Make Ahead

Moroccan Tilapia with Red Pepper, Lemon and Quinoa

January 13, 2014
0 Ratings
  • Serves 4-6
Author Notes

I make this brightly-flavored, colorful, and healthy fish dish for my family at least monthly as an homage to my North Africa-born mother - and I once made it for 180 people in a local cook-off! The surprisingly robust flavors and 15 minute prep make this a gratifying one-pot meal for any busy weeknight. It's also very adaptable without sacrificing much flavor. This recipe uses tilapia, but any firm, mildly flavored white fish will do. It also calls for cilantro and harissa, which is a Moroccan chili paste -- both of which can also be substituted in a last-minute pinch. For example, if you are one of those people who taste soap when you eat cilantro, you can substitute parsley and add a teaspoon of ground coriander. You can also substitute harissa with red pepper flakes, coriander, and additional cumin (see below*). If you're not familiar with harissa, taste it before you add it to adjust the heat to your liking.

My recipe was enhanced by a very similar one from a great little book by T. Gila Levine called "Simply Israel" (2007, self-publised) that I found at a Jerusalem gift shop. I give credit to the originator of 'Sofia Mazel's Moroccan Fish' for giving me the courage to use a whole head of garlic. I am indebted to the author for the addition of turmeric, which I never used before but which adds flavor depth and a beautiful yellow color. The basics of our recipes were similar -- the tilapia, unpeeled lemon pieces, garlic, sweet red pepper and cilantro, though I use more lemon and less garlic than Ms. Levine. In addition, for heat and to add more flavor, I lke harissa instead of dried red peppers and cayenne, and I use cumin. Finally, I add quinoa to the vegetables - it cooks along with the vegetables to make this a truly one-pot recipe. —marietta brill

What You'll Need
  • 2 pounds tilapia filets, fresh or frozen (defrosted)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 whole head of garlic, cut in half and peeled
  • 2 sweet red bell peppers, seeded, trimmed, and sliced into 1/2" strips
  • 1 lemon with peel, washed well, cut into 1/4" dice
  • 2 tablespoons harissa, or to taste*
  • 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 cups fresh cilantro or parsley leaves, including stems, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 cup water or chicken stock
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup quinoa
  1. You will need a large saute pan with a top. Over medium-high, heat oil.
  2. Stir in garlic, pepper slices, and lemon pieces, saute for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add harissa, turmeric, cumin, and chopped cilantro (or parsley) and again, saute for 30 seconds.
  4. Stir in quinoa and water -- stir to combine and bring to a simmer.
  5. Place filets over the vegetable mixture and reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook gently, undisturbed -- it should simmer not boil -- for 30-40 minutes until fish is cooked through, and the quinoa has "sprouted".
  6. Garnish with sprigs of fresh cilantro and lemon slices.
  7. Harissa is a North African chili paste available in many mediterranean or middle eastern specialty shops, some Trader Joe's and Whole Foods. If you don't have harissa, you can substitute with a mixture of 1/4 teaspoon of hot chili pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (in addition to the cumin already in the recipe). Note that this is not a recipe for harissa, which features garlic and red peppers that are already in this recipe.
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3 Reviews

Tom B. April 17, 2016
I liked this a lot, but I made a couple modifications: I used only 1 tsp of turmeric. A tbsp seems like way too much--I may just be intolerant of the bitterness that it can impart when used in this quantity. Also, I used freekah instead of quinoa. I thought about using couscous, but decided it would be too delicate for the cooking time (Israeli couscous would probably be fine). I was nervous about cooking the fish for so long, but at very low temperature the fish steams perfectly, and tilapia is a great choice. The flavors are really nice in this dish. Thanks for this.
marietta B. January 13, 2014
Thank you so much! I left out one step - this is my first recipe! Amazingly, the lemon pith bitterness mellows with the cooking, creating a piquant and bright flavor that mixes. Be sure to cut the pieces small.
LeBec F. January 13, 2014
plse re read your recipe above! can't find directions re:cumin, harissa,turmeric, cilantro...! Also, your dish isn't bitter with the lemon pith being included in the mixture?