Tilapia Tacos Recipe

Jeffrey Saad's delicious Mexican dish served with a 5-minute mole sauce. "This was the recipe for my first "Spice Smuggler" webisode on Foodnetwork.com, and anise seed is the star. When paired with fish, anise seed yields a crunchy "breading" and a sweet licorice note. And this simplified version of mole sauce adds all the pleasure of a smoky chili flavour without all the work. The iceberg lettuce adds a fresh crunch to the tacos and balances the salty tang of the cotija cheese. If you don't have the dried chilies, substitute three chipotle chilies (canned) or 3 tablespoons chili powder for a megadelicious dish!"


1 lb. tilapia
2 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
2 tbsp anise seed
2 ancho chilies
1 guajillo chili
2 tbsp canola oil
1 cup thinly sliced white onions
2 garlic cloves
2 Roma tomatoes
1/3 cup skinless slivered almonds
1 tsp cumin seed
1/4 cup dark raisins
8 corn tortillas, plus 1/2 a corn tortilla
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce or red cabbage
1/4 cup grated cotija cheese


Step 1: Season the tilapia with salt and lay it on a plate. Pour the anise seed over the fish (don’t be shy) and turn the fish over to coat both sides evenly and liberally.

Step 2: Remove the stems from the ancho and guajillo chilies and add the chilies to a small saucepan filled with 5″ of cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and cover. Let sit for at least 15 minutes.

Step 3: In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the canola oil. Once the oil is hot (you’ll see a haze coming off the pan), carefully lay the anise-coated tilapia in the pan. Sauté the fish until golden on one side, about 2 minutes. Flip over and finish cooking, about 3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Step 4: In the same pan, sauté the onions, garlic and whole tomatoes until lightly golden brown. Monitor the heat so that you’re always adding colour but not burning anything. Add the almonds and cumin seed and cook for 1 more minute. Set aside.

Step 5: Place the soaked chilies in a blender. Pour 1 cup of the chili soaking water over the onion mixture in the sauté pan and discard the rest. Carefully transfer the mixture to the blender. Add the 2 tsp salt, raisins and the 1/2 corn tortilla and purée until very smooth.

Step 6: Briefly toast the remaining 8 tortillas on a grill or warm as desired and lay 2 on each of four plates. Spoon the tilapia onto the tortillas and break it up with a fork. Spoon the sauce over the fish. Add the shredded lettuce and garnish with the cotija cheese. Serve immediately.

Flavour Secret: To gauge when fish is properly cooked on the stove top or grill, place a spatula halfway under the fish and push the handle down like a lever. If the fish separates, it’s done. If it doesn’t, continue cooking for a bit and repeat the process. When fish breaks nicely under a spatula inserted halfway, it’s ready to serve.

See more recipes from Jeffrey Saad.

Reprinted with permission from Jeffrey Saad’s Global Kitchen (2012 Ballantine Books).