Costillas con Calabacitas (Mexican Pork Rib Stew with Squash)

Summer veggies and tender pork spareribs are stewed in a light tomato broth in this classic Mexican recipe. It's a satisfying hearty, yet light meal.

Costillas con calabacitas (pork rib stew with squash) is a childhood favorite, and today, I'm showing you how to make my version of this classic dish with step-by-step photos so you can replicate this simple, hearty meal in your kitchen. This dish beautifully highlights summer produce like tomatoes, corn and squash, especially Mexican squash, which, though available year-round, is in season from June through October. 

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I've previously shared my recipe for calabacitas (Mexican-style squash). Today's version adds ribs. I get the ones labeled "pork spareribs/costillas de puerco" at Northgate Market. These ribs are about 1½ to 2 inches long and are pretty meaty with a bit of crunchy cartilage. You could also use regular-size ribs but ask your butcher to saw them in half for you so you have smaller pieces to work with.

I make this dish in a cazuela – a traditional Mexican clay pot. This type of earthenware is porous and, just like a cast iron skillet, the more you use it, the more it's seasoned. Over time, the flavor of the food actually improves. My cazuelas are from Ancient Cookware which guarantees pieces that are 100% lead-free. These beautiful pots are glazed inside and out, making cleaning quick and easy. My favorite part of cooking with these is how long they keep the food warm, making them ideal for going from stovetop to tabletop for serving. 

Photo Step-by-Step: How to make Costillas con calabacitas

What are the ingredients for costillas con calabacitas?

The ingredients for this Mexican-style pork rib stew with squash are relatively easy to find at most grocery stores, though I admit to shopping most regularly at Northgate Market when I'm specifically cooking a Mexican dish. 

You'll need:
  • Pork spare ribs (Pro tip: Can't find these smaller spare ribs? Buy regular pork ribs and have the butcher cut them in half for you.)
  • Squash, preferably Mexican squash, which has fewer seeds and is sweeter than zucchini (Pro tip: When shopping, choose smaller squash about 3 to 4 inches long, as these are the most tender and best tasting.)
  • Roma tomatoes (Pro tip: Roma tomatoes are preferred in most Mexican dishes because they are meaty; choose the most ripe.)
  • Poblano peppers (Pro tip: In the U.S., these are erroneously labeled as "pasilla" or "green pasilla" pepper/chiles. Pasillas are actually the dried version of long, thin fresh chilaca peppers. However, in the U.S., it's common to see poblanos sold under the pasilla pepper name. Poblanos are quite wide at the stem end, tapering to a point at the non-stem end. They range from 4 to 8 inches in length. Look for medium to dark green peppers with smooth, glossy and taut skin.)
  • Corn kernels (Note: I usually use fresh, but for this photo shot, I had to use frozen, which is a perfectly acceptable substitute.)
  • Onion (I prefer yellow onion for this dish) and fresh garlic cloves
  • For seasoning: Half a bunch fresh cilantro, coarse sea salt, pepper, whole dried Mexican oregano, granulated onion, garlic powder, and chicken bouillon (Pro tip: Mexican oregano is related to lemon verbena, while regular/Mediterranean oregano – simply labeled "oregano" – is related to mint, so the flavors are different. However, our family often swapped in regular oregano when we were out of the Mexican kind. If that's all you have, feel free to use it. As for the bouillon, I use it just as much for salt as I do for adding umami to the dish and prefer to use Knorr's chicken bouillon [caldo de pollo en polvo] – a staple in many Mexican kitchens. If you have a brand you like, such as Better Than Bouillon, feel free to use though I can't guarantee the outcome since I'm a lifelong Knorr user)

Get the meat started

Pat the ribs dry. If you bought them at a Latin market, you might have a few ribs stuck together because they weren't cut all the way through. As you're drying them, you might need to cut through a few to separate them.

Season the ribs generously with salt and pepper.

Transfer the meat to a pot (I love this medium, 3½ quart cazuela from Ancient Cookware). Add a cup of water, turn the heat to medium, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  

Uncover and cook, stirring until the water evaporates, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders and the meat lightly browns, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep the vegetables

While the meat is cooking, prep all the vegetables so they're in place and ready to cook once the meat is finished cooking and browning. 

I like to start with the onions. To chop, cut the onion in half from root to tip. Cut off the tip sides. Make slits following the rib lines of the onion half, then cut across the rips to dice. Repeat with the second half; set aside.

