Calabacitas (Spicy Squash Casserole)

I make this every summer when squash and corn ripen. My sister Leanna grows beautiful squash in her sun soaked Southern California garden. We made calabacitas (call-ah-ba-SEE-tas) with it when she visited me.

I discovered the recipe in the children’s book Carlos and the Squash Plant / Carlos y la planta de calabaza by Jan Romero Stevens. It’s a tale of a boy who won’t wash his ears until a squash plant grows out of his ears. His mom serves him calabacitas when he finally washes the plant out.

I put my own touch on her recipe, by substituting olive oil for margarine, adding oregano, red bell pepper and tomato for color. Our friends Victor and Mary Lau Valle, who are master chefs,  brought us homegrown squash and oregano and taught me Victor’s mother’s version, using the Mexican cheeses asadero and cotija. (Victor and Mary are the authors of Recipe of Memory:Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine)

asadero cheese

 

Asadero is a Mexican mozzarella and melts wonderfully. Although it is a low-fat cheese, it has a wonderful buttery taste not usually associated with mozzarella.

 

 

 

 

Oaxaca cheese I’ve also used Oaxaca cheese with good results. The cotija we used was a powdery cheese in a bag, (not the kind that comes in a brick.) It made a nice crunchy crust on the casserole when we broiled it. I found my cheeses and chilies in the local Mexican market.

Ingredients:

IMG_3139

2 Poblano  peppers

2 jalapeños (add more jalapeños for extra heat)

2 cobs of corn

4 Tb olive oil, divided

1 onion, diced

sea salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp dried oregano or 2 tsp fresh oregano

5 small to medium summer squash  (I used sunburst and zucchini)

1 red bell pepper, diced

3 Roma tomatoes, seeds scooped out and chopped

1 1/4 cups coarsely grated or chopped Asadero or Oaxaca cheese. If you can’t find these, substitute Monterey Jack.

1/2 cup powdered cotija cheese

1/4 cup cilantro leaves to garnish

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350′

Place chilies directly on a gas flame until they char, then turn until all sides char. If you don’t have a gas stove, use the barbecue. And if you don’t have a barbecue, then char them on a heavy comal or frying pan placed over a burner on high. Place charred chilies in a small pot and cover until they are cool enough to handle. ???????????????????????????????The chilies will sweat and the skin will soften.

Cook the corn on the cob in the microwave.  Leave the husks on and run water over them, then place them on a large plate and cook for 7 minutes. Let them cook while you cook the other vegetables.

tomatoes scooped out

Cut tomatoes in quarters, lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and squeeze out as much juice as you can. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the tomatoes and let them sit while you are cooking the other vegetables.

Chop the onion first, then chop the squash and red bell pepper while the onion cooks.

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Pour 2 Tb olive oil in large frying pan or wok and heat on medium until it begins to shimmer. Add onions and turn heat to low.  Cook onions about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent.

Raise the heat to medium and add squash and garlic with oregano and a pinch of salt. Saute squash until it is beginning to brown on all sides and onions begin to crisp. Put them in a large bowl.

Saute red bell pepper in another Tb of oil until it begins to char. Add it to the onion and squash in the bowl.

cooking tomatoes

Squeeze out remaining juice from tomatoes and chop them. Saute the chopped tomatoes and a pinch of salt in another Tb of olive oil. Be sure to spread the tomatoes out so that they can caramelize. Add 1 tsp fresh oregano, and cook tomatoes over medium heat until they are mostly dry, Caramelizing the tomatoes concentrates their flavor – they are so delicious!

???????????????????????????????While tomatoes are cooking, remove the chilies from the pot. Put on some thin latex gloves to protect your hands. Slice the chilies open lengthwise and remove the stem and seed pod. Scrape the charred parts from the skin, then scrape the seeds and ribs from the inside. Keep some seeds if you want spicier calabacitas. Julienne the chilies into thin strips.

 

Add the chilies and cooked tomatoes to the vegetables in the bowl.

Remove the husks and ends of the corn cobs from the cooked corn. Hold the cob on a large plate and use a large knife to cut the kernels from the cob. Stir the corn in with the other vegetables.

vegetables in bowl

Stir in 1 cup of the grated Asadero, Oaxaca or Jack cheese. Spray a flat casserole or 11′ x 8″ cake pan with non-stick spray, and pour the vegetables and cheese into it.

Sprinkle the rest of the Asadero cheese on top of the calabacitas. Then sprinkle with cotija powdered cheese.

Bake at 350′ for 20 minutes.

Move a rack to the upper third of the oven and turn on the broiler.

baked calabacitas

 

Place under the broiler for 3 -5 minutes, until the cheese turns a golden brown.

serving with cilantro

Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Delicious served with corn tortillas to soak up the cheesy sauce. You can mix it in with Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans)

Got leftovers? Add them to chilaquilas

Pozole

Oy vey! Nice Jewish girl learns to cook with pork products! My friend Jann made this hearty and delicious pozole with her Mexican husband, Luciano, for their  New Years Eve parties. She gave me her recipe using pork shoulder, but the second time I made it I used the leaner pork loin.

