Calabacitas is a traditional native squash dish that has been prepared throughout Central America and the American Southwest since ancient times. Today there are many regional variations, but the essential native ingredients that date back to pre-Columbian times include calabaza (pumpkin or squash), elote (corn), and chilies. Following the arrival of the Spanish in the 1400’s cows, sheep, and goats were imported from the old world and calabacitas evolved with the introduction of dairy by-products, including cream (crema) and cheeses.
Interestingly, Mennonite farmers who settled in Chihuahua in the late 1800’s, began producing semi soft cows milk cheeses known as queso Mennonita, which is officially recognized as an authentic Mexican cheese, and often tops calabacitas beautifully to this day.
The recipe that follows reflects various New Mexican and Mexican calabacitas I have encountered while living in Santa Fe and on frequent forays into Mexico over the years. As Mexican cheeses are not generally available outside of Mexico, alternative cheeses include a mild hard or soft goat cheese or fresh or soft mozzarella.
Calabacitas is a beautiful dish to consider for a truly traditional American holiday meal. Or, do as they do in Mexico, a calabacitas con pavo and transform your leftover turkey into a comida a la Mexicana.
Calabacitas: serves 4
- 3 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
- 3 teaspoons butter
- 1 bunch fresh sage leaves, leaves only
- 3 medium size zucchini, ends trimmed, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 3 ears fresh sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob, cob scraped to extract the milk
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 2 onions, peeled, quartered, and thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 3-4 flame roasted jalapeno chilies, skin and seeds removed, cut into thin rajas (strips)
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano leaves
- ¼ cup stock as needed
- 3 ½ oz sour cream
- pinch of cinnamon
- flaked sea salt to taste
- 1/2 cup fresh Mexican cheese (or optional cheeses mentioned above)
- poached chicken or leftover turkey (optional)
Ideally I like to use a cast iron iron skillet for even browning of the vegetables, but a large heavy bottomed frying pan should work equally well.
Place the skillet on the stove top over medium flame. When the pan is hot add a tablespoon of oil and a teaspoon of butter. When melted add the sage leaves and fry until crisp, 30 to 45 seconds should do it. Transfer the fried leaves to a plate and set aside to use later.
Promptly add cubed zucchini to the pan with out crowding. You may have to brown the zucchini in several batches. Turn the zucchini to be sure it browns on all sides, about 5 or 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate to use later. Continue, browning the remaining zucchini and set aside.
Add another tablespoon of oil and teaspoon butter to the pan and, when hot, add the whole corn kernels. Brown the corn on all sides, again about 5 or 6 minutes. Then transfer to another plate and set aside to use later
Once again, add 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon butter to the pan. When melted add the onions and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute until the onions just begin to color, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile place the milk in a small sauce pan and add the scrapped corn with its milk. Place the pan over low heat and warm to nearly simmering. Stir in the pinch of cinnamon and turn off the heat.
When the onions are nicely colored add the browned zucchini, browned corn, and the roasted jalapeno strips to the skillet. Add the marjoram or oregano, and half of the sage leaves, crumbled over the other ingredients. Stir all the ingredients together and add just enough stock to moisten the calabacitas, about ¼ cup at the most should do it. Heat to a mere simmer, taste, and add sea salt to your liking. Simmer for about 5 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 F/170 c (if using)
Meanwhile stir the sour cream into the warm milk mixture with corn scrapings until well combined,
At this point you can place the skillet of calabacitas over very low heat on the stove top. Stir in the sour cream milk mixture, top with grated cheese if using, cover lightly with foil and warm for several minutes. Then turn off the heat and set aside.
Alternately you can transfer the calabacitas to baking dish, scatter grated cheeses over the surface if using, and place in the preheated oven to warm for about 15 minutes.
You can serve the calabacitas on the stove top in the skillet, or transfer to a serving bowl, top with the remaining fried sage leaves and serve.
Or, serve the calabacitas directly out of the oven garnished with the fried sage leaves.
I just love beans, any which way, and I’m always trying out new variations just to keep the dialogue evolving. And, of course, it is fall and a perfect time for cooking beans for some hearty cool weather meals.
Borlotti beans may not be as popular as many other bean varieties, but why not try something new. Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, originate from Mesoamerica and first cultivated in Colombia. The Colombian caramauto beans eventually found their way to Italy where they are favored for their thicker skin, creamier texture, and nutty flavor when cooked. Fresh borlotti beans have a pale buff background color streaked with red. Dried borlotti beans vary in color and are popular in Portuguese, Turkish, and Greek, as well as Italian cooking.
Like all common dried beans, Borlotti beans are cooked in a seasoned broth until soft. A flavorful meat is often added to the beans to give them an enticing aroma as well as a tantalizing note to what would otherwise be a pot of rather bland earthy boiled legumes.
