Tilapia is one of the most searched terms on and one of the most consumed fish species in America. Yet I had never cooked it until I came to work in the Cooking Light Test Kitchen.

Chalk that up to my background in the high-end restaurant world, where—and this may surprise some readers—tilapia is disdained with a strangely passionate fervor by many chefs and foodies. Tilapia is flavorless, they claim, and irresponsibly farmed, and generally a sign of, if not the apocalypse, at least of the blandness of the American palate.

Turns out the chefs are wrong on this one. Tilapia has a lot going for it. It's cheap, and it's everywhere—both highly compelling reasons to give it a try. Sustainably farmed versions are easy to find, an important consideration, with wild fish species under such threat around the world. Flavor-wise, tilapia is admittedly the mildest of the mild flaky white fish, but that can be turned into a virtue: It's a great starter fish for kids (mine love it) or anyone wary of seafood that is too "fishy." For cooks, the neutral flavor can be exploited, too: It makes tilapia a versatile base for a multitude of flavor approaches, evidenced here by recipes ranging from Southern American to Mediterranean to Southeast Asian to Eastern European.

Tilapia's firm flesh holds up to sautéing, breading, poaching, steaming, or whatever you can think to do with it. Unlike more expensive varieties, it's not going to fall apart on you in the pan. And—don't tell any of my cheffy buddies—there are proper ways to use the frozen stuff, too.