Easy Calabacitas (Mexican Style Zucchini Recipe)

Mexican calabacitas have been one of my favorite Mexican dish since childhood. This quick and easy to make Mexican zucchini recipe is a healthy plant-based dish that’s bursting with flavor and can be enjoyed as a side or main dish, or even as a taco filling. You’re whole family is going to love this authentic calabacitas recipe! 

Small bowl filled with calabacitas, a small plate with two Mexican zucchini tacos, a small bowl with cotija cheese and another bowl filled with salsa roja.
Calabacitas Tacos

Calabacitas aka Mexican Squash

In Mexico these little squashes are called calabacitas or calabacita italiana or Italian squash.

Calabacitas are a Mexican dish traditionally cooked with sauteed onion, green chiles, and tomato. Sometimes it’s called calabacitas a la Mexicana because it has the three colors of the Mexican flag. 

Calabacita is a spotted green zucchini that’s smaller than the large, deep green colored summer squash you find in the US and Europe. The taste is quite similar and they can be used interchangeably. During the summer months you’ll have no problem finding them as well as all sorts of summer squash.

A earthenware bowl filled with Mexican zucchini called calabacitas and sprinkled with crumbled cheese.

This is one of those Mexican recipes that’s so incredibly easy to make that it almost feels silly giving you a recipe. Perhaps I feel this way because it’s one of the basic foods I grew up eating and in fact it’s one of the more popular plant-based Mexican foods.

The wonderful thing about this dish is that you can make it completely 100% vegan or you can also make it a vegetarian dish. It’s just a versatile dish all around. 

You may not commonly find this at your local Mexican restaurant but you will in Mexican people’s home.

Once you start making this at home you’ll see that there’s no need to find it at your local restaurant and you’ll start making it on a regular basis specially during the summer months. 

Why You’ll Love This Recipe💚

  • With just a few of fresh vegetables you can have a delectable healthy side dish or main dish.
  • It’s ready in 20-30 minutes!
  • Super budget friendly, specially when the fresh ingredients are in season.
  • Calabacitas are a low carb dish that’s safe for those on low-carb diets or medically restrictive diet.

Small bowls filled with the ingredients for making Mexican zucchini called calabacitas. There's chopped zucchini, white onion, serrano, minced garlic, canned corn, chopped roma tomato, salt and olive oil.
Calabacitas Ingredients

Ingredients

Calabacitas: These small zucchinis can be found at your local grocery store, farmers markets or Hispanic food stores. If you don’t have them available you can use regular green zucchini. Please note that in Mexico we don’t use the yellow squash variety, it doesn’t even exist here.

Green Chilies: You can use serrano pepper for high heat, jalapeño for medium heat, or for mild to no heat you can use poblano peppers. Try not to use green bell peppers because it will change the taste of the dish. Remember this dish is ” a la mexicana” so stick with a green chilies and not red pepper. 

White Onion: This is the traditional onion used in most Mexican recipes. In a pinch I’ve used spring onions for a different flavor.

Garlic Cloves: Not everyone uses this  but I pretty much put it in all of my savory dishes for additional flavor. 

Roma Tomatoes: In Mexico we have a preference for fresh tomatoes instead of canned. For the best and most traditional flavor use fresh tomatoes like Roma or plum tomatoes or regular round, I wouldn’t recommend cherry tomatoes because the taste is a bit different. 

Corn: To give it an even more Mexican touch, this recipe uses fresh corn. The best flavor is corn from fresh ears of corn but in a pinch you can use canned. I prefer white corn but yellow will do.

Oil: I like to use olive oil for health reasons, but regular vegetable oil is fine too.

Seasonings: Salt and fresh ground black pepper is really all you need. But some people also like to add a little Mexican oregano or chopped fresh cilantro. 

