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-chili 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 taqueria-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 in 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 deep 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  There are many real and valid issues taking place here in the UK, but the stunted British palate thankfully no longer represents the overarching majority (how thematic).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, dedication to cultivating and harvesting local ingredients like Hatch green chile, squash, pecans and pinon, all layered on top of Indigenous cultures; the oldest recorded presence in the United States with an astounding 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!

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New Mexican Style Calabacitas

Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine New Mexican
Keyword Green Chile, New Mexican, Vegetarian, Zucchini
Servings 4 people
Author adriennekatzkennedy

Ingredients

  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 zucchini/ courgettes, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 2 pinches red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup (125g) sweet corn (I used frozen if it’s still out of season)
  • 2 tbsp. (or more) roasted green chiles, chopped
  • 1 tsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Instructions

  • 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 zucchini (courgette) 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 below. I love mine with black beans or pintos, topped with fried onions, tons of lime, coriander (cilantro) and hot sauce, tucked into a warmed flour tortilla.

Notes

Serve with
black beans
pinto 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

About The Author


adriennekatzkennedy

Eat. Drink. Wander. Think. Write.

2 Comments

  1. Sounds tasty! I’m on a keto diet so wondering if there’s something I can substitute for the corn , or would that significantly change the taste?

    1. Hi Rebecca, that’s an interesting question. Although it would change the flavor a bit maybe try some fresh red bell pepper instead? It would still taste good and you’d get the slight crunch/texture difference and a bit of sweetness that the corn normally provides in the dish. I hope the suggestion helps! Thanks so much for reading.

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