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22 June 2020

This calabacitas recipe is a side dish with big flavor, made with sauteed zucchini and squash with roasted peppers, onions, lots of seasonings and cheese. 

If you’re looking for a side dish that is big on flavor, look no further than calabacitas, my friends. Once you’ve tried them, you’ll wonder where this recipe has been your whole life.

What are Calabacitas?

Calabacitas is a vegetarian dish of summer squash prepared with corn and peppers. The name “calabacitas” translates to “little squash” from Spanish, and it is a very popular dish throughout New Mexico and southern Texas. The vegetables are typically sauteed until just softened, mixed with roasted peppers and seasonings, and often with a bit of cheese to finish it.

It is a vegetarian dish, though you can add chicken or pork to round out the meal. Usually served as a side, it can also be served as a main dish with warmed tortillas or gorditas.

One of my readers from New Mexico says that calabacitas are obligatory at social gatherings, and always served with unmashed pinto beans, or Frijoles Enteros, and gorditas, which are thick New Mexico-style flour tortillas. Served this way, the recipe encompasses the Native American trinity of squash, corn and beans.

Calabacitas are typically made with squash or zucchini or both, though the variety of squash used can vary from cook to cook. I am using yellow squash and some small zucchinis for this recipe. Turns out great every time.

Let’s talk about how we make calabacitas, shall we?

Hot Calabacitas in a pan, ready to serve

Calabacitas Ingredients

  • Squash and Zucchini. Use 2 small zucchinis and 2 small summer squash, cubed into bite-sized pieces. You can also just use squash or zucchini.
  • Peppers. Use 2 poblano peppers and a jalapeno pepper if you’d like a spicier version. You can also use Anaheim peppers, any New Mexican varieties, even bell peppers work for super mild, or others.
  • Extra Vegetables. Use 1 medium sized onion and 3 cloves of garlic or more, along with 1 cup of fresh corn kernels. Canned or frozen corn works for this recipe.
  • Seasonings. 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, 1 teaspoon ancho powder, ½ teaspoon cumin, salt to taste. Also red pepper flakes for extra heat, if desired.
  • Garnish. Chopped cilantro, crumbly white cheese and red pepper flakes for garnish
  • Oil. 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • OPTIONAL, FOR CREAMY-CHEESY VERSION
  • 1/4 cup Mexican crema or sour cream (or use milk)
  • ½ cup cotija cheese, grated (use 1 cup for cheesier – you can sub in other melty cheeses, like Monterrey jack)

Hot Calabacitas in a pan with fresh chopped herbs

How to Make Calabacitas – the Recipe Method

ROAST THE PEPPERS. Slice the poblano peppers in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Remove the stems. Set them onto a baking sheet and bake them at 350 degrees 20-30 minutes, or until the skins char and bubble. You can also broil them about 12-15 minutes to the same effect.

These Poblano Peppers are Roasted and Ready for Stuffing for Our Picadillo Stuffed Poblano Peppers Recipe

See How to Roast Poblano Peppers for more detailed explanation and other methods.

Remove from heat and place them into a paper bag or baggie for a few minutes. The heat will steam them and loosen the skins. 

Peel away the skins and roughly chop the peppers. Set them aside for now.

Steps for making Calabacitas

Cook the Onion, Jalapeno and Garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the onions and jalapeno pepper. Cook for 5 minutes to soften.

Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, until the garlic becomes fragrant.

Cook the Zucchini and Squash. Add the zucchini, squash, corn, chili powder, Mexican oregano, ancho powder, chili flakes, cumin and salt to taste. Sauté until just tender, stirring occasionally, 1-2 minutes, to your preference.

Stir. Stir in the chopped poblano peppers and chopped cilantro.

Garnish. Garnish with fresh cilantro, crumbly white cheese like queso fresco and red pepper flakes.

Adding cheese to the calabacitas

FOR CREAMY-CHEESY VERSION

Stir in the Mexican crema and cotija cheese until it melts through along with the chopped peppers and cilantro over low heat.

Boom! Done! Easy enough, isn’t it? Big flavors right here. This makes 4-6 servings as a side dish or 2-3 as a main.

Hot Calabacitas in a pan

Recipe Tips & Notes

  • Other Ingredients. Some recipes use tomatoes, which is a nice variation. Also try it with cactus or avocado. I have also seen it served without corn.
  • Cheese or No Cheese. This dish can be enjoyed with or without cheese. If using cheese, be sure to stir it through with the crema or milk to help it melt through and become nice and creamy.

That’s it, my friends. I hope you enjoy this delicious calabacitas recipe. It might just become your new favorite side dish! Big taste of the American southwest. 

Scooping up some calabacitas out of the pan

Try Some of My Other Popular Recipes

A spoonful of delicious calabacitas

Got any questions? Ask away! I’m happy to help. If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.

Calabacitas Recipe
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5 from 1 vote

Calabacitas Recipe

This calabacitas recipe is a side dish with big flavor, made with sauteed zucchini and squash with roasted peppers, onions, lots of seasonings and cheese. 
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time30 mins
Course: Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Mexican
Keyword: jalapeno, poblanos, squash, zucchini
Servings: 4
Calories: 202kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 poblano peppers you can also use Anaheim peppers, any New Mexican varieties, even bell peppers work for super mild, or others
  • 1 jalapeno pepper optional, for a spicier version
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 3 cloves garlic diced
  • 2 small zucchinis cubed
  • 2 small summer squash cubed
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels canned or frozen are fine to use
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ancho powder or use your favorite chili powder blend
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes optional, for a spicier version
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • Chopped cilantro crumbly white cheese and red pepper flakes for garnish

OPTIONAL, FOR CREAMY-CHEESY VERSION

  • 1/4 cup Mexican crema or sour cream or use milk
  • ½ cup cotija cheese grated (use 1 cup for cheesier – you can sub in other melty cheeses, like Monterrey jack)

Instructions

  • ROAST THE PEPPERS. Slice the poblano peppers in half lengthwise and scoop out the insides. Remove the stems. Set them onto a baking sheet and bake them at 350 degrees 20-30 minutes, or until the skins char and bubble. You can also broil them about 12-15 minutes to the same effect.
  • Remove from heat and place them into a paper bag or baggie for a few minutes. The heat will steam them and loosen the skins.
  • Peel away the skins and roughly chop the peppers. Set them aside for now.
  • Cook the Onion, Jalapeno and Garlic. Heat the olive oil in a large pan or skillet and add the onions and jalapeno pepper. Cook for 5 minutes to soften.
  • Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, until the garlic becomes fragrant.
  • Cook the Zucchini and Squash. Add the zucchini, squash, corn, chili powder, Mexican oregano, ancho powder, chili flakes, cumin and salt to taste. Sauté until just tender, 3-4 minutes, to your preference.
  • Stir. Stir in the chopped peppers and chopped cilantro.
  • Garnish. Garnish with fresh cilantro, crumbly white cheese and red pepper flakes
  • FOR CREAMY-CHEESY VERSION
  • Stir in the Mexican crema and cotija cheese until it melts through along with the chopped peppers and cilantro over low heat.

Notes

Serves 4-6 as a side dish, or 2-3 as a main course. If serving as a main, try them on warmed tortillas.

Nutrition

Calories: 202kcal | Carbohydrates: 22g | Protein: 8g | Fat: 11g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 25mg | Sodium: 290mg | Potassium: 793mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 863IU | Vitamin C: 92mg | Calcium: 171mg | Iron: 2mg
Calabacitas
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