What’s Cookin’? Ginataang Tilapia With Mustasa Leaves Recipe

image RYAN CHRISTODOULOU via Unsplash

I am no cook. Didn’t undergo any training nor attend any cooking class. So, if you’re looking for Michelin-star recipes and beautifully photographed food, you will be disappointed. But, if you’ve just started learning how to cook like me or if you like reading no-BS recipes and laughing at other people’s struggles at cooking, then this is a great place for you to hang out. 😂

In deciding which recipe to try, I often look at the preparation and cooking time sections. I will NEVER include such in mine because those are LIES. For this particular recipe, it said it will only take me 30 minutes in total to cook ginataang tilapia with mustasa leaves (tilapia fish with mustard leaves in coconut milk)—10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook. Maybe if I have an assistant or two to help me prepare everything, I could get it done in 30 minutes.

I spent around the same total amount of time just preparing the ingredients (which I will get to soon, please indulge me in sharing my cooking story first 😂) because I had to juggle it with feeding our #LittleBoyJesse (this is the first time I’m mentioning our son in my blog. Yay! Yes, his nickname is Jesse but we call him Siopao), refilling his fresh milk, entertaining him by asking him to point to his blue car that goes beep! beep! (coupled with high energy!), and finally putting him on his high chair so he can watch his Masha and The Bear and Booba videos in peace (please don’t make me lie by asking me how much screen-time he gets).

As for the cooking, I definitely spent way more than 20 minutes, maybe around 45. As you may know, cooking is dependent on many different factors like what kind of stove, pan/pot, or cooking oil you’re using. Will share mine in a different post because this intro is way too long for a simple recipe already. 😂

Now, onto the important parts!


  • 4 pieces tilapia (whole, but each may also be cut into two; cleaned, scales removed, and gutted)
  • 1 whole garlic bulb/ head or 8 cloves (peeled and minced)
  • 1 small ginger (depends on your appetite for it—I love it but the #architecthusband doesn’t, so I compromise; sliced)
  • 2-3 bundles mustasa leaves or mustard greens or pechay (one bundle is not enough for us two)
  • 1 medium/ large red onion (my mom advises me to only use red onion when cooking and white onion for sauces and dips; sliced)
  • 2 pieces medium tomatoes (I know, it’s weird, but I put some and it worked!; sliced)
  • 1-2 pieces green chili (whole; but if you like it spicier, you may cut into small pieces)
  • 2 kilos shredded coconut or 1 400ml can coconut milk (I milked the coconut myself in this recipe and I must mention that dishes taste way better when you extract the coconut milk yourself instead of buying one in can; refer to HOW TO EXTRACT COCONUT MILK BY HAND below for “guidance”—pretty sure there are better ways available out there!)
  • 1-2 tbsps fish sauce (or more to taste, please taste the dish before putting this!)
  • 1-2 tbsps lauric oil (I use this coconut-derived oil because my mom says it’s the healthier option. Haha! Google it! You may pretty much use any cooking oil you have except for olive oil or sesame oil, I think. Please Google. 😂)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • one liter of purified/ distilled water


The photo in the recipe looked well-made! Mine was a let-down, aesthetically, but it tasted so good, according to my husband, JS. Good enough for me! Haha!
  1. Clean the fish thoroughly with water (water only, please! 😂). Sprinkle salt and pepper on the fish (inside and outside the cavity). Set aside. The original recipe asked for the fish to be wrapped in mustasa leaves but my finished product ended up not looking like the fish were “wrapped” in leaves, so I’m omitting that extra step. Hehe…
  2. Heat the heavy-bottomed pan on high for five minutes, then put the lauric oil. Bring down the heat to medium and let the oil get hot for around three minutes or until it’s ready—usually works by dipping the ladle in the pan—if it sizzles a bit, it’s hot enough; if it bubbles too much, it’s too hot and must cool off first (learned that after a few burnt dishes. Haha!).
  3. Turn the heat to lowest. Sauté garlic until a little brown, add onions until almost transparent, then ginger. Keep sautéing for a minute or two. Add butter, salt, and pepper (only a pinch or so!).
  4. Add tomatoes and sauté for a few seconds. Then, place tilapia fish in the pan and cover. Simmer for 10 minutes until the fish is half-cooked. Check every three minutes to ensure the fish doesn’t get burned (making this super detailed to save you from burnt dishes because I used to take all recipes literally and forgot my common sense one too many times—should have named this: “Confessions of a Non-Cook.” 😂).
  5. Pour coconut milk over the fish and put fish sauce (one tablespoon at a time, please, and always taste test before adding more). Add salt and pepper for more taste. Cover the pan and let it simmer for 10 more minutes. At the five-minute mark, check to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
  6. Put the mustasa leaves on top, tucking on the sides and in between the fish (DO NOT lift the fish if you don’t want your fish to look like it was murdered 😂).
  7. Cover the pan and simmer for five minutes or until the fish is cooked. At the two-minute mark, put green chili, then check to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan and ladle some of the sauce over the fish. To know if the fish is cooked: it should flake easily when you poke it with a knife or fork.
  8. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding more fish sauce, salt, or pepper, if needed. Best served with steamed rice!

PS: If you’re out of butter and tomatoes, it’s fine to omit those.


The first batch will seem disappointing. I spent around 10 minutes doing it and this was the photo I took of it–I wanted to throw away the bowl the minute I saw this. Haha!
  1. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Then, pat dry with clean towel (This is super duper important! Never ever handle food without doing this! 👍🏽)
  2. Put two kilos of shredded coconut in large aluminum or glass bowl (do not use plastic) and wash with tap water quickly. Set aside.
  3. Boil purified/ distilled water (Depends on you how much water you like. I used a liter of water for mine). Pour half over shredded coconut. Let cool until you can handle the shredded coconut by hand.
  4. Put a strainer over a large glass or aluminum bowl. Once cool enough, squeeze the shredded coconut per handful to extract the coconut milk over the strainer. You may also use a wooden spoon instead of squeezing by hand but it will take more time. Set aside the “extracted” coconut milk on a big plate or bowl.
  5. The first time you’ll do this, it will seem funny (or frustrating!) that you won’t get enough milk after all those efforts—Do not be discouraged! 😂
  6. Go for round two as that coconut still has milk in it! Repeat steps 1 to 4. No need to re-boil water if it’s still hot.
  7. By the end of this process, you should have two bowls of coconut milk. I use one bowl immediately for this recipe and put the other one in an airtight container for freezing. When frozen, extracted coconut milk can last up to three weeks. That’s the max number of weeks I store it just to be sure it’s not stale yet (TIP: When using frozen coconut milk, DO NOT microwave, just let it thaw on its own—around an hour before use. You can pour the thawed milk in your dish, but do not include the ice/ frozen milk).

PS: Extract coconut milk immediately after buying shredded coconut. Do not store as it will spoil easily.

That’s it! Enjoy the dish with your loved ones! Cooking takes so much out of me so I have a love-hate relationship with it. Haha! But I love it when the #architecthusband and #LittleBoyJesse approve of it, makes all the effort worth it. How about you? Do you enjoy cooking? What’s your favorite dish? Feel free to share your recipes so I can try them out!

PS: If you’re going to try this recipe yourself, would appreciate if you could let me know by leaving a reply below, sending me an email, direct messaging me on Instagram, or by simply using the hashtag #behappyrecipe in your social media posts. Thanks very much and happy cooking!


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