Looking for a side dish or light meal? Try this calabacitas recipe! Mexican squash is cooked until tender with mix-ins like corn, tomatoes, spicy peppers, and savoury seasonings. Add dairy-free cheese at the end for a delicious plant-based version!
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Calabacitas con queso vegano will be your new favorite meat-free dish to share with your family. It's healthy, light, and packed with delicious flavors.
What is calabacitas?
Calabacitas (or "little squash" in English) refers to several types of squash in Spanish — like zucchini or yellow squash.
But here in Mexico, there is a dish called calabacitas. Sometimes, you may find calabacitas con puerco (squash with pork) or calabacitas con queso (with cheese).
Although recipes vary depending on the chef or region, the main components are zucchini (or other summer squash), corn, onions, tomatoes, and cheese.
We love this dish because it works well as a light meal, a side dish, and a filling for tacos (our personal favorite).
It's an easy-to-make recipe that requires just one pan! We're so excited for you to try calabacitas as it's one of the dishes we eat on a weekly basis.
Is calabacitas vegan?
Calabacitas con queso is a great recipe to make vegan because it's already vegetarian. Although recipes like calabacitas con puerco or pollo contain meat, cheese is a common choice.
To make a plant-based calabacitas con queso recipe, we just swapped in shredded vegan mozzarella for dairy-based cheese. And if you don't like vegan cheese, don't worry about it! You can skip it completely to make an even healthier dish.
Calabaza (squash) was originally cultivated near Oaxaca, dating back 10,000 years. From there, it went on to grow into many different varieties, shapes, and flavors.
The traditional Mexican recipe (calabacitas) was brought to life in the 16th century, and it was popular amongst both indigenous and Spanish populations.
Because of the simplicity, nutritional benefits, and available ingredients, calabacitas became a staple recipe and spread all across the country.
In modern recipes, there are many variations of calabacitas with cheese, meat, and different vegetables or sauces. It really depends on personal preference.
This dish is one of the most nutritious Mexican recipes still commonly consumed today, especially if the cheese is kept to a minimum.
Whichever way you decide to serve your recipe, you'll be taking another step towards a healthy plant-based lifestyle filled with nutrients.
For a complete ingredient list and step-by-step guide, scroll down to our recipe card.
- Calabacitas: also known as Mexican squash, this fruit creates the bulk of the recipe. It provides a sweet flavor and tender texture in each bite. Squash is rich in vitamin A and vitamin C, which are both potent antioxidants.
- Corn: this staple Mexican ingredient adds bursts of sweet flavor and fiber to the calabacitas recipe. You can use fresh, frozen, or canned here — whichever is available to you.
- Roma tomatoes: to add zesty flavor and juiciness to this recipe, opt for Roma tomatoes. Tomatoes are rich in the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene, all of which are helpful for vision and overall skin health.
- Jalapeño: for garden-fresh flavors and a little heat, jalapeño pairs well in this recipe. If you are sensitive to spice, use poblano or green bell pepper.
- Onion, garlic: both ingredients are typically found at the start of many Mexican recipes. They infuse savoury flavors and impart a delicious aroma.
- Vegan mozzarella: to make your calabacitas recipe "con queso" (with cheese), add the melty, creamy, and savoury flavors of shredded vegan mozzarella.
- Vegan queso fresco: for little bursts of tangy flavors, garnish each plate with vegan queso fresco. You can also try queso cotija or skip it altogether.
- Spices: Mexican oregano and cumin create herbaceous and earthy flavors, while salt and pepper enhance the other ingredients. If you don't have access to Mexican oregano, skip it or use marjoram.
- Olive oil: to add richness in this calabacitas recipe. We typically go for olive oil, but you can use any vegetable oil or go oil-free!
If you have questions about this calabacitas recipe, don't forget to check out our FAQ section at the bottom of this post.
Step 1: heat some olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Once hot, add in onions and cook for about 3 minutes until translucent.
Step 2: add the jalapeño, garlic, squash, corn, tomatoes, Mexican oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to just over low, cover the pan, and cook until the squash is tender.
Step 3: add in vegan mozzarella shreds and cook with the lid on for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
Calabacitas makes for great leftovers, so don't be afraid of prepping a large batch. Follow these storage instructions so you don't end up with a dried-out dish.
This recipe will last up to 5 days in the fridge. For optimal storage, use airtight glass containers.
Keep your calabacitas con queso in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months. When you're ready to eat it again, thaw the container in your fridge overnight.
Reheat your calabacitas in a pan over medium heat until everything is heated evenly, which takes about 5-6 minutes.
💭 Tips & variations
We'd like to share some tips and variations we learned while experimenting with this calabacitas con queso recipe:
- Use any summer squash. If you can't find Mexican squash, replace it with any variety of summer squash available to you (yellow or green zucchini, pattypan, globe, crookneck, etc.)
- Skip the cheese. If you're looking to make this cheaper or lower in calories, don't add any cheese. It's delicious either way!
- Adjust the spice. If you prefer less spice, opt for a green bell pepper instead. Alternatively, add in a serrano to turn up the heat.
- Add it to tacos. This dish goes really well inside freshly made corn tortillas. Test it out and see what you think!
🍴 Tasting notes
Whether you're looking for a side dish, snack, or taco filling, calabacitas has got your back. It's:
If you try this calabacitas recipe, please rate it and leave us a comment below! Want to stay up-to-date with new recipes? Subscribe to our newsletter or connect with Broke Bank Vegan on social media. Happy eating!
- Chef knife & cutting board
- 1 tablespoon olive oil ($0.11)
- ½ large white onion, diced ($0.12)
- 1 large jalapeño, finely diced ($0.03)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced ($0.08)
- 1 ½ pounds Mexican squash, sliced into quarters ($0.62)
- 1 cup corn kernels ($1.13)
- 2 Roma tomatoes, diced ($0.32)
- ¼ teaspoon Mexican oregano ($0.01)
- ¼ teaspoon cumin ($0.01)
- Salt & pepper to taste ($0.02)
- ⅔ cup vegan mozzarella, shredded ($0.83)
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add in onions and cook for about 3 minutes until translucent.
- Add the jalapeño, garlic, squash, corn, tomatoes, Mexican oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to just over low, cover, and cook for ~8-9 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender.
- Add in vegan mozzarella shreds and cook with the lid on for an additional 1-2 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
- Top with vegan queso fresco or queso cotija. Serve warm as a side dish, on tacos, or as a light meal. Happy eating!
- You can use other summer squash varieties like yellow or green zucchini, pattypan, crookneck, globe, etc.
- Optional ingredients are not reflected in the price or calories of our recipes.
- We calculate nutritional information for our recipes with Cronometer.
- Recipe cost calculations are based on ingredients local to us and may vary from recipe-to-recipe.
- All prices are in USD.
♻️ Similar recipes
For more tasty side dishes and snacks, check out our:
- Aguachile verde to try fresh oyster mushrooms marinated in a spicy, zesty, and citrusy broth.
- Ensalada de nopales for a light and flavorful cactus salad perfect to add to tacos, tostadas, and more.
- Rajas con crema to try strips of poblano pepper mixed with corn, onions, and a creamy vegan cheese sauce.
- Tostilocos for a spicy, crunchy, and crazy snack invented in the streets of Mexico.
You may not be able to find Mexican squash if you don't live in Mexico, so zucchini is a great replacement!
If you want to add more protein to this dish, mix in cooked chickpeas or lentils at the end.
While they are both summer squash varieties, the two are not the same. Mexican squash has pale green skin and tastes slightly sweeter than its darker green cousin. These are minor differences, so you can easily swap in zucchini in this calabacitas recipe.