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Mexican ‘little squash’ dish a perfect side for National Zucchini Day

By Ricky Webster For The Spokesman-Review

Calabacitas translates to “little squash” in Spanish, so I only thought this recipe would be fitting for National Zucchini Day on Aug. 8.

This traditional Mexican recipe uses a popular type of summer squash in Mexico that goes by the same name. In this recipe, any type of summer squash will work, but I listed zucchini, since it is National Zucchini Day. In the pictures, you can see that I used a blend of yellow summer squash and traditional green zucchinis, the first of which I pulled from my garden.

With in-season summer staples like zucchini, corn and tomatoes, this recipe is easy and just screams summertime to me. It relies on in-season flavors with a simple treatment to really celebrate the produce itself. Calabacitas, as a side dish, pairs with so many foods and is perfect with all barbecue, from seafood to steak and everything in between.

I like to make a bigger batch and take it for a light lunch or even refry some up in the morning and serve an egg on top with a couple of tortillas on the side for a delicious breakfast. This also makes a fantastic veggie taco filling.

Historical records show evidence of this dish dating back to the 16th century during Spain’s colonization of u Mexico, and the Indigenous people would often eat Calabacitas with tortillas, beans, or rice.

Mexican farmers later recorded an original calabacitas recipe that resembles the modern-day preparation. The dish became popular and both colonizers and explorers began to share the recipe with various South American regions, and while it would be altered, the main ingredients and preparation would remain the same.

The recipe I’m sharing with you is from my mother-in-law and it is a family favorite that’s been passed down from generations. In the past seven plus years I’ve known her, I have had this dish at many of Sunday dinners, and it never disappoints. Between the months of June and October (southern California growing season), She usually uses fresh produce from her backyard veggie garden. After I made the recipe (that my partners mom willingly had shared with me), he said “Good job, you nailed it!” I only owe her gratitude for sharing the recipe with me, and not “forgetting” to leave out an ingredient, like I’ve heard many a mother-in-law do.

Whether you grow your own zucchini or get all these in-season veggies from a farmers’ market, I hope you attempt this summertime favorite of Mexican and many South American cultures. I look forward to continuing to celebrate different cultural recipes that make this country so unique with you all and that you continue to embrace and make them at home.

Calabacitas

3 medium zucchini, quartered and diced into 3/4-inch pieces

2 small ears of fresh corn, cut from the cob

1 small onion, peeled and diced

2 small tomatoes, cored and diced

1 large clove of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon of olive oil

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

In a large sauté pan, over medium heat, heat olive oil, until shimmering.

Add the onion and sauté, stirring frequently until translucent. Keep it moving, so as not to burn.

Add garlic and after a minute of stirring, add tomatoes and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.

Add zucchini and corn, stirring to evenly combine.

Cover the zucchini mixture and stir occasionally, cooking until the zucchini is tender.

Add in salt and pepper, until seasoned to your liking.

Feel free to replace the olive oil with butter or lard. I use olive oil to keep the recipe vegan.

You can also add some Monterey Jack cheese on top before serving to make it a bit richer.

If you want a spicy version, add diced jalapeño or serrano peppers to the onion mix.

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