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Pair baked tilapia parmesan with zesty tomato quinoa. This recipe makes a lively side dish that will be delicious served hot and equally wonderful cold the next day. JESSICA KARLEY/FORUM NEWS SERVICE

Lighten up with Baked Tilapia Parmesan

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Now that warmer weather is upon us, it seems fitting to try my hand at a menu makeover.

I love chicken parmesan and baked pasta dishes, but they seem better suited for winter weather, when it is more appropriate to hide under the layers of bulky sweaters and scarves.

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And now that spring’s finally here, it’s time to lighten things. This can be a tricky task because I not only love food, I love A LOT of food.

In place of the fried chicken, I decided to make Baked Parmesan Crusted Tilapia. In my quest for lighter meals, I have also been trying to incorporate more fish into my family’s diet.

Tilapia is a very versatile, inexpensive, white fish that lends itself to many different types of preparation. This recipe is a great because is it done in minutes and incorporates a slightly addictive, savory cheese topping.

This recipe calls for a secret ingredient of Greek yogurt that ensures this mild fish tastes rich and remains tender after it’s done baking. It’s a perfect quick dish that’s sure to keep your dinner guests feeling special, even when those guests are your family members and you’re serving it on a busy weeknight.

I rounded out this meal with a Zesty Tomato Quinoa.

Quinoa is a seed that is native to the Andes. It is small, round and has a similar texture to couscous, but with a firmer bite. It is an excellent source of fiber and protein and can grow in many different climates. Fun fact: The United Nations has deemed 2013 as “The Year of Quinoa.”

It is referred to as a pseudo-cereal because, even though it is derived from the same family as spinach, beets and Swiss chard, it can also be ground into a flour and is prepared in the same manner as grains. But, again, because it’s not a grain, it’s also a perfect option for those looking for gluten-free dinner options.

Quinoa, like many other grains, can be served in hot or cold dishes and can take with an endless variety of flavors. Alone, it has a slightly nutty, rather bland taste, as you would expect from any plain cooked grain.

An easy way to add flavor to quinoa is to prepare it with various stocks, broths or juices. This was my first time using vegetable juice, but since that can be a little thick, I diluted it with a low-sodium vegetable broth and added a little extra zip with a citrusy pinot grigio and a touch of balsamic vinegar.

The result was a lively side dish delicious when served hot and equally wonderful served cold the next day.

Because this “grain” keeps its firm texture so well, it makes a flavorful option to liven up your boring sack lunches.

BAKED TILAPIA PARMESAN

  • (4) 5-6 oz. tilapia fillets
  • ½ cup plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons brown mustard
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, fresh cracked
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, fresh grated
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 2 tablespoon panko bread crumbs, Italian seasoned or plain

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tinfoil and spray well with cooking spray. Evenly distribute tilapia fillets on the pan. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine yogurt, mustard, lemon zest, salt, pepper, garlic and cheese. Stir until evenly combined. Spread ¼ cup of mixture over top of each fillet and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of panko bread crumbs. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.

ZESTY TOMATO QUINOA

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, fresh grated
  • 1¼ cup vegetable juice (I used V8)
  • 1¼ cup vegetable broth, low sodium
  • 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper, fresh cracked
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, optional
  • ½ cup white wine

In a medium saucepan, saute garlic and oil over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes. Take care not to brown the garlic. Add vegetable juice, broth, quinoa, vinegar, salt, pepper and white wine. Stir until combined well. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally until quinoa is cooked (little white “tails” form) and all liquid is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat, fluff with fork and dig in. 

Jessica Karley can be reached at everydaygourmetnd@gmail.com. Read her food blog at EverydayGourmet.AreaVoices.com.

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