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Calabacitas Recipe

In Spanish, "calabacitas" means zucchini, which makes sense, because this dish primarily consists of squash and zucchini that are cut into little pieces and cooked to perfection. Some things in life are much simpler than they look, and although this recipe looks like it's complicated to make, it's absolutely not. It will take you 15 minutes to prepare from start to serving. You can handle that with minimal experience in the kitchen.

"In Arizona, where I live, calabacitas is a go to vegetable side at Mexican restaurants," says chef, recipe developer, and registered dietician Kristen Carli of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness. "I love to pair it with burritos, tacos, and quesadillas," she says, adding, "This week I actually ate it with cauliflower rice and black beans."

Equally as welcome as the ease of this dish is the flexibility here. Do you love all things spicy? Add more jalapeño or even some habanero pepper. Want some more flavor and color? Try adding diced tomato. Want to make this a whole meal in and of itself? Toss in cooked chopped chicken or ground beef, and serve it over a bed of rice. And you can use some of the time you save in this quick recipe to think up other creative spins.

Gather your ingredients for calabacitas

For a classic take on this celebrated Mexican/Southwest side dish, you'll need ½ of a white onion (diced), 1 yellow squash cut into semi-circles, 1 zucchini cut into semi-circles, 1 jalapeño (seeds removed and diced), a 15-ounce can of corn, drained (or the equivalent in frozen corn, fresh corn grilled, or steamed and then cut off the cob), 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of minced garlic, and 1 tablespoon of queso fresco. If you want to make the recipe vegan, you can always leave out the cheese — or better yet, replace it with a vegan-friendly alternative.

Cook the onion, garlic, and jalapeño

Quick word of warning: If chopping onion bothers your eyes, chopping onion, garlic, and a jalapeño pepper is definitely going to cause some sensitivity issues. Wear glasses (or even onion goggles, which are a thing), and make sure you wash your hands before touching anything else — especially your eyes.

Once your veggies are diced and chopped, you can start cooking. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add the onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic is growing fragrant, which will take about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the veggies

Once the onion, garlic, and jalapeño have cooked for long enough, add the sliced zucchini and squash, in addition to the corn. Allow everything to cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring regularly.

You can use that 5 minutes as a suggestion. According to Healthline, you can typically eat raw squash and zucchini without the risk of adverse health effects. Cooking these veggies will make them softer and a bit sweeter, although you may prefer the slight bitter taste and crunch of the raw vegetables, so adjust your cooking time as you prefer.

Top with cilantro and queso fresco, and enjoy

Once the additional 5-minute sautéing period has elapsed (or a bit shorter or longer based on your preference), remove the pan from the heat and then transfer the calabacitas to a large serving bowl. Top the dish with the freshly chopped cilantro and plenty of queso fresco (and some red pepper flakes if you like things spicy). Then, serve and enjoy.

If you end up with leftovers, Carli says, "It stores well in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the fridge. When you want to reheat, I recommend quickly sautéing in a skillet until warmed through."

Calabacitas for when you're craving something fresh
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Although this calabacitas recipe looks like it's complicated to make, it's absolutely not. It will take you 15 minutes to prepare from start to serving.
Prep Time
Cook Time
seasoned pot of calabacitas
Total time: 15 minutes
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into semi-circles
  • 1 zucchini, cut into semi-circles
  • 15 oz. can corn, drained
  • ½ white onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed, diced
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon queso fresco
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, then add ½ white onion (diced), 1 jalapeño (seeds removed, diced), and 1 teaspoon minced garlic.
  2. Cook until the onion is translucent and the garlic fragrant, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the zucchini and squash, cut into semi-circles, in addition to the corn. Allow to cook for 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from heat, and top with cilantro and queso fresco. Then, enjoy!
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