Sunday, August 24, 2014

Calabacitas

Well I don't know about y'all, but I'm drowning in zucchini! What is it with those things? It's like they seem to go from too small to eat to the size of a limb in a matter of hours!


OK... I've never gotten quite as desperate as the person who apparently took that photo, but over the years I've begged quite a few neighbors to take some off of my hands.

After a few summers, I started to notice a distinct pattern in the neighborhood. The white folks would all run when they saw me coming, zucchini in hand, but my neighbors of Mexican descent would happily accept as many as I offered saying that they would make "calabacitas."

"Interesting," I thought... wondering what this mysterious "calabacitas" dish was. Finally, I asked one of my neighbors for the recipe and suffice it to say, I don't give away quite so many zucchinis anymore!


Now, depending on who you ask "calabacita" can be translated to mean either "squash," "small pumpkin" or (you guessed it) "zucchini"! But any way you slice it, this recipe is a great and simple way to use up a lot of the suckers and create a wonderful and tasty side dish.

This recipe comes by way of my neighbor, Maria. It can easily be made in smaller portions, but generally when I'm making it, it's because I have a TON of zucchini to use up, so I make a big pot and freeze most of it for later.

So... without further ado, here's the recipe:

Maria's Calabacitas

Ingredients:
* Please Note: all measurements are approximate and flexible

  • 1 large or 2 medium sized onions chopped into medium sized pieces
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
  • 24 ounces of roasted, peeled & chopped green chilies (California Anaheim Peppers or New Mexico Hatch Chiles)**
  • 3 large arm sized, or 6-7 small zucchinis - remove any seeds and chop into small pieces (any kind of summer squash will work)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or lard (I know lard is traditional, but I can't bring myself to use it)
  • 2 tablespoons of corn starch or flour 
  • salt to taste
  • grated cheese (monterey jack, cheddar, colby, queso quesadilla, or asadero)


**Green Chilies might be difficult to find in certain parts of the world. In my neighborhood there are chile stands on virtually every corner this time of year with big roasters where they'll roast them while you wait.


If you have to roast them yourself it's best to do it on an open flame, or you can put them directly onto the stove burner (even an electric one).


When the chiles are well blackened you put them in a paper bag until they cool. At that point the skin should basically wash off under running water. You remove the stems and most of the seeds but don't worry if a few seeds sneak in there.

I'm generally too lazy to deal with the washing and chopping, so I don't buy the fresh ones unless I'm making rellenos or something that requires the whole chile. I usually buy them frozen, but you can also get them canned. I like the mild ones, but they come in various degrees of heat... but be careful, hot means HOT!



Method:
Saute onion in olive oil or lard until clear. Add a bit of salt at this stage to help the onion along. When the onion is almost done add the garlic if you're using it and saute another minute or two. Add the chopped zucchini & green chilies. Cook stirring occasionally until zucchini is cooked through, depending on how much you're making this can be anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour. When zucchini is thoroughly cooked mix cornstarch or flour with a spoonful or two of water and add it to the pot. Stir to distribute until liquid thickens. Add salt to taste. Sprinkle each serving with shredded cheese and enjoy!


I've since learned that there are infinite variations on this recipe - some include corn, or tomatoes - and I've even seen cream used in some versions. I'm pretty happy with Maria's simple recipe, but feel free to experiment as you see fit.

Calabacitas with corn and tomatoes

Calabacitas are great all by themselves as a snack, or as a side dish with any Mexican food. They go wonderfully with refritos or beans & rice. You can use them in place of green chile salsa to smother burritos, or pour them over some fried eggs & chorizo for quick huevos rancheros. You can dress them up with fresh tomatoes, avocado, cilantro (if you're not allergic) & sour cream or just enjoy them simply.

They freeze really well and are a wonderful way to enjoy the taste of summer all year round!

So tell me, what are your favorite recipes for using up a bounty of zucchini?