Here’s an easy way to make Calabacitas con Elote (Zucchini with Corn) – a zesty and satisfying side dish. The buttery creaminess of the suero (whey) catapults me to my childhood every time. 

Calabacitas con Elote or Zucchini with Corn ready and served in an iron skillet on a colorful runner

Calabacitas con Elote

Summer is the perfect time to savor zucchini and corn — it’s everywhere, it’s inexpensive, and it’s plentiful. It also means that it is the perfect reason to enjoy this calabacitas con elote (zucchini with corn) recipe. 

My garden is overrun with zucchini. Squash is bountiful in summer and fall and so we had calabacitas con elote quite often while I was growing up. 

What Is Calabacitas?

Calabacitas is a vegetarian dish that translates as “zucchini”, but you can use any squash variety for this recipe. Speaking of variety, there are many variations of this dish. Our family recipe includes corn, tomatoes, onion, and garlic.

chopped zucchini and corn, onions, tomatoes olive oil, salt and other ingredients on a marble surface

This zucchini with corn dish is so impressive that you can serve it both as a side dish or entree. Calabacitas con elote can be made with or without cheese. This recipe includes it as an optional topping.

In addition, my family adds a special ingredient…suero (whey). This buttery and creamy liquid gold catapults me to my childhood every time. But if you don’t have it or prefer using something else, you can substitute it with a combination of buttermilk and crema Mexicana (sour cream).

plastic bottle of suero (whey) from Lincon Dairy in El Paso San Eli Texas on a wooden board

What Is Suero (Whey)?

Suero (whey) is the liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. It is the byproduct of cheese making. In fact, whey is the watery cheese liquid you’ve seen in freshly opened containers of yogurt. My family purchases whey from Licon Dairy in El Paso.

No Whey?

If you don’t have whey or sour milk, don’t worry, you can use store bought or homemade buttermilk, but you will need to add some salt. You can also add a dollop of crema Mexicana or sour cream for a thicker and creamier texture. 

How to Make Buttermilk?

Here is a very quick way to make buttermilk – it only takes less than 10 minutes. All you need is plain milk with lemon juice or vinegar.

How to make

Remove corn kernels from the cobs and chop zucchini.
 
Zucchini and corn in a brown Mexican barro casserole dish ready for cooking

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook and stir the onion in the hot oil, about 2 minutes then add the tomatoes for 2 more minutes. Add the garlic for an additional minute until fragrant.

saute tomate and onion in a cast iron skillet with a dish of corn and zucchini in the background

Mix the zucchini and corn into the onion and garlic and cover until zucchini is tender; about 10 minutes. 
 
zucchini and corn in a cast iron skillet
 
Uncover and stir the suero/buttermilk into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper; stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer.
 
calabacitas con elote in a large cast iron paella pan
 
Sprinkle with cheese (optional) to serve. 
 
Watch this full-length video where my mom shares plenty of great tips.

Helpful Substitutions

This dish has many variations in Mexico; feel free to add roasted poblano pepper strips like this recipe or diced pork or chicken. The combinations are endless. This zucchini with corn is one of those recipes that I find myself longing whenever I see all the squash varieties available. 

But what do you do if you don’t have all the ingredients? In case you are missing one of the ingredients, here is what you can do to save the day.

Fresh Corn

Don’t have fresh corn? Substitute with frozen corn instead. Canned corn will work in a pinch, but it won’t taste as fresh.
 
Tomatoes, onion, corn and zucchini in a small tray on top of a colorful Mexican runner

White Cheese Options

This calabacitas con elote can be made with or without cheese. Some of the most popular white cheese options are:

  • Asadero – developed in parts of northern and central Mexico, asadero is perfect melting cheese.
  • Oaxaca – semi-hard cheese from Mexico, similar to unaged Monterey jack, but with a mozzarella-like string cheese texture.
  • Chihuahua – semi-soft cheese that originates in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
  • Monterey Jack – semi-hard American cheese with a sweet note.
  • Cheddar – the hardest cheese from the above, originating in England.

Make This Dish Dairy-Free

Instead of suero (whey) use salsa verde or salsa casera. And don’t add cheese to dish.

There are a couple of great options that you can use to replace suero:
  • Salsa Verde is one of them. It is very simple to make – all you need are tomatillos, garlic, onion, jalapeño, serrano, and cilantro. It is fresh, tangy, and slightly spicy – just perfect for this zucchini with corn recipe.
  • Salsa Casera is a fantastic fire roasted green chile salsa and a great dairy-free option in place of suero.
Closeup on the delicious Mexican Calabacitas con Elote or Zucchini with Corn topped with cheese in a cast iron skillet

Storing and Reheating

You can store calabacitas in a fridge for five days. Just make sure to use an airtight container for it. 

When ready to eat, reheat the leftovers on a stove, in a pot, or in a microwave. Whichever you prefer, make sure to stir the dish halfway through to ensure it warms up evenly. Enjoy!

Calabacitas con Elote or Zucchini with Corn served in two bowls on a table covered with a beautiful cloth

Love Calabacitas con Elote?

Try these other popular dishes:

Did you make this recipe? Leave me a star rating, comment below, and tag @muybuenocooking on the gram!

Calabacitas con Elote or Zucchini with Corn ready and served

Calabacitas con Elote (Zucchini with Corn)

4.43 (7 ratings)
Here's an easy way to make Calabacitas con Elote (Zucchini with Corn) - a zesty and satisfying side dish to have in your summer menu. The buttery creaminess of the suero catapults me to my childhood every time.

Ingredients

  • 4 ears of corn, shucked and cut from the cob
  • 4 zucchini or squash, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups suero, whey or a combo of buttermilk and crema can be used as a substitute
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • cheese, grated (Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, or cheddar)

Instructions 

  • Remove corn kernels from the cobs using a knife on an angle. Set kernels aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; cook and stir the onion in the hot oil, about 2 minutes then add the tomatoes for 2 more minutes.
  • Add the garlic for an additional minute until fragrant.
  • Mix the zucchini and corn into the onion and garlic and cover until zucchini is tender; about 10 minutes.
  • Uncover and stir the suero/buttermilk into the mixture. Season with salt and pepper; stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer.
  • Sprinkle with cheese (optional) to serve.

Video

Notes

  • Feel free to add roasted poblano pepper strips like this recipe.
  • For a heartier dish add diced pork or chicken. 
  • Instead of fresh corn use frozen corn, or in a pinch, use canned.
  • Instead of suero, replace with a mixture of 1 cup buttermilk and 1 cup crema Mexicana or sour cream.
  • Be sure to seed tomatoes, or mixture might curdle. 
  • For a dairy free option use salsa verde or salsa casera and do not add cheese.
  • White cheese options - asadero, Chihuahua, Monterey Jack, or cheddar
  • Nutrition facts do not include cheese.
Calories: 252kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 34g, Fat: 6g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 60mg, Sodium: 76mg, Potassium: 693mg, Fiber: 3g, Sugar: 11g, Vitamin A: 642IU, Vitamin C: 32mg, Calcium: 148mg, Iron: 3mg

Photos by Jenna Sparks / Video by Pure Cinematography
Originally published: September 2010. This recipe is also published in the Muy Bueno cookbook.