Tilapia with olives, capers, and lemon

Last summer, on one of my days off while I was working in Michigan for the U.S. Forest Service, it was exactly 90-something degrees and approximately 80% humidity.  It was my week to rove the campgrounds and cruise the forest roads, so I had already spent the majority of my week trudging through the humid continental jungle in a polyester-blend uniform, slapping mosquitoes the size of small children.  Needless to say, I tossed my hiking ambition into the pending box for just one more day and sulked in the A/C, flipping on the Food Network.

Being from a place with a population of 2,500, you can imagine that I didn’t grow up surrounded by a lot of outside culture.  Most residents had either Finnish, French-Canadian, or Native American ancestry, and 99% of the people were white.  Since we were a three-hour drive from a big city (Green Bay, Wisconsin), it cost quite a bit more to get food and supplies to our neck of the woods, let alone more ‘exotic’ tastes. My childhood menu was full of homemade contraptions tossed together from aluminum cans and seasonal produce from our garden, and whichever meat was on sale that day.  Lots of sloppy joes, pork loins, deliveries from the Schwan’s truck, Friday night fish fries, pasties, and more goulash than you could ever imagine.  I had no idea what tilapia was; if it wasn’t swimming in Lake Superior or one of the local inland lakes, it didn’t exist.  Capers were a type of adventure story, and lemons came in the form of Kool-Aid packets.  I did love olives, however, but I knew I loved black ones and hated green.  Other varieties existed?  I didn’t know it.

Fast forward to that sweaty day last summer.  As I sucked down my 3rd (or 23rd…) Fla-Vor-Ice (sorry guys, they totally trump Otter Pops!), David Rocco’s handsome face popped on screen for his special on the Amalfi Coast.  All of a sudden, I found three parts of me whirling together and confusion and deep love enveloping me.  I moved across the country to Utah when I was 23, and had since been enlightened to a smorgasbord of overpriced international and organic delights from places that only existed in encyclopedias.  In my new independence, I spent way too much money experimenting in the supermarket and way too many hours watching the Food Network.  Five years later, I spent even more money traveling internationally and trying foreign cuisines right at the source.  Sometimes my taste buds go schizo and I find myself simultaneously craving a doner kebab from my late nights in Spain, fried cheese curds from Friends & Food by AuTrain beach in the summertime, and grandpa’s kishka he always made for breakfast.

This dish has become one of my favorites to make on any night for dinner.  I usually have all the ingredients on hand, and it packs a ton of intricate flavors for not much effort.  I first saw it on Giada when she made a version with chicken and chili oil…I’ve been making it for years, and it has morphed into my own.  It’s never the same, and quantities vary depending on your taste and cravings, but this is how I like it.

Tilapia with olives, capers, & lemon

Tilapia with olives, capers, & lemon

Tilapia with olives, capers, and lemon

2 tilapia fillets, or any fish or chicken of your choice

a few olives (kalamata & Greek-style green), or olive tapenade

1-2 Tbsp capers

zest & juice of 1/4 lemon

olive oil or coconut oil

white wine (optional)

crushed red pepper flakes

salt & pepper

fresh parsley for garnish and zing


  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet.  Add the fish.
  2. While the fish cooks, chop the olives.  Last time I made this, I used tapenade from the olive bar, and it had a great flavor.
  3. When the fish is almost cooked, add a splash of white wine (if you choose to use it).  Add the olives and capers.
  4. Squeeze the lemon over all the ingredients in the pan.
  5. Sprinkle red pepper flakes to your liking/spicy factor (I love spicy, so I go nuts), add salt and pepper to taste.
  6. When the fish is opaque and cooked all the way through, remove from heat and plate it.  sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley and lemon zest.

Alternatively, you can toss all the ingredients in a baking dish and pop it in the oven at 375 for 20 minutes, or until fish is cooked. Let me know if you try this, and any substitutions you may make!  I’d love to hear what your taste buds say.

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