All common beans (phaseolus vulgaris) originate from the Americas and were brought from the new world to the old world by European explorers in the 1400’s. Like many other new world indigenous foods, beans were then traded eastward into Asia, and the rest is history.
For this recipe I have used a well seasoned local sausage, but an Italian, Portuguese, Mexican chorizo, or your favorite local well seasoned sausage will do nicely.
When fall rolls around there is nothing quite like a hearty piping hot bowl of well seasoned beans to satisfy the appetite.
Borlotti Beans with Sausage serves 4
A cooks note: I like to make this recipe a day in advance which allows the flavors to develop and meld together.
- 1 pound well spiced sausage, cut into 6 inch lengths
- 2 tablespoons olive oil + additional for finishing
- 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onions
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly slice
- 3 fresh jalapeno chilies seeded and diced
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 quart cooked borlotti beans For cooking beans (click here) or 3 400 g canned Borlotti
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- a pinch of ground clove
- 2 quarts stock or water as needed
- 1 bunch collard greens, leaves only with center ribs removed and leaves chopped
- sea salt to taste
- ¾ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (optional)
Place a medium sized stock pot on the stove top over medium flame. When hot add the oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the sausage and deeply brown on all sides. Transfer the browned sausage to a plate and set aside.
Add the onions to the pot and saute, stirring continuously, until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute 1 minute. Then add the jalapenos and red peppers and saute, stirring continuously, until the peppers are wilted, about 4 minutes.
Clear a well in the center of the pot, add the tomato paste and press it against the bottom of the pot to caramelize it, about 2 minutes. Then stir in the beans and add the bay leaves, oregano, cumin seeds, and the clove and stir all the ingredients until well combined.
Promptly add enough stock or water to cover the contents with an inch to spare and stir well. Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Meanwhile cut the browned sausage into ½ inch rounds and set aside.
Add the chopped collard greens, the sausage, and additional stock or water if needed. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
Taste and add salt to your liking as well as the paprika if using and stir to combine.
At this point the beans and sausage are ready to serve. That said, as mentioned, you may want to transfer the beans to several containers and refrigerate overnight. Be sure to reserve stock for reheating.
slowly reheat the beans and sausage and simmer for several minutes, adding some stock or water if needed. Be sure the beans and sausage are piping hot just before serving.
Ladle the beans, sausage, and broth into individual shallow bowls, stirring in a drizzle of olive oil into each just before serving.
Serve with crusty warmed bread or focaccia.
“Sheet-pan” meals seem to be trending on the internet the last few weeks and for good reason. This is a sensible and easy way to turn out hearty nutritious midweek meals without spending a lot time or fuss. I’ve been doing this for years. Basically you toss a bunch of vegetables into a sheet or roasting pan, add some herbs, drizzle with olive oil, and pop them in the oven to roast them for the better part of an hour. Voila! You have a splendid meal to put on the table as well as enough makings for a couple of reincarnations as well.
This time around I’ve used late summer vegetables, with a nod towards some Indian seasonings, which are roasted and served atop garlic naan bread which I buy from a favorite local Indian restaurant. The next day I tossed the vegetables with pasta, and on the following day a hearty vegetable soup using homemade stock.
The possibilities are endless here with the added benefits of vegetable based meals that are both healthy and robust enough to even satisfy reluctant carnivores.
Sheet-pan Roasted Vegetables with Garlic Naan and Coriander Chutney
- 6 garlic naan or other flat bread of choice
- 4 medium size gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 12 oz baby carrots, trimmed
- 1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions, quartered and thinly sliced
- 4 bell peppers of various colors, seeded and sliced into thin strips
- 3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 6 oz small shiitake mushrooms, halved
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh sage leaves
- 1 tablespoon sliced fresh marjoram leaves
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon toasted coriander seeds, coarsely ground ¼
- teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 cup small cherry tomatoes
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + to taste
Place the cut potatoes in a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil, add a pinch of salt and parboil for about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool.
Place the carrots and cauliflower in a steamer basket placed over simmering water and steam about 5 minutes. Set the basket of vegetables aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400 f/200 c rack set mid-level in the oven
Set a large skillet on the stove top over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet and heat until the oil is nearly smoking.
Add the onions and saute about 4 minutes until wilted. Add the bell peppers, jalapenos, garlic, and shiitake mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook until the peppers have softened, about 3 minutes.
Add the sage, marjoram, cumin, coriander, turmeric, and 2 teaspoons salt. Toss until the ingredients are well combined. Then transfer the contents of the skillet into a sheet-pan or roasting pan along with the reserved potatoes, carrots, cauliflower, and the cherry tomatoes.
Add the remaining olive oil and toss all the ingredients until well combined. Place in the preheated oven and roast for about 1 hour, turning the vegetables over in the pan at 15 minute intervals.
While the vegetables are roasting you can make the Coriander chutney.
