In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Three Sisters: Corn, beans and squash

November & Thanksgiving time is a good time to plan meals around indigenous American vegetables -- and the 3 sisters are perfect! They all store well, and not only do they complement each other well in the garden (see below), they also complement each other well nutritionally:

CORN - in its unprocessed form, corn is a great staple, but it lack two essential amino acids - lysine and tryptophane - as well as riboflavin and niacin. However, these are supplied by beans.
BEANS - good carbohydrates, low in fats. Most beans contain at least 20% protein, and provide essential B Vitamins and Iron.
SQUASH - are rich in carbohydrates, great source of vitamin A, and their seeds provide quality vegetable fats that corn and beans lack.

Here's a description of Native American "Three Sister's Garden" from the Gardening101 website:

Women of the village would hill up the soil and plant corn (maize) in the center of the hill. Once the corn came up, probably about two weeks, they would then plant the beans around the corn seedlings followed by the squash seeds at the furthest distance from corn seedlings.

This form of growing these three vegetables worked very well because the three plants complemented each other and made great companions. The corn gave beans a place to climb, the beans provided nitrogen to the corn roots and the large squash leaves provided shade and living mulch which helped to deter weeds and hold moisture in the soil.

For recipes combining all 3, I had to search a bit.
But 2 out of 3 is easy: think of how many Mexican dishes combine corn and beans!
Here are some other ideas: look for Stuffed Squash recipes -- there are plenty -- bake a winter squash with a filling of wild rice and beans.

Combining all 3 sisters is usually in the form of a stew or soup.

Three Sister's Stew

(from the website Vegetarian Kitchen by Nava Atlas)
  • 1 small sugar pumpkin or 1 large butternut or carnival squash (about 2 pounds)
  • olive oil
  • onion, bell peppers, celery, garlic
  • can diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 2 cups cooked or canned pinto beans
  • 2 cups corn kernels
  • 1 cup homemade or canned vegetable stock, or water
  • 1 or 2 small fresh hot chiles, seeded and minced
  • 1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

Cut the pumpkin or squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and fibers. Cover with aluminum foil and place the halves, cut side up, in a foil-lined shallow baking pan. Bake at 400F for 40 to 50 minutes, or until easily pierced with a knife but still firm (if using squash, prepare the same way). When cool enough to handle, scoop out the pulp, and cut into large dice. Set aside until needed.

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic, other vegetables, and pumpkin and all the remaining ingredients except the last 2 and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If time allows, let the stew stand for 1 to 2 hours before serving, then heat through as needed. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro. The stew should be thick and very moist but not soupy; add additional stock or water if needed. Serve in shallow bowls.

There are many other soups based on squash and beans, such as the Chilean national dish
Porrotos Granados
1 pound cranberry beans (traditional) or other beans
1 winter squash or pumpkin
2 c frozen corn kernels
olive oil
onion, bell peppers, garlic, carrots, chopped
fresh basil
paprika or ground chili
salt & pepper, to taste
water or broth
"Pebre Sauce" optional

Soak beans overnight, drain and cook until nearly tender.
Separately, saute onions etc in olive oil, add cubed squash, corn and beans. Cook on low until squash & beans are done. Shortly before serving, add spices.
This may seem like an ordinary soup, but wait till you've added a good helping of this fiery green
Pebre Sauce
(keeps in frig for 1 week+, good also on grilled meats, fish, eggs, etc)
2 T olive oil
1 T wine vinegar or lemon juice
1/2 c water (* or less)
1/2 c cilantro, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/2 t salt
4-6 habanero chiles, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients, and allow to sit for a couple of hours.
*If using pre-processed cilantro, then don't need much water (I sometimes use a cilantro paste by "Gourmet Garden", available in the produce section at Safeway).

Last, but not least, don't forget about serving some simple baked squash, beans, and cornbread with your next meal.
Simple Corn pudding
3 c corn kernels
2 eggs
1 c milk
1c grated cheese (gouda, cheddar)
2 tbs parley
1 tbs marjoram
S & P to taste

Combine and bake for 25 minutes.

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