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

Cocido de Res – Mexican Beef Stew


After 25 years of marriage, my husband, Jesús, suddenly told me “You know my favorite food is caldo de res. My mom used to make it for me.” It took him that long to tell me! (In California it’s known more as cocido de res, so I titled the blog that.) So I called his mom, Conchita, and I got the recipe. Of course I tweaked it a bit, but he loved the results since the broth was so rich.

I used the leftover broth from making the chicken for Enchiladas Rojas for 15 Hungry Dancers. You could also go cross-cultural and use Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup or go the easy route and use boxed or canned broth. When you add the bones and beef to broth and slow cook it, you will get an incredibly rich broth.

I went to the local Mexican market in Berkeley,  Mi Tierra, and the carnicero (butcher) cut up the meat for me on a giant band saw.

If you don’t have chilies, you can substitute 1 tsp ancho chili powder (or more if you like it spicier).

Makes about 12 servings

Ingredients:
1 gallon (16 cups)  chicken or beef broth. If not using the broth fromEnchiladas Rojas for 15 Hungry Dancers or Tamales de pollo,  add the following ingredients to Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup  or other plain chicken or beef broth:
3 ancho chilies
1 tsp. chipotle powder
3 Tb cumin powder (comino)
2 Tb. dried oregano
 
2 chopped onions
1 sliced bell pepper
6 minced garlic cloves
 
2 cups diced Roma (plum) tomatoes or 15 oz can diced tomatoes (fire roasted is nice)
6 – oz can tomato paste
1 Tb. salt to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper
 

Boil the broth in a large pot. Toast the chilies on a heavy skillet until soft and slightly blackened.  Remove and let cool a few minutes, then place in a plastic bag. After it’s completely cool, about 20 minutes, remove the skin, stems and seeds and add to the boiling broth. If you want a spicier stew,  add some of the seeds to the broth.

Toast the chili powder, comino, and oregano on the skillet a few minutes until fragrant then add to broth.

Pour a tsp of olive oil in the skillet and add the chopped onions and bell peppers, stirring over medium flame, until softened. Add garlic and stir until fragrant, then add to broth. Add tomatoes and tomato paste, black pepper and salt.

1 pound beef chuck roast, cut into cubes against the grain

1 pound beef short ribs, cut into cubes against the grain

2 Tb olive oil.

Salt and pepper to sprinkle on beef

Vegetables:

2 bell peppers, stem, ribs and seeds removed

1 pasilla chili, stem removed.

3 large carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds

3 large red potatoes, peeled and chopped in bite-size chunks

2 large chayotes , peeled, seed area removed, and chopped in bite-size chunks

3 cobs sweet corn, cut into rounds (use a large knife)

Garnish:

cilantro leaves

avocado slices

lemon or lime juice

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet. Sprinkle beef with salt and black pepper, and add to the skillet in batches, browning on both sides.  Then add it to broth. Pour the soup into a crock pot and cook on low for 5 hours.

Transfer the whole soup to a large pot, add vegetables to the broth and bring to a boil. Cook for 30 more minutes until vegetables are tender. Adjust salt to taste. You can skim the fat off the top of the soup and serve. Or you can transfer it to a large container and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. The vegetables will absorb the flavors of the broth and impart their flavors as they sit in the broth all night. Remove the congealed fat from the top of the soup before serving.

Serve garnished with fresh cilantro leaves, a slice or two of avocado, and a squeeze of lemon or lime, with warm  or fresh baguette (we are in Berkeley after all).

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.