Zucchini? Yes, zucchini. I’m launching my food blog with this humble, under-appreciated summer squash. Why? Because it’s used way, way too much to make stuff like zucchini bread (although I do make my own version). And, some folks are itching for another way to use all those zucchini that proliferate the gardens and markets this time of year. I know what you’re thinking . . . blah. But, you’re wrong. It’s all about how it’s prepared.
In this recipe, the zucchini’s fresh, buttery taste is complimented by crisp corn kernels and the sweet juices of tomato and Mexican seasoning. It’s basically a succotash and it’s been served up in my family and other Mexican kitchens for generations.
This is comfort food more often eaten at home rather than in Mexican restaurants, especially those in the States, where the menu favors greasy, fried tacos over vegetables. This dish is just some of the healthy Mexican food I enjoy and it’s quick and easy to make. Of course there are many variations of calabacitas – some omit the corn, others the tomatoes. I like it with both.
Tidbits on Zucchini:
- Squash was domesticated as early as 10,000 B.P in central Mexico and Peru, as well as other parts of the Americas. As such, squash was an integral staple in Mexican cuisine, along with corn and beans, according to the Encyclopedia of Food and Culture.
- The word calabacita is derived from the Spanish word calabaza, meaning squash; the diminutive “ita” changes the meaning to little squash.
- Zucchini is like the tomato – botanically a fruit but thought to be a veggie.
This dish is versatile. It can be served as a side or as a main. I favor the vegetarian version, paired with arroz, black beans and slices of avocado. For a little more decadence, I sometimes add grated cheese on top during the last few minutes of simmering.
CALABACITAS CON ELOTE: Mexican Zucchini Succotash
Makes 4 servings
1 tablespoon canola or vegetable oil
4 cups zucchini, diced (aim for about 1 inch thick pieces; too small and they will turn to mush)
1 1/2 cups corn, preferably fresh off the cob
1/2 cup onion, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
Scant teaspoon ground cumin, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tomato, diced (canned) or fresh*
1 – 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
*If using fresh tomatoes, add 1/4 cup water or vegetable or chicken broth.
In a large hot skillet, sauté zucchini in oil. Allow to cook evenly for 3 minutes, turning occasionally to prevent over cooking. Add the corn and onions, stirring and sautéing for another 5 minutes so that the zucchini begins to soften and barely turn golden. The zucchini should be slightly crisp . Add the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of the cumin and stir for a few seconds until the flavors are released, careful not to burn the garlic. Finally add the tomato with its juice, the salt and the cilantro. Simmer on medium heat uncovered for about 5 minutes. Sample the broth and adjust the seasoning – adding more cumin to your taste. Cook for an additional 3 – 5 minutes, until the tomatoes release their sweet juices and the vegetables are cooked but slightly al dente.
Add chiles – diced roasted green poblanos or jalapenos/serranos, finely chopped.
Add diced chicken or pork for extra protein (season and cook diced meat separately, then add to the skillet of calabacitas while it simmers).
Add cheese – grated Chihuahua, Monterey Jack or cheddar (typical choices).