Calabacitas “little squash”, is a dish with many names, and variations and steeped in New Mexico history originating from Native American Pueblos dating back to the 16th century. As with most foods unique to this area, the finished dish is only the starting point for the many opportunities to learn about the foods, people, and history that make up the heart and soul of the Southwest landscape. Each new ingredient and method I learn here change me, even in a small way. Added together, I can’t help but notice that living and cooking here has changed and grounded me in ways I could have ever imagined where the only thing I know for sure, is that I hope I will be learning here with an open heart for the rest of my life. Cooking becomes less about what I do in the kitchen and more about what others have experienced, preserved, and the gift of gathering around the kitchen table to share a dish like this.
In her James Beard Award-winning book, Foods of the Southwest Indian Nation, Lois Ellen Frank (Kiowa on her mother’s side and Sephardic on her father’s side) writes about the sacred elements to tribes across the country and the ingenuity of an ecosystem that is created by planting three crops that benefit and thrive when they are planted together in companion planting. This book also happens to include the largest acknowledgments section of any book I have ever seen. I don’t think this is by accident, and if I’ve learned anything at all since my time here learning from chefs like Lois and Walter Whitewater from Red Mesa Cuisine, it’s that the native approach to cooking embodies a spirit of attention and care for all living things including land and food, with a deep appreciation for teachers in all forms.
Of the three sisters, Lois writes that they “are believed to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica sometime between 7000 and 3000 B.C.” Then, as travel increased along the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, the 1591-mile-long road between Mexico City and San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico, it is believed corn and chile was added to cooked summer squash making the combination we know and love today. In Lois’s book the recipe, also called calabacitas, is called Mesa Squash Fry and includes red bell pepper and sunflower seeds. In the Pueblo Indian Cookbook, compiled and edited by Phyllis Hughes a similar version is called Skillet Squash and includes the addition of shredded longhorn cheese (cheddar or american style cheese in the shape of a half moon), while Fabiola C. Gilbert in her book Historic Cookery published in 1931 refers to Calabacitas con Chile Verde which includes a small amount of milk and grated Native or American cheese. I have seen more variations than I can count with additions like tomatoes, chicken broth, cream, queso fresco, jalapeno, and differences in texture from extra brothy to this version which is more on the caramelized vegetable side.
Making the Calabacitas
Calabacitas is wonderful in a bowl on its own, but it also happens to make my favorite benedict of all time. This is a vegetarian recipe, but you could always add a slice of ham or bacon on top of the bread if you wish. Or, if you didn’t want to use biscuits or english muffins, you could always swap those out for roasted fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, roasted asparagus or a bed of sauteed hearty greens like kale, chard or collards.
The classic way of preparing hollandaise sauce is by using a double boiler and saying lots of prayers while whisking. This blender version can be made with a standard blender or an immersion blender and is so easy you might be inclined to add this to your regular brunch rotation.Print
Calabacitas is wonderful in a bowl on its own, but it also happens to make my favorite southwestern style benedict of all time. This is a vegetarian recipe, but you could always add a slice of ham or bacon on top of the bread if you wish.
- Prep Time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 30 mins
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 6 servings
- Category: Breakfast
- Method: fire-roasted
- Cuisine: New Mexican
for the calabacitas:
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1 red onion, diced
- 3–4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 fire roasted poblano peppers, peeled, seeded and diced
- 2 medium zucchini, diced
- 2 medium yellow squash
- 2 c. fire roasted corn kernels
- 1 T. fresh oregano, rough chopped (or 2 t. dry)
- salt and pepper, to taste
for the hollandaise:
- 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 2 large egg yolks
- 2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 t. New Mexico Red Chile Powder or to taste
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- warm water, as needed for thinning
- 6–12 eggs, prepared however you like them best
- 6 english muffins or biscuits, sliced in half, toasted and buttered
- 1/4 c. minced chives, for garnish
To make the calabacitas, heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until they are beginning to caramelize. Add the garlic and cook for another couple of minutes. Now add the fire-roasted poblanos, zucchini, yellow squash, corn and oregano. Let this cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are tender, all of the water has evaporated from the zucchini and yellow squash and everything in the pan is starting to caramelize. Season with salt and pepper until it tastes wonderful to you. Keep warm.
Less than 30 minutes before serving the benedict is the time to make the hollandaise. Fill your blender with very warm water. In a small saucepan over medium heat bring the butter to a simmer and turn off the heat. Pour out the water from the blender, saving it for another use like watering plants once it comes to room temperature and dry the blender with a clean cloth. Transfer the butter to a heat-proof pitcher or measuring cup with a pouring spout to have ready to go. Add the egg yolks, lemon juice, New Mexico chile powder and a pinch of salt and pepper to the blender. Blend this on a medium speed and while it’s blending, carefully remove the fill cap from the blender lid and very slowly pour in the hot butter. Watch the mixture as you pour, you should see it thicken as it emulsifies. Once all the butter has been added, season with salt and pepper as needed. If the hollandaise is too thick, you can thin it out by blending in more lemon juice if you feel it’s needed or one tablespoon of warm water at a time. Transfer the sauce to a heat proof container and keep covered and warm until ready to serve.
To assemble the benedict: Place English muffins or biscuits in a large bowl, top generously with a spoon of calabacitas, an egg and a drizzle of hollandaise sauce. Garnish with chives and serve immediately.
Keywords: hollandaise, calabacitas, benedict, squash, fire-roasted, red chile, eggs