Eat Pretty: Baja Beach Tacos

Pickled Veggies
Avocado-Jalapeño Crema Ingredients

Grill season is upon us! And for the occasion, I wanted to create a grilled taco recipe that delivers what I love about classic, Baja-style, fried fish tacos, without breaking the caloric bank. For a healthy and tasty way to get lots of flavor I grilled the fish instead of battering and frying it and nixed the traditional mayo-based sauce. The result? A supremely tasty and surprisingly simple springtime meal. (Yields four servings.)

Quick-Pickled Vegetables:
-1 jalapeño, thinly sliced
-¼ onion, thinly sliced
-¼ zucchini, thinly sliced
-¼ yellow squash, thinly sliced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tsp cumin seeds
-½ cup rice vinegar
-1 tbsp lime juice
-1 tsp salt

Grilled Fish:
-½ cup fresh citrus juice
-1 tbsp olive oil
-1 tbsp cilantro, minced
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 tsp cumin
-1 tsp salt
-1 large pinch black pepper
-1 lb whitefish* fillets (halibut, snapper, mahi-mahi, sea bass, sole, etc.), cut into 8 pieces
-corn tortillas
-wooden skewers

Avocado-Jalapeño Crema:
-2 tbsp crema or sour cream
-2 tbsp milk
-¼ avocado
-1-3 jalapeños
-2 cloves garlic
-1 tbsp cilantro
-1 tbsp lime juice
-1 tsp cumin
-½ tsp salt

Consider some garnishes:
-Cotija cheese
-Hot sauce
-Lime wedges
-Avocado slices

*I have purposefully left out tilapia, perhaps the most commonly used fish in traditional, Baja-style fish tacos, for health reasons. If nobody told you yet, eating farm-raised tilapia is as bad for you as eating bacon—some say worse. Don’t believe this? Google it and prepare to have your mind blown.

1. Make the quick-pickled vegetables first. I used a combination of red onions, zucchini, yellow squash, and assorted heirloom tomatoes I had on hand. I encourage you to use whatever you have at home or whatever is readily available to you locally—the trick is to choose firm vegetables with a nice crunch and slice them up very thin (you should end up with 1/2 cup total). Also, toss in some fresh herbs if you have any—I threw in a couple pinches of dill. Combine the vegetables, garlic, herbs and cumin seeds in a medium bowl. Mix the vinegar, lime juice and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to boil, stirring until salt dissolves. Pour over vegetables and herbs. Let stand at room temperature while preparing the rest of the dish.
2. Now, prepare the marinade. You can use any fresh citrus fruits. I like a combination of very sour and sweet; lime and orange is a great duo, but don’t forget about grapefruits, tangerines, clementines, lemons, yuzu… Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl and stir well to combine. Pour over fish fillets and marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes (if you need longer, place fish in the refrigerator).
3. Next, prepare the avocado-jalapeño crema. Combine crema ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
4. Preheat a gas grill* on high for 10 minutes, covered, prior to grilling. Thread each piece of fish onto a skewer and discard marinade. Wrap exposed part of each skewer in heavy-duty foil to protect it from charring. Wrap corn tortillas in aluminum foil and heat on the grill while cooking your fish. Oil grill rack, then grill fish, covered, turning once, until opaque and just cooked through, about 10 minutes total if you're going with the Chilean sea bass.
5. Lastly, assemble and serve your fish tacos with corn tortillas, the avocado-jalapeño crema, pickled vegetables and optional garnishes. Enjoy immediately.

*If you aren't able to grill outdoors, cook fish in a well-oiled, ridged grill pan. Heat grill pan on high heat until it is smoking to ensure that you get a crisp sear on the outside of your fish. Warm the tortillas in a foil package in grill pan 2 to 3 minutes or in a 300°F oven for 10 minutes.

—Amy Kothari

Amy Kothari is the founder of the artisan jam and jelly company Big City, Small Batches and shares her recipes and food photography on her blog, Tastes Like Chicken.

