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Calabacitas is a vibrantly flavorful combination of tender vegetables tossed in a buttery rich sauce and finished with crumbled cheese and fresh lime juice. It’s a traditional Mexican dish that’s a welcome accompaniment to many main courses, but hearty enough to be a meal on its own.

Calabacitas served in a cast iron skillet and photographed from overhead.

Think of this easy recipe as a starting point for your own creativity. It’s endlessly versatile and can be customized to suit your personal tastes or just to use up vegetables that you have on hand. 

Ingredients You Need to Make Calabacitas

Calabacitas Ingredients on a white marble board.
  • Butter: salted butter or unsalted butter
  • Olive Oil: ideally extra-virgin olive oil
  • White Onion: or yellow onion
  • Poblano Pepper: or Anaheim pepper
  • Red Bell Pepper: or other sweet pepper like yellow or orange bell pepper
  • Garlic: fresh garlic cloves
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow Summer Squash
  • Green Onions
  • Fresh Corn Kernels: or frozen corn kernels
  • Cotija Cheeseor queso fresco
  • Fresh Cilantro
  • Lime: fresh lime wedges for serving, optional
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper

FAQ

What is calabacitas?

Calabacitas is a traditional Mexican dish that made with a variety of vegetables, like zucchini, corn, peppers, onions, cream, and/or cheese, herbs and spices and sometimes tomatoes.

Is zucchini the same as calabacitas?

While zucchini is a key ingredient in calabacitas (a Spanish word that means “little squash”) the word typically refers to a dish of several vegetables and other ingredients. 

What is the origin of calabacitas?

Calabacitas is believed to have originated in Mexico, but has evolved over time and can now be found with varying ingredients depending on region or personal preference. It’s a dish that’s been around for centuries and is also popular in the Southwestern United States.

Calabacitas served in a cast iron skillet.

Recipe Options

  • Use a generous splash of heavy cream instead of butter.
  • Try out another good melting cheese like Monterey Jack or mozzarella.
  • Stir in diced ripe tomato along with the other vegetables.
  • Use roasted poblano peppers in addition to or instead of fresh chile peppers.
  • Kick up the spice with cumin, chili powder, or a generous pinch of cayenne pepper. 

How to Store and Reheat

Store leftover calabacitas in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat in a large skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally until heated through; adjust seasoning as desired and serve.

More Must Try Side Dishes

How to Make Calabacitas

Cook and stir onion, poblano, bell pepper in a sizzling blend of butter and olive, in a large skillet set over medium heat salt until softened. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.

Add zucchini and yellow squash; cook until softened. Then add green onions and corn; simmer without stirring until most of the liquid has cooked off. Stir in remaining butter and season with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl and sprinkle with cotija cheese; serve hot with lime wedges (optional).

Calabacitas

5 from 3 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 20 minutes
Total: 35 minutes
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Calories: 212
Servings: 4 people
A traditional Mexican side-dish that is sure to please even the pickiest eaters.

Ingredients  

  • 3 tablespoons butter divided
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small white onion finely chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 1 small red bell pepper diced small
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
  • 2 large cloves garlic minced
  • 1 medium zucchini cut into quarter rounds, 1/4-inch thick
  • 1 medium yellow summer squash cut into quarter rounds, 1/4-inch thick
  • 4 green onions thinly sliced white and green parts
  • 1 cup corn kernels fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 2 ounces crumbled cotija cheese about 1/2 cup
  • coarsely chopped fresh cilantro for garnish, optional
  • fresh lime wedges for serving, optional

Instructions 

  • In a large skillet heat 2 tablespoons of the butter and the olive oil over medium heat until sizzling. Add onion; cook and stir 4 to 5 minutes, or until softened and translucent. Add garlic; cook and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add poblano chile, bell pepper, salt and pepper; cook and stir 4 to 5 minutes more until vegetables have softened.
  • Add zucchini and yellow squash; cook and stir 4 to 5 minutes, until softened. Stir in green onions and corn; simmer, undisturbed 5 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in remaining tablespoon of butter until melted; season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to serving bowl or platter and sprinkle with cotija cheese and cilantro if using. Serve immediately, with lime wedges if desired.

Nutrition

Calories: 212kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 6g | Trans Fat: 0.3g | Cholesterol: 35mg | Sodium: 613mg | Potassium: 479mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1347IU | Vitamin C: 69mg | Calcium: 109mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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14 Comments

  1. Valentina says:

    I haven’t ever had this. How perfect for those pretty summer veggies! And I love the cooking process — the pan gets fuller and prettier as you cook. 🙂 ~Valentina

    1. Marissa Stevens says:

      That’s a great observation, Valentina! It’s really true. Thanks so much!

  2. Sally Humeniuk says:

    5 stars
    I made this last night for dinner and it was so fresh, so flavorful. The squash was tender but the corn, red bell pepper, and poblano are the flavor stars, with the addition of the cotija. So delicious and easy. This will be made regularly in my house this summer. Thanks for another great recipe, Marissa!

    1. Marissa Stevens says:

      I love to hear this, Sally! I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed it!