Coriander chutney is a standard condiment served in most Indian restaurants. The title Chutney may be a bit misleading as this chutney is more of a sauce rather than a mango or lime chutney you may be more familiar with. The coriander chutney adds a fresh aromatic and spicy note when splashed over the roasted vegetables.
Coriander chutney makes nearly a cup
- 1 ¼ cups fresh coriander leaves
- 2 two inch fresh green chilies, flame roasted, skin removed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 ½ teaspoon freshly grated young ginger root
- ½ teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, finely ground
- 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
- 4 tablespoons cold water
- ¾ teaspoon sea salt
- a pinch of sugar
- 1 teaspoon neutral tasting vegetable oil
Place the coriander leaves, green chilies, ginger, cumin, and lime juice in a blender jar or mini food processor. Pulse until the coriander is pulverized, scraping down the sides of the blender or processor frequently.
Then add the water, sea salt and sugar and blend for several minutes, again scraping down the sides of the blender or processor as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. Then with the machine running add the oil in a slow steady stream.
Transfer the chutney to a jar with lid and refrigerate until needed.
Serving: The roasted vegetables are a perfect starter for a meal, as pictured.
Warm the garlic naan, or flat bread of choice, and generously mound the warm roasted vegetable on top. Spoon the Coriander chutney over the vegetables and serve.
The roasted vegetables can also be served as a side with a main course, or even better, as a main course with a side of couscous, rice, Bulgar, or quinoa.
There is nothing quite like the crisp fresh flavors that you find in a Greek salad. A classic to be sure and not to be messed with, but trying an alternative to an oil and vinegar dressing wouldn’t be construed as culinary heresy would it? Certainly not my intention.
But I have been playing around with some tried and true good old American salad dressing recipes over the summer. I have to say a green goddess dressing using fresh herbs is about as robust and tantalizing as any salad dressing you will ever make. The original recipe was created at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1923 that was inspired by a recipe created by Louis XIII chef. If that doesn’t give this dressing any pedigree, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, surely does.
Cutting to the chase, adding a salty goat’s milk feta cheese into the green goddess dressing mix really ups the flavor quotient and adds a zesty background that accentuates the freshness of the green herbs. A Greek salad dressed with this savory green sauce seemed duly apropos.
Ideally this dressing should be made a day in advance so that there is time for the flavors to meld together and bloom.
Greek Green Goddess Dressing: makes 2 cups
- 4 oz Greek goat’s milk Feta cheese ( or sheep’s milk feta), at room temperature, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh oregano leaves + whole leaves for garnishing
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh lemon thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon finely minced fresh chives
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk + more for thinning
- 4 twists of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup full fat Greek yogurt
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated (microplaned), about 2 teaspoons
- ½ teaspoon anchovy paste (or ¾ teaspoon fish sauce)
- ½ teaspoon honey
- sea salt to taste
You may question the use of fish sauce in lieu of anchovy paste in this recipe, but both the Greeks and the Romans developed and used fermented fish sauces to flavor their foods. It is that fifth taste in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter that has brought flavor to life in the Mediterranean and Asian cultures since ancient times. A staple in my kitchen!
I prefer using a food processor for combining the feta with herbs, vinegar, lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of butter milk for a smoother base for the dressing. That said you may do this by hand, but be sure the herbs are very, very, finely minced.
Place the crumbled feta, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, lemon thyme, parsley, and chives in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine the ingredients, stopping from time to time to scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Continue until the mixture holds together into a very thick paste. Scrape the mixture into the bottom of the work bowl and add 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Process for a minute or two until the mixture is nearly smooth.
Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the freshly ground pepper, the Greek yogurt, grated garlic, anchovy paste (or fish sauce), and the honey and stir until all the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.
At this point the dressing will be quite thick and may require thinning with some additional buttermilk, stirred into the mixture a tablespoon at a time, until the dressing is the consistency of chilled Greek Yogurt. Keep in mind the consistency of the dressing will firm up when refrigerated as well.
Taste the dressing and add additional salt if needed and stir until completely incorporated into the dressing. Transfer the dressing to a glass jar, close tightly with lid, and refrigerate overnight. The dressing will keep for about a week refrigerated.
For the salad:
- romaine lettuce leaves, torn
- head lettuce (iceberg), torn
- radicchio leaves, torn into thin strips
- wild arugula leaves, stems removed
- cherry tomatoes, or sliced vine ripe tomatoes, seeded
- cucumbers, seeded and cut into bite size pieces
- red onions, thinly sliced into rings
- black calamata olives, pitted
Combine the leafy salad greens along with most of the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion slices in a large salad bowl. Reserve the remaining tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion slices to garnish the salad later.
Spoon some dressing over the contents of the bowl and toss until all the contents are evenly coated with dressing.
Transfer the dressed salad to a large platter or to individual salad bowls. Top with the remaining tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion rings. Add small dollops of dressing over the salad and top with the pitted olives. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and serve. Serve with additional dressing in a bowl on the table as well as a pepper mill.