Optional Ingredients: You can mix in some vegan crema and cubed dairy-free cheese if you’d like. I sometimes mix in some crema then top with my homemade vegan cotija cheese

Make it Vegetarian

To make this a vegetarian dish you can mix in some dairy crema or sour cream for a creamy version. For calabacitas con queso you can mix in some cubed queso fresco or panela cheese.

Two calabacita tacos with crumbled queso on a Mexican earthenware plate.
Calabacitas Tacos

How to Make Calabacitas

Sauteing finely chopped white onion, serrano pepper and minced garlic in a stainless steel pan.

Step 1
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and once hot drizzle in the oil then add the chopped onion, chopped chile and minced garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and until the onion begins to brown. Stir now and then to prevent burning.

Sauteing finely chopped white onion, serrano pepper, minced garlic, and chopped roma tomato in a stainless steel pan to make Mexican calabacitas.

Step 2
Next add the chopped tomato and drizzle some salt and pepper over it. Sauté for 1-2 minutes or until the tomato is to desired tenderness – most people cook it until it completely breaks down, I don’t like it too mushy so only cook briefly.

Sauteing finely chopped white onion, serrano pepper, minced garlic, chopped roma tomato, and cubed zucchini in a stainless steel pan to make Mexican calabacitas.

Step 3
Mix in the corn then add the chopped zucchini and give it a good stir to well combine.

Cooked calabacitas or Mexican zucchini inside a stainless steel pan.

Step 4
Place the lid on the pan and cook for about 8 minutes or until the zucchini is to your desired tenderness. I like it to be tender but not mushy so cook for only a few minutes. If you’re using cream or cheese mix them in once the zucchini becomes tender then cook until the sour cream is warmed through or until the cheese melts. Once cooked, carefully taste and adjust salt if necessary.

Two calabacita tacos with crumbled queso on a Mexican earthenware plate.

How to Serve

This traditional zucchini dish is a popular vegetable side dish to meat dishes.

You can also serve it as a main course with some whole or refried beans (I love black beans with calabacitas), some arroz rojo and warm corn tortillas. I love to make tacos with my calabacitas and will top them with crumbled vegan queso, a drizzle of salsa roja and if I have crema that too.

This is such a delightful, filling and nutritious meal that’s not only easy to make but also budget friendly.

A close up view of a woman's hand holding up a charred corn tortilla filled with calabacitas and vegan cotija cheese.

Taste

The sweet smell of onions caramelizing alongside the earthy scent of corn is unforgettable! The moist and mild zucchini absorbs the flavors of the corn and tomato perfectly.

The tomatoes provide extra moisture and a little sweetness to the dish, and the serrano pepper adds just a touch of heat to balance out all of the flavors. The spices are minimal and all of the flavors come from the vegetables.

It is fresh, healthy, light yet hearty enough to be served as a vegan meal.

Nancy’s Tips

  • This dish is best when eaten the same day that it’s cooked. The zucchini begin to break down with reheating. 
  • You can also use the calabacitas as fillings for quesadillas, burritos, and gorditas or for sopes too.
  • If you have meat eaters in your house that won’t eat just veggies, you can pair this with their favorite animal protein.
  • If you have leftover calabacitas the next day you serve with a vegan egg or a sunny side up egg for a filling breakfast.

View from above of a stone tabletop with a small orange bowl filled with salsa roja, another small bowl with crumbled queso, and an earthenware plate with two corn tortilla tacos filled with calabacitas and topped with cheese and salsa.

How to Store & Reheat

To store first allow to come to room temperature then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. After that the tomato changes in flavor. 

​Freezing is not recommended for zucchini.

To reheat stove top is best. Heat a large pan then add a drizzle of oil then pour in the calabacitas. Cooke for a few minutes while you stir now and then. 

Nancy Lopez author of Mexican Made Meatless

Gracias

I’m so happy you stopped by. If you have any questions or want to let me know how you liked this recipe, do leave a comment. Muchas gracias, I appreciate you!

