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Welcome to SAVEUR’s column on how to cook local produce according to our test kitchen manager, Fatima Khawaja. This is where you’ll find creative, unfussy meal ideas plus plenty of cooking advice—like what to do with that bumper crop of zucchini or how to store delicate heirloom tomatoes. Every other week, Fatima hits the farmers market and chooses a peak-season ingredient to explore in depth. Follow along, and you’ll learn how to turn the season’s bounty into easy plant-based meals that’ll be on the table in under an hour.

All the fruits and vegetables are exceptional in Baja” Javier Plascencia tells me. The Tijuana-born chef heads up six restaurants across the peninsula and he’s well known for his expertise in making local ingredients shine. When we met in Cabo San Lucas earlier this year, onboard Animalón by the Sea (Plascencia’s new floating ocean-to-table restaurant), we chatted about the produce Mexico’s west coast and New York City’s farmers markets have in common—particularly the green and yellow summer squash that flood our markets and kitchens in July and August. 

Squash are indigenous to North, Central, and South America and these plants have been an important part of the Mexican diet for millennia—upwards of 10,000 years by some estimates. Summer squash can be identified by their thin and tender skin, which sets them apart from heartier winter varieties. Like winter squash, though, the thin-skinned fruit (yes, squash is a fruit) is available in a plethora of shapes, varieties, and sizes. When left to grow in the field, they can become enormous (the largest on record exceeded 2,000 pounds), but in general, farmers and gardeners prefer to harvest their squash a little young, when the flesh is at its sweetest, most  flavorful, and least watery. I personally love dainty patty pan squash, which can be cooked and enjoyed whole—but don’t worry if you find yourself with an oversized specimen: these can be grated and baked into a beautiful quickbread or chunked up for a classic ratatouille.

Plascencia likes to blend fresh local squash with fava beans and use the resulting purée as a filling for tacos. For my own Baja-inspired riff, I opted to keep this star ingredient simple, chunky, and a little bit al dente. I perfumed the squash with cumin and red chile powder, piled it into fresh corn tortillas, then topped the tacos with queso fresco, onions, and Plascencia’s tart and creamy avocado salsa. 

Whether you’re growing your own summer squash or buying them from the market, this ingredient always arrives in abundance. Store summer squash and zucchini in a dry place in your fridge, trim away any mushy spots before using, and discard entirely any that become slimy.

Yield: 6 tacos
Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 4 medium yellow summer squash (1¼ lb.), cut into 1-in. chunks
  • ¾ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼–¾ tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 medium avocado, peeled and pitted
  • 3 Tbsp. fresh lime juice, plus lime wedges for squeezing
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  • Six 6-in. corn tortillas
  • ½ small yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup crumbled queso fresco (5 oz.)

Instructions

  1. To a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add the oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the squash, cumin, and cayenne. Season lightly with salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until light golden and barely tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, adjust the seasoning to taste, and set aside.
  2. To a blender, add the avocado, lime juice, cilantro, and ¼ cup of water. Blend until smooth, season to taste with salt, and set aside.
  3. Assemble the tacos: Either directly over a gas burner or in a dry cast iron skillet set over medium-high heat, toast the tortillas, turning once, until soft and pliable, about 1 minute. Transfer to a platter in a single layer.
  4. To serve, evenly spoon the squash atop the tortillas, then top each taco with the reserved avocado salsa, onion, and queso fresco. Garnish with cilantro and serve warm, with lime wedges for squeezing.

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Photography by Linda Pugliese; Food Styling by Christine Albano; Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart

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