Calabacitas and the myth of the British palate

Perspective is a funny thing isn’t it? I’ve spent the last twelve years now in the UK- and watched the food scene dramatically shift and change (mostly for the better!) with each passing year. I remember when I first moved here how IMPOSSIBLE it was to find a decent Mexican restaurant anywhere in town. Corn tortillas were unheard of, I choked down several burritos from several different recommended places that contained the likes of brie and tinned tuna inside, and even the five-alarm-chilli warnings on salsas could be eaten without even the hint of a teary eye or sip of water.

I am forever grateful to now be able to find decent hot sauce in most grocery stores, guacamole that actually tastes of avocados, and a variety of other dishes from delicious and complex moles to simple taquerilla-sized tacos. And yet, I’ve heard the opinion from several different sources, that New Mexican cuisine is simply too niche and far flung to ever really gain interest the UK market. To that end, I say bullshit. If we can overcome the brie burrito and Doritos-flavoured nachos, we can do anything (food related). Food culture in England has moved on since the day I landed on its shores, now digging deeply into the truly funky flavours of Thai cuisine, earthy back-of-the-tongue heat from regional Indian dishes, smoky meaty barbecue from the US and salty, sour flavours from the Middle East, I think New Mexican cuisine would do just fine.  There are many real and valid issues taking place here in the UK, but the stunted British palate thankfully no longer represents the overarching majority (how thematic).

I optimistically believe the British public are curious when it comes to food and hungry for adventure, and the change in the food scene in the last twelve years represent that curiosity.

When it comes to agriculture, I think New Mexicans and Great Britons have something very much in common;  the pride and connection felt towards their produce. Surely the public would recognise that sense of pride New Mexicans feel towards what comes from their part of the earth – much like the UK celebrates Jersey potatoes, Guernsey cows, summer strawberries and spring asparagus.

New Mexican cuisine and culture is an incredible blend of Mexican flavours so many are now familiar with, mixed with the addition of Spanish influence, a dedication to cultivating and harvesting local ingredients like Hatch green chile, squash, pecans and pinon, all layered on top of the oldest recorded presence in the United States; the vastly underrepresented yet undeniably invaluable indigenous cultures of the nineteen pueblos residing in New Mexico. Its complexity and soul of culture is practically unparalleled. AND YET, its culmination can result in a simple-yet-satisfying dish like calabacitas.

People of Great Britain, I realise you’ve got a lot going on right now but – I beg of you, I implore you to give this dish and recipe a try and then tell me its too exotic and far flung for your taste buds or your kitchen skills. I just don’t think it is. Help me prove those naysayers wrong!


New Mexican Style Calabacitas

1 white onion, finely chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, minced

2 courgettes, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

2 pinches red pepper flakes

125g/ 1 cup sweet corn (I used frozen as it’s still out of season)

2 tablespoons or more chopped roasted green chilies

Serve with

black beans

ready fried/toasted onions

torn or chopped coriander

lime wedges

salsa or hot sauce

flour or corn tortillas

sour cream or grated cheese if desired

In a large pan over a medium heat add a small knob of butter and drizzle of olive oil and let the butter melt. Once melted add in your diced onion and sweat until soft and translucent (between 7-10 minutes). Add in your minced garlic and cook for a further minute, continuing to mix using a wooden spoon or spatula.

Add in your courgettes (zucchini) and season with salt and pepper and a few pinches of red pepper flakes and cook over a medium high heat until softened through but not mushy, with a nice golden brown colour on each side.

Add the sweet corn and green chilies (spelled chile in New Mexico), stir through until flavours have dispersed and combined – another 5 minutes or so – then tip into a serving bowl.

Serve with any or all of options listed above. I love mine with black beans, topped with fried onions, tons of lime, coriander and hot sauce, tucked into a warmed flour tortilla.

About The Author


Eat. Drink. Wander. Think. Write.

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