Monday, November 5, 2007

Three Sisters Stew

A few Thanksgivings ago my mom gave me the task of bringing to dinner something hearty enough that my visiting vegetarian cousin would still get a main dish. (My cousin, incidentally, insisted that we didn't need to go to any trouble, she'd eat whatever was around that wasn't meat, but my mom, the equally insistent hostess, wanted to make sure she got some protein.)

I found this "tradition vegetarian Thanksgiving" Three Sisters Stew. Now, I don't know if this is traditionally what vegetarians eat on Thanksgiving, or if it is really a traditional recipe, but the "three sisters" part really is a Native American tradition. According to an Oneida Indian Nation page:

Modern day agriculturists know it as the genius of the Indians, who interplanted pole beans and squash with corn, using the strength of the sturdy corn stalks to support the twining beans and the shade of the spreading squash vines to trap moisture for the growing crop. Research has further revealed the additional benefits of this "companion planting.'' The bacterial colonies on the bean roots capture nitrogen from the air, some of which is released into the soil to nourish the high nitrogen needs of the corn. To Native Americans, however, the meaning of the Three Sisters runs deep into the physical and spiritual well-being of their people. Known as the "sustainers of life," the Iroquois consider corn, beans and squash to be special gifts from the Creator. The well-being of each crop is believed to be protected by one of the Three Sister Spirits. Many an Indian legend has been woven around the "Three Sisters" -sisters who would never be apart from one another- sisters who should be planted together, eaten together and celebrated together.
I found many variations of the stew online, and came up with this adaptation:

Three Sisters Stew

Cut a 2-pound butternut squash in half and remove seeds. Put the halves cut-side up in a baking dish, add a little water, cover with foil and back for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool, remove skin, and dice.

In a large, heavy pot:

Saute 1 chopped onion and 1 teaspoon of jarred minced garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Add 1/2 a red pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips.

Add squash.


1 (15 oz.) can of pinto beans, drained

1 (15 oz.) can of corn, drained*

1 (4 oz.) can of chopped green chilies

1 (15 oz.) can of diced tomatoes, undrained

1 cup of vegetable stock

2 teaspoons of oregano

1 teaspoon (and maybe more) of ground cumin

Simmer for a couple of hours, adding more cumin and salt and pepper to taste.

Just before serving, add two tablespoons of fresh cilantro. (I just held the cilantro over the pot and cut off little pieces of leaves with the kitchen shears.)

Like so many stews, this improved by sitting overnight and being reheated the next day.

*Better, if you can find it, is the equivalent amount of frozen roasted corn. Trader Joe's sells it, but I haven't seen it in other grocery store.

Not only did this pass with the vegetarian, but my dad and my brother-in-law (the two family members least understanding of the vegetarian concept) both liked it too (though not in place of the turkey). This will be the fourth year I've made it, which I think qualifies it as a family tradition.

And since Thanksgiving isn't Thanksgiving without leftovers, the leftover stew makes a lovely enchilada filling.

I have glanced through the newly-published Daring Book for Girls, and noticed that it has a chapter on planting the three sisters.