Calabacitas, My Favorite Summer Side Dish
After 8 years in Waco, my husband and I feel as if we have begun to put down some roots. But, truth be told, we’re not from around here. In fact, neither one of us can even claim the Lone Star State as our place of origin. Our love story is set in the plains of West Texas and our sweet babes have Waco stamped on their birth certificates but we aren’t natives. My family tree is chock-full of purebred Texans while I stand out as the lone Californian by birth and my husband, as anyone who has ever glimpsed his summer wardrobe would know, came to us on the winds of paradise all the way from Hawaii.
Now my family would tell you it’s only appropriate that I was born in the land of fruits and nuts but I don’t really claim that as my home seeing as we left the state when I was 1 and in the last 35 years I’ve only been back to visit twice. No, when I picture home I see piercing blue skies, sun-drenched days, Aspen leaves shimmering in the breeze, land that stretches out as far as the eye can see, chameleon-like adobe homes that fade into their desert surroundings, and mountains that turn the color of watermelon at sunset. It is with good reason that New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment and for many happy years I was under that spell. It’s been nearly 10 years since I decided to follow my folks and make my way to the “promised land” and I have adapted pretty well. I’ve traded my winter coats for the ever-popular scarf/pashmina and have grown accustomed to AC as opposed to swamp coolers. But if there is one vestige of New Mexico left that simply will not die, it is my ever-present craving and at times all-out need for green chile. That’s chile with an “e”. It’s offered in varying degrees of heat, is roasted over an open flame, and comes to us from Hatch, New Mexico. Period. Don’t even talk to me about this Colorado nonsense.
In New Mexico, green chile isn’t just an optional add-on at every restaurant you go to for nearly all conceivable dishes at any time of day. No, green chile is a way of life. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, we put that stuff in everything. It is a habit that is hard to break unless you move to the very heart of Texas and scarcity forces you to quit cold turkey. Times have changed some and I have been able to find it in the freezer section occasionally, canned in most places, and for a few blessed days each fall I am transported back to my childhood with the unmistakable aroma of fresh green chile roasting. Sadly, the quantity, quality, and price prohibit green chile from taking the dominant role it once held in my cooking, except when the blessed summer crops bring forth their abundance. When there’s sweet corn aplenty and people practically beg you to take squash off their hands, that’s when green chile makes a comeback in our house in the form of Calabacitas.
Calabacitas, as I know it, refers to a side-dish that combines summer squash (or zucchini), onions, garlic, corn, and green chile, melding them into a slightly sweet dish with a sizzling finish that only green chile can provide. It’s perfect with tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, eggs, or as a unique alternative for the summer potluck. Bottom line: it’s good and you should make it.
If you’ve never cooked with green chile before then you’re in for a real treat and I consider it a privilege to be your ambassador of sorts. If you buy more than this recipe calls for might I suggest you try it on your eggs for breakfast, on top of your hamburger for lunch, sprinkled liberally over your pizza for dinner, in your late-night snack quesadilla, spooned over that bowl of beans, atop your toasted sandwich…
However you choose, enjoy it, Friends. And in a few weeks as I take my little family on an edible tour of all that New Mexico has to offer, I’ll be sure to enjoy some for you too.
Have a safe and sparkling 4th!
The Home Grown Mom’s Calabacitas
1 small onion, diced
2 squash, sliced or diced
4 ears of corn, kernels sliced off (or one can)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
¼ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
As much GREEN CHILE as you can handle
- In a large pan combine olive oil, onions, and garlic. Sauté over medium-high heat until fragrant.
- Add sliced squash, the corn kernels, and up to ¼ cup water. You be the judge of how much water is required to help soften the corn and squash just a bit. We’re looking for just this side of crunchy, not mushy.
- Pour in green chile and salt and pepper to taste. I suggest adding a little green chile to begin with because one man’s “hot” is another man’s “sissy” and yet another’s “inferno”. Be advised that the hot-medium-mild labels are not always accurate so it’s best to take it slow and add more if you like. When in doubt, buy a can of each.