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  • tacolover


  • Class Versus Sass
    • amyK

      The issue here is that tilapia contains very low levels of omega 3 and high levels of omega 6 fats. Without getting into a science lesson here, there is debate as to whether this ratio is healthy. There are people who strongly believe tilapia is healthy and those who do not. I am not a food scientist or nutritionist or fish expert, so I am not comfortable making the call re: is tilapia healthy or not. For me, if there is enough suspicion that a particular food or ingredient is not healthy and there are perfectly suitable, if not better, substitutions, I prefer to err on the side of caution. Health reasons aside, tilapia is a dry and bland fish-- there are way better whitefish fillets to use in its place. And tilapia is commonly used in baja fried fish tacos because it is very inexpensive and it is destined for the deep fryer, not because it is preferable in terms of flavor or texture. Trust me, there are better fish you could go with but if you're dead set on tilapia and you live on the edge, do you. By all means, do you.

  • Allison

    I love ITG, but I'm not a huge fan of the food/recipe posts.

    • ali

      i dont agree! eat pretty is the bombbbb

  • speed

    ITTG, please don't contribute to the destruction of an entire ecosystem. Many of the fish you recommend are on the verge of being endangered. More information below (taken from

    Some fish ought not to be eaten, because we have so overfished them that these fish and other sea creatures are becoming endangered. Here is a list of some especially endangered seafood along with some sustainable alternatives. Where I can, I will also give you the few exceptions where an otherwise threatened fish is being caught sustainably somewhere.

    1. Bluefin TunaBluefin tuna is one of the tastiest -- and most threatened fish in the ocean. They are overfished everywhere they live, which is all the world's temperate oceans. The popularity of sushi has largely done in these gigantic, slow-maturing fish; one tuna can bring tens of thousands of dollars at the great fish markets of the world. Alternatives would be yellowfin and bigeye tuna, often sold under the Hawaiian name "ahi." Be sure to buy tuna caught by American fishermen, who are subject to strict environmental rules foreign fleets are not.

    2. Red Snapper--Red snapper is a great fish, but it has been hammered everywhere it swims, particularly in the Caribbean. From a taste standpoint this reef fish is excellent -- but not so fine that the more plentiful gray or yellowtail snappers can't substitute for them. And honestly, avoid the problem altogether and buy black seabass if you are on the East Coast, or Pacific Rockfish if you are in the West. If you must have real red snapper, make sure you buy the varieties that live around the Hawaiian Islands -- these are not overfished. Yet.

    3. Chilean Seabass--The darling of restaurant chefs, this very firm, very white fish is a prince in the kitchen -- so much so it is now endangered in every fishery save one. Things have gotten so bad that pirates are actively running Chilean seabass like drugs. Seriously, avoid this fish at all costs -- unless you can get fish certified from the South Georgia Islands off New Zealand. If your fishmonger can't tell you that the seabass he's selling is from that fishery, give him a dirty look and choose something else. I'd recommend striped bass or Pacific white seabass as an alternative.

    4. Atlantic Halibut and Atlantic Cod--Avoid Atlantic halibut at all costs -- it is in terrible shape. And unless you can be sure that your Atlantic codfish was caught by hook-and-line, don't buy that, either. There is a small hook-and-line fishery for cod in New England that is not damaging stocks and should be supported. But codfish caught in gillnets or, worse, fish trawled off the bottom, need to be left alone. Your best alternatives are on North America's other coast: Pacific halibut and Pacific cod are both virtually identical to their Atlantic cousins, and neither is in bad shape.

  • amyK

    Aw, girl, I was just fooling around haha. Listen, being a chef doesn't make me the authority on all matters relating to cuisine, produce, or wildlife-- I can promise you, every single recipe I have ever written could be critiqued for not being healthful enough or authentic enough. There are a lot of food bloggers or chefs out there who really push their vision of a nutritional agenda-- that's not my thing. I write recipes that I feel are yummy and accessible and I try my best to make healthy ingredient choices. If there is one thing I am comfortable saying, it is that I don't know it all. I learn every day. Really, I just wanted to encourage people to educate themselves on the subject and then choose the fish that they prefer. I agree, anything in moderation is probably no big deal (including bacon). Glad you are still down to try the recipe, no matter what fish you use, I'm sure it'll be great :)

    • Class Versus Sass

      Ok I made this and it was the highlight of my weekend:)

  • amyK

    Well guys, eat tilapia, don't eat tilapia--its your life, you have to live it for you :) If nothing else, I am happy that my article started a dialogue on the subject and it seems everyone is researching the issue and deciding for themselves. That's the way it should be. Happy cooking, y'all :)

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