Calabacitas: The bounty of squash, corn, chiles and cheese

 By Brenda Norrell

Top photo: Sonoma County farmer’s market. Bottom photo: yellow squash from the garden. Photos by Brenda Norrell.

SOUTH TUCSON — In Maria’s kitchen in south Tucson, the calabacitas were an artform, a delicious mixture of squash, corn, chiles and cheese. The calabacitas were always best when a mixture of squashes were used:  Mexican grey squash, zucchini and yellow squash. The sautéed squash, corn and chiles are topped with grated or crumbled fresh cheese.

The best way to begin is to sauté garlic and onion in olive oil and then add your favorite combination of sliced squashes, corn kernels cut fresh from the cob and green chiles. When the squash is tender, top it off with a generous handful of Mexican, Longhorn, white or cheddar cheese.

Calabacitas are a nutritious fast food to make at home. By adding cooked chicken, the calabacitas can be filled into a tortillas for quesadillas. Try these sprinkled with fresh white Mexican cheese or goat cheese.

Calabacitas are a specialty in restaurants in Tucson, including La Indita and Crossroads. Try calabacitas with the green corn tamales, tamales made with corn cut fresh from the cob and combined with green chiles, or try with chile rellenos.

Few people can part with the beauty of squash blossoms in their morning gardens. But the blossoms, as well as the squash, have long been a delicacy for Navajos and others in the Southwest.


Tucson community supported agriculture

1 tablespoon oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large summer squash
2 ears of corn, kernels scraped off
1 tomato, quartered
2 chiles
1/2 cup cilantro or Mexican oregano, chopped
1 pinch salt
1/2 cup cheddar cheese or queso fresco

In a skillet, sauté onions in oil until tender.
Add garlic, squash, and tomato; cook for another 5 minutes.
Mix in chopped chilies, corn. Add cheese.
Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes (or bake 20 minutes at 350)

Add cilantro before serving.

Calabacitas II

  • 1 tablespoon(s) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 poblano, or Anaheim chile pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cup(s) diced zucchini or Mexican grey squash
  • 2 cup(s) diced summer squash
  • Sprinkle salt and black pepper optional
  • 2 tablespoon(s) chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
  • Grated white or yellow cheese for topping


  1. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and chile; cook, stirring, until soft, about 4 minutes. Add zucchini, summer squash and salt; cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in cilantro (if using).

Fried Squash Blossoms

(Heidi DeCosmo, TCSA)

1 large egg
½ cup ice water
Pinch of sea salt
½ cup all-purpose flour
Vegetable oil for frying
6 squash blossoms
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, and fresh lemon juice

In a mixing bowl, lightly beat the egg and pour in the ice water; mix to combine. Add the salt and flour, and continue to mix until the batter is the consistency of heavy cream.
While the batter is resting, carefully clean the fragile blossoms. Remove the yellow stamens as gently as possible so as not to tear the blossoms. Remove any green leaves near the stem, and clip the stem, if necessary. Gently wash the blossoms, shake them, and lay them on a paper towel to dry.

Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. Dip 2 blossoms at a time in the batter and coat them completely, letting the excess drip off. You may want to fry one flower first to test the oil. The blossom should be light-brown when fried and crisp. Fry the flowers in the hot oil for 2 minutes until crisp and golden brown.