Healthy, delicious and one-pan easy: Tilapia with white beans and kale

Tilapia with white beans and kale is a weeknight-quick, one-pan meal. Capers add a briny kick.

Blue Kitchen
Tilapia with white beans and kale deliver good protein and fiber in a quick weeknight meal.

Inspiration for the recipes you find here comes from everywhere. From restaurant meals to farmers market or grocery store finds, cookbooks, magazines, even random photographs or phrases. This recipe’s origin was much more straightforward. The tilapia fillets in the fridge weren’t getting any younger, and I wanted something other than my usual couple of go-to recipes. Oh, and it had to be quick. We had something to do after dinner.

That meant there would be no running to the store for anything we didn’t already have on hand. What we had on hand included kale, a shallot, canned white beans, white wine, broth and some capers. I knew we would be fine. 

The tilapia wasn’t even supposed to be a post, just dinner. But a few bites in, Marion and I both agreed it was deliciously postworthy. By then, unfortunately, our plates were no longer ready for their closeups. I knew I would be cooking it again. That was also fine.

This kind of cooking is one we particularly like here at Blue Kitchen. Sure, we love exploring exotic cuisines and using ingredients in unexpected ways. But we also like just rolling up our sleeves and tapping into basic cooking techniques with what we have on hand. Everything in this dish is pretty much good for you too. The tilapia is a low-fat source of protein, the beans deliver more protein and plenty of fiber and the kale is packed with antioxidants and nutrients.

Tilapia fillets can be pan seared until cooked through, but it’s also nice to brown them slightly and then steam or braise them with other ingredients. That gives them a little color and ensures that they don’t dry out. Kale can also be braised, wilting and cooking down quickly. Canned beans warm up in the braising liquid, in this case wine and broth, essentially coming along for the ride. The shallot gets sautéed partway through the process, and capers add the bright, briny taste that livens everything up at the end.

People do this kind of cooking every day, of course, relying on techniques and flavor instincts developed over time. We do, too. Often, the results are just a good dinner. But sometimes, as with this dish, they’re worth sharing.

Tilapia with White Beans and Kale
  Serves 2

2 tilapia fillets, about 6 ounces each (or other firm white fish)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

1 shallot, chopped

1 15-ounce can Great Northern or other white beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 cup dry white wine [editor's note: substitute cooking wine or more broth of the same amount]

1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth (or water)

4 cups lightly packed, coarsely torn kale, ribs removed

2 tablespoons capers, drained but not rinsed

1. Season fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium nonstick, lidded sauté pan or skillet over medium flame. Place the fillets in the pan flesh side (pretty side, some would call it) down and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn and cook on other side for about 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. The fish won’t be cooked through at this point.

2. Wipe pan clean with paper towel and add another tablespoon of oil. Cook shallot, stirring frequently to avoid overly browning, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add beans, wine and broth to pan, stirring to combine. Add kale to pan in handfuls and cover. Cook for about 2 minutes, allowing the alarming volume of kale to wilt. Stir to work kale into bean mixture; it will continue to wilt and collapse.

3. Season everything lightly with salt and pepper. Lay tilapia fillets on top of bean mixture and sprinkle capers over everything. Cover pan and cook until tilapia is just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. (The capers’ fragrance will suddenly get frighteningly big – don’t worry, it will subside.)

4. Transfer tilapia fillets to a small plate. Taste beans and kale and adjust seasonings. Divide beans and kale between two shallow bowls and top each with a tilapia fillet. Serve.

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