The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Kids Make Ceviche

May 16th, 2009 · No Comments · Posted in kids, Recipes

Digging for fish, Peruvian style

Digging for fish, Peruvian style

I was pretty sure I’d get a big, fat “Yuck!” when I asked the kids in my food appreciation classes to try raw fish. That’s precisely the reaction you get from many adults, who supposedly have more sophisticated palates. So imagine my surprise when the kids not only embraced the idea of ceviche–fish morsels soaked in citrus–but actually wolfed it down and begged for more.

This all comes about as our classes continue our virtual world food tour with a visit to Peru. This South American country has at least two very distinct food cultures–that of the highlands in the Andes mountains, where potatoes and corn rule and guinea pigs often are roasted for dinner; and the Pacific coast, where fresh seafood is a logical choice. It’s here that “fresh” takes on a whole new meaning with the concept of ceviche, an ingenious method of mixing the catch of the day with vibrant fruits and vegetables.

In theory, the fish is “cooked” by the acid in, say, lime juice added to the mix. This acidification does change the texture and appearance of the fish, but hardly cooks the fish all the way through in the traditional sense. However, the fish becomes so highly flavored you forget that it’s still mostly raw. Sometimes ingredients are cooked and added to others that are not. The combinations are endless: imagine a sea scallop with sweet potato and fruity hot chili pepper.

Because the fish in ceviche is not cooked in the usual meaning of the word, some caution must be exercised. As food science author Harld McGee states: “Because parasitic worms are often found in otherwise high-quality fish, the U.S. Food Code specifies that fish sold for raw consumption should be frozen throughout for a minimum of 15 hour at -31 degree Fahrenheit, or for seven days at -4 degrees Fahrenheit.” Consult your fish purveyor for details.

Part of this lesson also is to teach the kids about “sustainable” fish, or how to choose fish in the market that have not been over-exploited. An additional concern is the mercury and sometimes pernicious chemicals that concentrate in fish at the top of the food chain, such as tuna and swordfish. Quickly our choices at the seafood counter become somewhat limited. We opted for sustainably farmed tilapia, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Tilapia has a reputation for being bland and unsophisticated. But we found that decidedly not the case in ceviche. Talipia stands up extremely well to the acid test, delivering lots of flavor and a very pleasant texture in the mouth. 

The recipe we chose could hardly be simpler: fish tossed with red onion, cilantro, mild green pepper and corn kernels, then doused with lime juice and seasoned with a little salt.  Kids love preparing the vegetables, and become utterly engrossed in the task of squeezing limes.

When the kids leave the room, grownups can add a splash of Peruvian pisco to their ceviche–but tequilla works, too.

Recipe: Peruvian-style tilapia ceviche


  1. 1 pound farm-raised tilapia fillets (see note)
  2.  1/2 red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly slice
  3. 1/2 mild green chili pepper, such as a Banana pepper, diced small 
  4.  1/2 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
  5.  1/3 cup cilantro leaves
  6.  juice from 7 limes
  7.  salt to taste


  1.  Cut tilapia fillets into bite-size pieces and place in mixing bowl.
  2. Add onion slices, corn and cilantro
  3. Add lime juice and toss well
  4. Season with salt to taste
  5. Fish will “cook” or turn white-ish as it absorbs the citric acid from the lime juice. Allow to sit, refrigerated, 15-45 minutes before serving in small bowls or cups. (For a stylishly adult  version, serve the ceviche in martini glasses.)

Note: A freshwater, plant-eating fish originally from Africa, tilapia is now widely farmed around the world because it is easy to grow and produces more protein that it takes in. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program recommends consumers purchase tilapia farmed in the U.S. It recommends avoiding tilapia from China or other Asian countries, where pollution and weak management are common. Tilapia raised in Central and South America are listed as a “good alternative.”

My rating: 4.0 stars

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