Next, work on the squash. Here, I'm using Mexican squash, also called tatuma squash. Start by slicing off the stem side, then the bottom. Quarter the squash length-wise, line up the pieces, then slice across them into about ½-inch dice.

The way I cut my poblanos and jalapeños is done in such a way as to avoid spilling seeds all over the place. I stand the peppers up after slicing off the stem side and cut down each of its four sides, avoiding the ribs and seed pods. To do this, slice off the stem side of the poblano and use the flat side to stand the pepper up. Starting at the tip, carefully slice down one side of the pepper, and keep the cut close to the outer edge of the pepper, avoiding the ribs and seed pod. Make a quarter turn and repeat until the seed pod is free; depending on the pepper, you should get 3 to 4 planks. 

Make ¼-inch wide lengthwise slices, line them up and slice across them to make a ¼-inch dice.

Mince the garlic.

I cut the tomatoes down last since they will spill their juice all over my board. Make ¼-inch thick slices, cut them into ¼-inch strips, and cut across them to make ¼-inch dice. Set all the prepped veggies aside until ready to cook.

Once all the fat has rendered and the meat is lightly browned, remove it from the pot. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the pork lard (strain and save this lard for cooking, it's perfect for frying beans or using for homemade tortillas are even biscuits).

Add the onions to the pot and sauté until softened and just starting to get color, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the poblano and sauté for 2 minutes.

Sprinkle in the garlic, stir, and cook for 1 minute.

Toss in the tomatoes and their juices. 

Stir well to incorporate, cover, lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

By this time, the tomatoes should have released their juices. Add the bouillon. Place the oregano in the palm of your hand, bring your hands together and rub them together, crushing the oregano and allowing it to fall into the pot. This is a vital step when cooking with whole Mexican oregano to activate and release the oils. 

Return the meat to the pot. 

Add a cup of water, stir, cover and simmer for 10 minutes to reheat and allow the flavors to mingle. 

Toss in the squash, corn and cilantro, stir, cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until the squash is just fork-tender.

This dish is hearty and light at the same time, which is one of the things I love about it. It combines so many flavors and textures that remind me of the dishes served to me in my childhood.

Serve this with rice. I love it with arroz blanco – Mexican-style white rice – and homemade flour tortillas. Optionally, a squeeze of lime will add brightness to the meat dish.

Costillas con Calabacitas

Makes 6 to 8 servings


For the meat:
2½ to 3 pounds pork spareribs that are 1 ½ to 2 inches long
2 ½ teaspoons coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons granulated onion
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup water

For the vegetables:
1 small to medium onion cut into a ¼-inch dice
1 poblano pepper, deseeded and cut into ¼-inch dice
4 fat garlic cloves, minced
1 pound Roma tomatoes, cut into ¼-inch dice
1 tablespoon Knorr's granulated chicken bouillon
1 tablespoon whole Mexican oregano
1 cup water
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 pound Mexican squash, cut into ½-inch pieces
½ bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped (stems, too), about ½ cup packed

To serve:
Warmed white rice
Warmed flour tortillas
Lime wedges, optional


Cook the meat: Pat the meat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat evenly. Add the meat to a 3½ quart pot. Sprinkle in the granulated onion and garlic powder. Add the water, cover and simmer on medium, stirring occasionally, until the water evaporates, about 20 minutes. (Pro tip: Prep the vegetables as listed in the ingredient list while the meat is cooking.) Uncover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat renders and the meat browns, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the cooked meat from the pot. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the pork lard from the pot.

Cook the vegetables: Add the onions to the pot and sauté over medium until softened and just starting to get color, about 5 minutes. Stir in the poblano and sauté for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in the garlic, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Toss in the tomatoes and their juices. Stir well to incorporate, cover, lower heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bouillon. Crush the oregano between your palms and add it to the pot. Return the meat to the pot, along with a cup of water, stir, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Toss in the squash, corn and cilantro, stir, cover and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes or until the squash is just fork-tender.

Serve with rice and warm tortillas. Optionally, finish with a squeeze of lime.

Want a vegetarian version of this dish?

Calabacitas Guisado con Queso (Stewed Mexican Squash with Cheese)

Guisado means stew in Spanish, and that's what we're doing here: onions, garlic and tomatoes are slowly cooked before adding corn and lastly, squash and cheese, resulting in an incredibly tasty broth, squash that still holds its texture while cheese, much like Indian paneer, adds creamy goodness. Click the title or photo to go to the recipe.

Until next time, my friends … ¡Buen Provecho!
xo, ani