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 cheeseAsadero 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. 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.

???????????????????????????????Ingredients:

2 Anaheim peppers and 2 jalapeños (add more jalapeños for extra heat) You can substitute poblano chilies for the Anaheims for a smokier flavor

5 Tb olive oil

1 onion, diced

sea salt

About 1 tsp ea dried or 2 tsp fresh oregano

5 small to medium summer squash  (I used sunburst and zucchini)1 red bell pepper, diced

2 cobs corn. Cut the cobs in 2 crosswise to get a flat surface, then strip the corn from the cob. I sauté the uncooked corn. Sometimes I  use cooked corn and skip the sauté step.

3/4 cup of chicken broth. I use Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup You can make this vegetarian by substituting vegetable broth.

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 1/2 cups asadero cheese, chopped. If you can’t find asadero, substitute Monterey Jack.

1/2 cup powdered cotija cheese

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.

While chilies are sweating, chop the vegetables and place them in a cake pan by groups. Start off with the onion, then chop the other veggies while the onion cooks.

DSC02848Cut the squash at different angles so they’re chunky.

I use a wok to cook this in, but you can use a large heavy frying pan as well.

Sauté onions in 1 Tb olive oil over low heat until translucent, about 10 minutes.  Set aside in a large bowl.

Raise the heat and add 2 Tb olive oil to the pan. Add squash with oregano and a pinch of salt. Saute squash until it is beginning to brown on all sides. Add to the onions in the bowl.

???????????????????????????????Saute red bell pepper and corn in another Tb of oil until they begin to char. Then add to the other veggies in the bowl.

cooking tomatoesSaute 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 more 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, take out the chilies from the pot. Remove the stem and slice them open lengthwise. Scrape the charred parts from the skin, then scrape the seeds and soft parts from the inside. Julienne the chilies into thin strips.

Add the the chilies and the vegetables from the bowl to the tomatoes.

Pour in chicken broth and heat until boiling, stirring vegetables together.

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

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

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

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

???????????????????????????????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

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Tacos de carne asada – steak tacos

Steak and avocado is a match made in Mexican heaven. I love bistec con aguacate, and these steak tacos are loaded with avocado and fresh tomatoes, red bell pepper and cilantro. They are an easy weeknight meal and economical too: One pound of steak makes 10 generous tacos. Throw a steak on the grill, cut it up with the veggies, add some Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans), and tuck it into a warm corn tortilla. Top it with your favorite salsa and a sprinkling of lime.

Serves 5 – makes 10 tacos

1 pound sirloin steak

2 medium avocados

2 medium fresh tomatoes

½ large red bell pepper

A handful of cilantro leaves

1 lime

10 fresh corn tortillas

Salt and pepper to taste

Salsa to taste

Let steak sit for ½ an hour at room temperature, then generously salt and pepper it. Oil barbecue grill and heat on high.  Grill steak for about 5 minutes on each side, until browned yet rare in the middle. Remove from grill and trim fat. Cut in strips against the grain, then cut into small pieces.

Chop vegetables into small pieces.

Heat tortillas on comal or heavy frying pan until warm and slightly crispy and can hold their shape when folded in half. Spoon steak. Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans), and vegetables into the tortilla, squeeze lime over it and top with salsa to taste.

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.