avocado, peeled & diced

1 can mandarin oranges

1 red pepper, diced

3 oz sliced almonds, toasted

Chili lime vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Wash and dry lettuce, tear into pieces.  In a small bowl, toss diced avocado, red pepper and orange segments with ½ chili lime vinaigrette.

When ready to serve, spoon avocado mixture over lettuce and toss gently.  Add enough of the remaining vinaigrette to lightly dress the salad.

Sprinkle with toasted almonds.

Chili Lime Vinaigrette

2 limes, zested

1/4 cup fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons red chili powder

1/2 cup honey

2 tablespoons water

Salt & pepper to taste

Zest and juice the limes, reserve the juice.  In a small bowl, combine lime juice, lime zest and chili powder.  Stir in the honey and water.  Add salt and pepper to taste.


2 medium zucchini

2 yellow squash

1 small yellow onion

½ poblano pepper or 1 3 oz can diced green chilies

4 oz   low- fat cheddar cheese, grated

1 ½ tablespoons butter

Pinch of salt to taste

Cut zucchini and squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon.  Cut into ½ inch slices.  Dice the onion.

Remove stem and seeds from pepper and cut into small dice or drain can of green chilies.

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium high heat.  Add squashes, onions and chilies.  Sauté until squash is fork tender but still rather firm.

Sprinkle with cheese and stir until melted.  Finish at the last minute with a pinch of salt.  Serve immediately.

Green Chile Rice

1 jalapeño pepper

1 small poblano pepper

3 green onions

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons Canola oil

1 ½ cups rice

3 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

Remove stems and seeds from peppers.  Cut into ¼ inch dice.  Dice green onions.  Blend together.

Heat oil in a large sauce pan over medium high heat.  Sauté rice for 1 – 2 minutes until translucent.  Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Stir in blended chilies, onions and salt. Stir.  Add water and bring to a simmer.  Turn temperature to low, cover and cook for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and uncover.

Let rice stand while cooking tilapia.  Fluff rice with a fork.

For other recipes, mail order ingredients and cooking tools from the Santa Fe School of Cooking check out these links:

Santa Fe School of Cooking Recipes

Southwest ingredients

Southwest cooking tools

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  1. ryan keller says

    absolutely amazing. i cooked this recipe for my fiance and she LOVED it. infact she wont stop talking about it now. great spicy flavor, easy to follow directions (easy enough for a guy) and awesome results. gracias!

    • sandy says

      Ryan, I’m so glad you and your fiance liked the recipe. Engaged? How exciting! Congrats to both of you and best wishes.


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