More a la Mexican Recipes

Two calabacita tacos with crumbled queso on a Mexican earthenware plate.

Calabacitas (Mexican Zucchini)

Nancy Lopez & MexicanMadeMeatless.com
Enjoy the seasonal flavors of zucchini and corn together in this easy to prepare Mexican calabacitas dish. Serve as a side dish, as a taco filling, rice or burrito bowl.
5 from 4 votes
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Print Recipe
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Mexican, Vegan Mexican Recipe
Servings 4 servings
Calories 93 kcal

Ingredients
  

INGREDIENTS

  • 1.5 Tablespoons olive oil vegetable oil
  • ½ small white onion finely chopped
  • 1 whole serrano pepper roughly chopped*
  • 3 whole garlic cloves minced
  • 2 medium Roma tomatoes roughly chopped
  • ¾ cup corn canned or fresh corn kernels
  • 1 extra large calabacita cut into small pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt adjust to taste
  • pinch ground black pepper adjust to taste

Instructions
 

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Once hot drizzle in the oil then add the chopped onion, chopped chile and minced garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and until the onion begins to brown. Stir now and then to prevent burning.
  • Add the chopped tomato and drizzle some salt and pepper over it. Sauté for 1-2 minutes or until the tomato is to desired tenderness.
  • Mix in the corn then add the chopped zucchini and give it a good stir to well combine.
  • Place the lid on the pan and cook for about 8 minutes or until the zucchini is to your desired tenderness.
  • If you’re using cream or cheese mix them in once the zucchini becomes tender then cook until the sour cream is warmed through or until the cheese melts.
  • Once cooked, carefully taste and adjust salt if necessary.

Notes

  • If you don’t have a very large zucchini use two small ones.
  • For the chile you can use serrano or jalapeno.
  • Use canned, or frozen kernel or when in season use fresh corn. Either yellow or white corn is fine to use.
  • If served as a side dish this will be enough for 4 servings, if as a main it will be enough for 2 servings.
  • Make your own beans instead of buying canned ones, get the recipe here
 

Nutrition

Serving: 4servingsCalories: 93kcalCarbohydrates: 10gProtein: 2gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gSodium: 588mgPotassium: 281mgFiber: 2gSugar: 4gVitamin A: 435IUVitamin C: 16mgCalcium: 16mgIron: 0.5mg
Tried this recipe?Leave me a ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ review and tag me on social media @MexicanMadeMeatless or tag #mexicanmademeatless!

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49 Comments

  1. Awww, yay! We're friends on Food Buzz now…love that site, so much!

    This dish looks amazing…I love zuchinni so much…I like just having it steamed with onions…and then seasoned with spices. I actually have a recipe for it on my site. Thanks for sharing yours!

  2. just needs some queso fresco and crema San Juan style and perfect just like the one we eate when growin up in mexico!!!

  3. @Alina, Thanks!

    @Heide, Thanks!

    @Claudia, Thank you!

    @Torviewtoronto, Thanks!

    @Belinday, Thanks!

    @Anonymous, Yes exactly! It would complete the sensory memories and tummy 🙂

  4. what a beautiful dish Nancy! Corn is actually in season around here, we are seeing it everywhere in the grocers, I'm not sure what state its coming from but its been sweet and tender! Of course you know my favorite way to serve zucchini is as a blossom!

  5. I studied archaeology in undergrad and one of the turning points in the prehistory of the Americas was the domestication of maize. Incredibly important stuff! Delicious too, especially in this dish.

  6. @Kimberly, Sounds yummy!

    @Michelle, Yes I bet it would be.

    @Lizzy, Thanks!

    @Chef Dennis, Oh that is great that corn is already available there. Yes I know you love the yummy blossoms 🙂

    @Cooking Rookie, Thank you, and yes perfect for that.

    @Carolyn, Makes you wonder what if, if maize hadn't been domesticated. Thanks!

    @Maria, Thank you Maria:)