Vivan las Calabacitas!
By Dennis Linden
This month’s Associate Recipe was submitted by Jeanne Mastick, Melissa’s National Sales Manager. Taken literally, calabacita is the Spanish word for zucchini; however, in the state of New Mexico, the word generally refers to calabacitas, a zucchini-based vegetable side dish that is a signature dish in New Mexican cuisine. calabacitas is unique to the Southwest; a region of the country that has a 10,000-year history of cultivating squashes as a staple crop dating back to ancient Indian cultures of the area. The dish is so indigenous to the state that many of New Mexico’s restaurants, from fine dining eateries to taco shops, offer calabacitas as a side dish option to the usual rice or beans. The dish is also the topic of many a heated culinary discussion as most New Mexicans have a favorite recipe for calabacitas, which is served with an opinion that his or her formula is undoubtedly THE best in the state!
Jeanne’s version of this iconic dish, with the exception of the Monterey Jack Cheese, probably comes very close to what the original tribal recipe could have tasted like. Her formula uses five of the most basic fresh ingredients that have been cultivated or foraged for centuries: Squash, Corn, Tomato, Onion, Garlic and Cilantro. While Jeanne says she has no knowledge of any New Mexico lineage, this is a family recipe.
“The recipe comes from my mom's side of the family,” she explained. “They are of Mexican/Spanish descent. My Grandmother made it all the time and taught both my mom and her sister (my aunt), so it’s a dish I have known since childhood and now I prepare it regularly. After a long day at the office, this is an easy and nutritious dish to make that requires little preparation or cooking time.”
Jeanne’s Calabacitas really demonstrates what cooking with fresh produce is all about. Oh sure, I can think of a lot of add-ins that would be tasty and, in researching the dish, I did find many more complicated versions of this dish on the 'net. However, my culinary vote goes to Jeanne’s approach -- no fancy sauce, exotic herbs or overpowering chile peppers need apply! Jeanne’s flavors are clean, fresh, satisfying and heathy. The calories in the Jack Cheese topping is completely offset by the rest of the fresh vegetables. Besides, what is life without an occasional serving of cheese!
Jeanne Mastick has been a member of the Melissa’s corporate family for 23 years. When not dealing with the company’s many retail accounts around the country, Jeanne is an avid gardener and competitive dog trainer.
“I enjoy being outdoors when at all possible. I have two Australian Shepherd dogs, Patrick and Oliver. They are my furry, four- legged children,” she said proudly. “I compete with them in various events that tests both their obedience and agility. However, my real passion is to compete with them working on livestock like cattle, sheep, and ducks.”
After several taste-test servings in the course of composing this feature, a job that this writer embraces with diligence, I’m thinking that Jeanne might want to consider another kind of competition. In September, at the state fair in Albuquerque, there is an annual BEST CALABACITAS RECIPE contest. So there’s still plenty of time to schedule your next vacation, Chef Jeanne!
2 pounds Zucchini, small-medium in size, sliced (5-6 pcs)
¼ cup Green Onions (Option: Regular Sweet Onion)
3 Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 cup Fresh Corn (can substitute thawed, frozen or canned, seasonally)
1 clove Garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper, to taste
½ cup Monterey Jack Cheese, grated (topper)
2 Tablespoons Cilantro, chopped (garnish)
Slice zucchini into rounds.
Prepare onions, tomato, garlic and corn.
In a large bowl, combine zucchini, onion, garlic and tomato.
Transfer contents of bowl into a large saucepan and add 1 cup water.
Cover and bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until tender.
When zucchini is almost done, add corn, reduce to low heat.
Top with jack cheese, let sit until cheese has melted.
Garnish with cilantro and serve either individually or family style.