Cooked with chilies and hominy and topped with cabbage, oregano, radishes and cilantro, it makes a rich and satisfying stew.

This recipe made 10 servings, including leftovers.

Ingredients:

1 gallon chicken broth. For the cross-cultural experience, use Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup.
4 dried red chilies, such as ancho or pasilla chili
2 fresh poblano chili peppers
2 Tb olive oil
2 onions
2 1/2 pound pork loin.
1 Tb dried oregano
1 head garlic.
3 bay leaves
1 tsp cayenne
1 Tb paprika (Spanish smoked paprika adds a nice smoky flavor)
Several grinds black pepper
1 Tb salt to taste
2 chayotes, peeled, seed area removed, and chopped
39- oz and 15-oz cans of white or purple hominy (maíz blanco o morado)

Condiments:

1 Tb dried oregano
Black pepper
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 small green cabbage, shredded
A bunch of radishes, sliced thin
1 jalapeno, sliced thinly
4 limes, sliced into wedges
 

Bring the soup stock to boil in a large pot.

Heat a heavy frying pan and toast the dried red chilies and the poblano peppers. Place them in a covered bowl to cool, and then remove the stems and seed pods. Throw them in the stock pot

Pour a tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan and cook the sliced onions until soft. Slice the poblano chiles and fry up with the onions, then add to the soup. Smash the garlic bulb with a molcajete or mortar and pestle, chop it finely and add it to the soup. Add bay leaves, salt, paprika, black pepper and cayenne.

Cut the pork into large (about 3 x 3) chunks and trim extra fat. Pour another tablespoon of oil to the frying pan and add the pork, sprinkling salt and dried oregano on each side. Brown pork on all sides then put in the stock. After pork is browned, add  2 ladles of hot broth to the frying pan to deglaze it. Using a metal spatula, loosen all the browned bits  into the broth and then pour it back into the pot.

Simmer the soup at low-medium heat for 1 ½ hours.

Pour the soup into a large container and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the congealed fat from the top of the soup. Pour the broth through a sieve into a large pot, and heat it. Pour the solids into a bowl. Remove the red chili and strip whatever skin from it that you can. Put in a blender with 2 cups of broth and run blender on high, then add to the broth in the pot, rinsing the blender with broth several times to get all the chili out.

While broth is cooking, shred or chop the meat, discarding bones and fat, and then add the shredded meat to the broth. Add chopped chayotes and hominy. Adjust salt to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes, until chayote is tender, and then scoop into bowls.

Top with condiments, squeeze a bit of lime in, roll up a few warm corn tortillas to dip in the soup, y disfrútelo.

Twice Cooked Fajitas

For Cinco de Mayo I am making fajitas: spicy from two kinds of chili,  fragrant with lime, and tipsy on beer.  This recipe was inspired by my late brother-in-law and Texas barbecue master, Larry Luna. The juicy and flavorful chicken is twice cooked, first on the grill, then braised in the oven with its marinade.  I made  chicken fajitas  here, but you can also make them with skirt steak. Marinade the steak for at least 3 hours, grill it whole, then cut across the grain into strips before braising it in the marinade.


Serves 4

¼ cup boiling water

3 dried chilies such as Chile California, stems removed

2 jalapeños

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 cup light-colored beer such as Tecate

2 limes, juiced; zest peeled in long strips

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast fat trimmed and sliced,  or  2-3 lb skirt steak.

1 small onion, sliced

4 bell peppers (1 red and 3 green), seeded and cut into strips

2 Tb olive oil

If using skirt steak, slice against the grain and cut into strips. Trim off the fat. Using a tenderizing mallet, pound each strip so that the tenderizing marks show. This is a good way to work out your frustrations and aggressions.

Add chilies to boiling water and let soak for at least 15 minutes. Peel lime zest with vegetable peeler into a long strip, then juice limes. Pour beer, 1 Tb olive oil, and lime juice in blender. Add chilies, jalapeños, soaking water and other seasonings to beer mixture. Whir in blender. Trim fat off of breast, cut into strips, and marinate for an hour or more.


Place chicken on grill, reserving marinade. Put bell peppers and onion in a grill wok and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Grill over medium heat until chicken and onions and bell peppers begin to char. (You can also use a wok or heavy pan over the stove).

Heat oven to 300’ Pour marinade into a casserole or clay pot. Add cooked chicken, peppers and onions and lime zest. Bake for 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro leaves and avocado slices. Serve with tortillas, Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans) and  Sonia’s guacamole.

Sonia’s guacamole

My 17 year-old daughter Sonia makes awesome guacamole for her friends, and if I’m lucky she’ll leave me some too. Here is her amazing recipe.

Ingredients:

2 avocados

½ Roma tomato, finely chopped

½ minced jalapeño or Serrano chili pepper

2 tsp. minced onion (to taste)

juice of ½  lime

2 Tb salsa casera (we use Herdez brand)

salt to taste

Smash the avocados in a bowl with a potato masher. Stir in tomato, jalapeños, lime juice and salsa. Add onion to taste and salt to taste. Stir well.