You know how some grocery stores set up samples and tasting stations periodically? Well, about a week ago The Boyfriend encountered one of these samplers being set up, displaying tortilla chips and a couple of soups/dips to go with them. The focus was the chips, as that was what the store was selling, and the soup/dip had been made by the woman setting up the stand. After sampling a chip with this dip she had made, The Boyfriend was quick to denounce the corn chip as being just fine and dandy but that it was nothing compared to the side. Somehow, through his magical powers of asking nicely, he convinced the woman to share the recipe… Which she for some reason happened to carry printed on a small slip of paper.
The story didn’t seem entirely plausible, but The Boyfriend did, in fact, show up with a slip of paper and telling me that we must try the recipe it held.
I asked him to explain it to me, and he said it had corn and squash and was like a chunky dip or a soup or something. That was helpful.
At the top of the paper the recipe was titled ‘Calabacitas’ – whatever that is – and so, it was off to the internets to consult.
Calabacita (pronounced kala-ba-Seat-a), in Spanish, literally means ‘zucchini’. It is used to mean, more precisely, a New Mexican dish of (usually) squash, corn, and peppers. There are many variations, and it is often used as a tortilla topper, a side dish, or as the filling for another dish.
Apparently many traditional versions call for baking it, but this one is done entirely on the stove top. (In fact, I was able to do the whole thing in one cast-iron skillet, which made for easy clean-up – always a plus).
So, never having tasted it and only having a vague idea what it was supposed to look like, I read through the ingredients.
“This has hot peppers… and a half cup of cilantro…” I say, “you don’t like cilantro.”
He shrugged – this time he did. The plot thickens.
Well, the time came at last that I found myself with all the necessary ingredients, including fresh sweet corn from a road-side stand (doesn’t produce always taste better when it comes from a cart by the side of the road?).
Here’s the recipe, as given to me, with my notes in italics:
Ingredients (makes 8 servings):
3 Zucchini squash, diced medium
1 yellow squash, diced medium
1 med. onion – I used yellow, but any kind would work.
3 cloves garlic
4 med. tomatoes – I used small-ish heirloom.
2 ears of corn
1 chile pepper, Serrano or Jalapeno, diced w/seeds – I chose a Jalapeno, being the milder of the two.
1/2 cup chopped cilantro – even if you’re not a cilantro fan, leave this in. I’ll explain more later.
Salt & pepper to taste
Mexican cream or sour cream – I used regular sour cream. There was no measurement given here, so I eyeballed maybe 3/4 cup, and it turned out fine, but you can always add more at the end if you like.
Optional: shredded cheese to garnish (chihuahua cheese or muenster, mozzarella…) – I added halved cherry tomatoes at the end.
Toast tomatoes, 1/2 the onion, and the chile on a griddle until charred. For this step I roughly chopped the onion into a few big chunks, and cooked it with the chile on an ungreased cast-iron skillet over medium to med.-high heat until they had begun to char. Then I took them out of the pan and added in the tomatoes, quartered and flesh side to the pan, until they got a little blackened. Transfer this to the food processor and blend until almost smooth.
In the olive oil, sauté the remaining 1/2 onion, along with the garlic, until transparent, then add the tomato blend. Once it bubbles, add the squash and fresh corn kernels, cilantro, and sour cream. Let simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes. For the corn kernels, you can either cut as close to the cobb as you can to get the largest possible kernels, or you can take just the outer half of the kernels and then run the backside of your blade up and down the cobb to press out the ‘milk’ – using the ‘milk’ of the corn will help thicken the sauce a little, as that’s where the corn starch is, but is by no means necessary. As for the cilantro, my theory is that it’s less prominent (and entirely un-soapy) in the finished dish because it’s added now rather than at the end. I wouldn’t omit it, because it does add to the dish, but it’s not overwhelming even to cilantro-haters. Before serving, stir in the sour cream and top with cheese if you like. I also added some halved cherry tomatoes for a little brightness.
After the 30 minutes of cooking the liquid had reduced a fair amount, leaving it more chunky-dip than ‘soup’. Had I cooked it covered it would have had more liquid at the end, which, depending on how you want to use it, might be a good thing.
Since it had been served in the sample as a go-along with tortilla chips, that’s how I planned to use it.
These are Ann Arbor Tortilla Factory chips, and I would be amiss if I didn’t mention them. These are, in my humble opinion, the best chips around – even if I could make really good corn chips, I would buy these instead. They use no preservatives, no trans fats, and are careful to only use non-GMO corn to make these stone-ground flakes of heaven. For anyone living outside of Ann Arbor, I’m sorry. I encourage you to call the factory and ask if they’ll ship to you.
(Note to self, I should apply for a marketing position…)
Back to the calabacita, I added a healthy dose of salt, some fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden, and stirred it all together before taking a big scoop on a tortilla chip.
Holy sweet goodness… the corn really shines in this, and the entire thing is just one big compliment of flavors. Nothing is overwhelming (the heat was by no means too much, nor was the cilantro), and it was perfect in combination with the saltiness and crunch of the chips. I stood over the stove, bag of chips in hand, eating straight out of the pan until I literally couldn’t take another bite. It’s tasty to the point of addictive, but it’s hearty and filling and full of wonderful veggies at the same time – kudos to The Boyfriend for getting the recipe, and thank you to the mysterious grocery store lady! I absolutely loved this recipe, and will, without doubt, use it again.