Before Merida cantinas became so hip, the future chef/owner of Ku’uk Restaurant whiled away many a teenage afternoon in the local dives.
“When I was in high school in the 1980s, Cantina La Negrita was a place you went to deal with your assignments,” Pedro Evia told Saveur Magazine. “It was an old-man place, and you could find your high school teachers there. You’d go there to negotiate your grades.”
It was also where Evia developed a taste for botanas, the free bar food that cantinas serve.
“There’s a menu that every Yucatecan cantina must have: ceviche, potatoes with cilantro and onions, beans, sikil p’ak, and calabacitas fritas,” he says. The latter, translated as “fried squash,” is a salsa that’s traditionally made from a green summer squash called calabaza de castilla.
Though his menu at Ku’uk includes an upscale version of calabacitas fritas, Evia describes the original as a “mom” plate.
“It comes from my mom, and every mom in Mérida,” he said in a Saveur article published Wednesday.
Basically diced squash sauteed with onion, corn and tomatoes, calabacitas fritas is never heavily spiced—just a sprinkling of Mexican oregano and a bit of black pepper for heat. A few slices of sweet chiles may be added as a garnish, along with a pinch of queso sopero or queso cotija.
It is served with tortilla chips or spooned over grilled fish or tostadas. Depending on what’s available, feel free to swap in sweeter winter varieties like butternut or acorn; just be sure to adjust the cook time accordingly.
Yucatecan Tostadas Calabacitas Fritas Recipe
Yield: Serves 6
Time: 45 minutes
- ½ cup corn or canola oil
- Six 6-inch corn tortillas
- ½ yellow onion, finely diced (½ cup)
- ⅔ fresh corn kernels (cut from 1 medium cob)
- 2 small zucchinis, finely diced (2 cups)
- 1 large vine-ripe tomato, cored and finely diced (½ cup)
- ¼ tsp. Mexican oregano
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp. coarsely chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup crumbled queso sopero (or substitute queso cotija)
- Yucatan-style habanero sauce (optional)
- Line a large baking sheet with paper towels and set it aside. To a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot (about 350° on a deep-fry thermometer), fry the tortillas in batches of 1 or 2, turning once, until crispy and golden, 2–4 minutes per side. Use tongs or a spider skimmer to transfer the cooked tortillas to the lined baking sheet to drain as you continue frying the rest. Pour all but 2 tablespoons of the oil into a heatproof bowl and cool completely before discarding.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, 2–3 minutes. Add the corn and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until glossy and bright yellow, 2–3 minutes more. Add the squash, tomato, and oregano, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until they are tender and cooked through but not yet breaking down or watery, 2–3 minutes. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in the cilantro.
- To serve, scoop the vegetable mixture over the fried tortillas. Top with crumbled cotija cheese and serve warm with Yucatán-style habanero sauce (if using) on the side.
Source: Saveur Magazine