Calabacitas is one of the most satisfying dishes you’ll come across in Mexican cuisine — and that’s coming from a stubborn carnivore!
It’s a vegetarian dish that roughly translates as “zucchini”, but you can use all types of squash in this recipe and still get stellar results.
It’s also a worthy ambassador for one of the most alluring aspects of Mexican cooking — fresh, healthy ingredients combining into something completely unique (and tasty).
How To Make Calabacitas
Nothing processed. No bottled sauces. Just loads of fresh veggies:
3 plum tomatoes
1 small onion
3 garlic cloves
2 cups corn
That’s about 1.5 lbs. worth of zucchini, but feel free to add in any other squash favorites you have on hand.
First things first, get those tomatoes roasting!
I usually plop them in a 400F oven. They typically need about 20-30 minutes to fully roast, but it’s okay to just grab them when you need them for this recipe.
Finely chop the onion and get it sweating in some oil over medium heat.
Let it cook until it’s starting to brown, approx. 7-10 minutes — the brown spots are caramelized bits of onion and they add some real flava to the dish.
Add 3 cloves of minced garlic and let it cook for 30 seconds or so.
At this point I usually take a couple spoonfuls of the onion-garlic mixture and add it to a blender where it will wait patiently for the roasted tomatoes.
Add the chopped zucchini to the pan along with:
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
Don’t worry if you don’t have Mexican oregano as it won’t make or break the dish. I would probably just omit it before substituting regular oregano. What is Mexican oregano?
As the zucchini cooks for a couple minutes you’ll have time to blend the tomato mixture and get the heat level to your liking.
Add the roasted tomatoes to the blender along with 1/4 of the jalapeno. There should already be a couple spoonfuls of the onion-garlic mixture in the blender.
Combine and take a taste. Keep adding slivers of the jalapeno until it tastes right to you. I used a huge jalapeno for this batch and only needed half of it. You can substitute serrano for jalapeno if you want.
Add the blended tomato mixture to the saucepan and give it a good stir to coat the zucchini.
It will only need a couple more minutes in the simmering tomato sauce. Let it cook until it softens a bit but is still firm, somewhere around 7-8 minutes total did the job for this batch. It won’t hurt it to cook longer but it tends to get a little mushy if overcooked.
If the pan seems low on liquid you can always add 1/2 cup stock or water, but I had plenty of liquid from the tomatoes for this batch.
I also used a can of corn for this batch — if doing that just add it in at the end as it won’t take long to warm up. If using fresh corn kernels you can add them in when you add the zucchini — 2 cups worth will do the job.
Be sure to give a final taste for seasoning, adding more salt if you want. I added another generous pinch to this batch.
Hopefully you’re surprised at how much flavor you can get from such a simple ingredient list — I usually am and that’s what keeps me coming back to this dish.
And yes, you can use the Calabacitas as a filling for tacos, burritos, or enchiladas — and I will put up some examples of this soon — but for now just try it all by its lonesome. It’s remarkably satisfying and you really don’t need much else for a meal.
Cotija cheese and freshly chopped cilantro are worthy garnishes, but you can consider them optional.
Okay, let me know if you have any questions about these Calabacitas as they are a real treat. The zucchini really responds to these flavors so I recommend starting with that, but keep in mind that you can get creative with the squash type.
P.S. If you want to turn this into a soup, see Easy Calabacitas Soup.
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- 1.5 lbs. zucchini or squash (I used 2 larger zucchinis)
- 1 small onion
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 jalapeno
- 3 plum tomatoes
- 2 cups corn kernels (I used a single can)
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste)
- freshly cracked black pepper
- Cotija cheese (optional)
- freshly chopped cilantro (optional)
- olive oil
- Give the tomatoes a good rinse and let them roast in a 400F oven for 20 minutes or until you need them. I usually de-stem the tomatoes knowing that any juices leftover in the roasting pan will be used.
- Finely chop a small onion and get it cooking in some oil over medium heat. Let it cook until it's starting to brown, approx. 7-10 minutes. Add three minced garlic cloves and cook for 30-60 seconds.
- Take a couple spoonfuls of the onion-garlic mixture from the pan and add it to the blender -- this will eventually be combined with the roasted tomatoes.
- Give the zucchinis a good rinse and cut them up into 1/4" sized pieces -- be sure to cut off the ends of the zucchinis and discard. Add the chopped zucchini to the onion-garlic mixture in the pan, along with 3/4 teaspoon salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano. Stir well and let it saute for a couple minutes as you put the tomato mixture together.
- Rinse the jalapeno and chop it up into quarters, discarding the stem. Add the roasted tomatoes to the blender along with 1/4 of the jalapeno. (There should also be a couple spoonfuls of the onion-garlic mixture in the blender.) Combine well and take a taste. Add additional slivers of the jalapeno until the heat tastes right to you. I used a larger jalapeno for this batch and only needed about half of it.
- Add the tomato mixture back to the saucepan and let the zucchini simmer in it for a couple more minutes or until the zucchini is tender but still a little firm -- this batch cooked for a total of 7-8 minutes. If using canned corn you can add it in now as it doesn't need much time to heat up. If using fresh corn kernels you can add them in when you add the zucchini. (I usually drain and rinse canned corn but this is optional.)
- Take a final taste for seasoning. I added another generous pinch of salt to this batch.
- Serve immediately with your choice of garnish. Cotija cheese and freshly chopped cilantro are good options.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge where they will keep for a few days.
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