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Three Sisters Stew

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Three Sisters Stew is an easy-to-make, wholesome vegetable dish gently stewed in a fragrant broth. With indigenous roots, this delicious dish is perfect to serve during harvest, for Thanksgiving, or on any chilly winter day. And, it’s ready in under 30 minutes.

Side view of Three Sisters Stew in a covered casserole dish

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Leftovers keep well for several days in the refrigerator, the makings of delicious warm and healthy lunches throughout the week. Or, I’ve even served leftovers over grains or pasta for a twist on this historic dish.

A side of cornbread never hurts either. Absolutely yum!

Served for Thanksgiving, it’s a meaningful and beautiful story to add to your feast.

Individual servings of Three Sisters Stew in white bowl on Thanksgiving table

What is Three Sisters Stew?

This stew is the delicious, nutritious, wholesome result of specific garden vegetables gently stewed together with warm and smoky herbs and spices.

Specifically, this stew features vegetables grown in a Three Sisters Garden.

If you’re wondering what a Three Sisters Garden is, you can read the specifics including methods for growing this Native American garden in my post about Three Sisters Gardening.

Essentially, it features corn, beans, and squash. Planted shoulder to shoulder, they not only offer structural support to each other but enrich their collective soil and offer protection from outside negative influences which strengths and stabilizes their growth and environment.

Obviously there are life lessons we can learn from the garden!

This Three Sisters Stew recipe honors a tradition of both gardening and meals that Native American peoples have enjoyed for centuries.

top view of ingredients for Three Sisters Stew on a round wood board

Three Sisters Stew Ingredients

Here is the list of ingredients you’ll need to make this delicious and healthy stew. The exact measurements are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.

  • Corn: You can use frozen, canned, or fresh if you’re fortunate enough to find it.
  • Squash: Butternut squash or pumpkin, and zucchini is used in this recipe. Any squash works but my favorites are butternut squash and sugar pumpkin. Peel and deseed the squash and then cut into cubes. Pre-cubed squash from the market saves time in a pinch.
  • Beans: I’m using pinto and red kidney beans because they are an easy-to-find bean that closely resembles true red cranberry beans, which were common among Native peoples.
  • Aromatics: Onion and garlic
  • Additional vegetables: Bell pepper, any color you prefer, and canned tomatoes. If you want to add additional heat, a chili pepper can be added too.
  • Seasoning: Ground cumin, chili powder, dried oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, which is optional for additional heat.
  • Olive oil for sautéing the vegetables
  • Fresh cilantro or parsley for garnish
Top view of Three Sisters Stew in a white bowl with fresh parsley

Authentic Ingredients for Three Sisters Stew

I love to include authentic ingredients in historic recipes whenever possible. Here are some thoughts on corn, beans, and squash that were common in the early days.

Corn: Flint Corn

Flint corn was the corn variant planted by the New England Native people for centuries and became a crucial part of early colonist survival.

“In March 1621, after Governor Carver signed a peace treaty with Massasoit Ousamequin, one of his men Tisquantum, or Squanto, stayed behind to teach the Mayflower passengers how to survive off the land. According to Pilgrim accounts, Squanto was quite successful in his teachings:

“We set the last Spring some twentie Acres of Indian Corne … and according to the manner of the Indians, we manured our ground with Herings or rather Shadds, which we have in great abundance…  Our Corn did prove well, & God be praysed, we had a good increase of Indian-Corne [sic]”
— Edward Winslow, Mourt’s Relation.

Beans: True Red Cranberry Beans

Native peoples were known to grow three common varieties of beans. The University of Wisconsin says these beans were Cherokee Trail of Tears, Hidatsa Shield, and True Red Cranberry Beans. I’m using pinto and red kidney beans in this recipe because they closely resemble the True Red Cranberry variety.

Squash: Pumpkin

Native peoples also grew a variety of squash including acorns, zucchini, pumpkins, and gourds. The University of Wisconsin says they ate squash fresh and dried, storing it for use throughout the year.

Pumpkin is a great addition to this fall-favorite Three Sisters Stew because early evidence suggests Native peoples were growing pumpkins years before they were identified by European traders in early 17th century. By 1630, they were a favored crop in Plymouth Colony.

Top view of Three Sisters Stew cooked in a covered wok

How to Make Three Sisters Stew

Step-by-step instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post, but here’s a quick overview of how to make this stew.

  1. Heat oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Sauté onion until softened before adding garlic and seasoning.
  2. Add squash, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, and beans to the pot. Pour in water and bring to a simmer.
  3. Cover and simmer gently for 20 to 25 minutes, adding water if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Side view of Three Sisters Stew in a covered casserole with stewed vegetables
Side view of Three Sisters Stew in a covered casserole dish

Three Sisters Stew

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes

Three Sisters Stew is an easy-to-make, wholesome vegetable dish gently stewed in a fragrant broth. With indigenous roots, this delicious dish is perfect to serve during harvest, for Thanksgiving, or on any chilly winter day. And, it's ready in under 30 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion medium, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2-3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 4 cups cubed squash (like pumpkin or butternut squash)
  • 1 bell pepper medium, chopped
  • 3 small to medium zucchini, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can tomatoes, diced with liquid (fire-roasted is nice)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups corn kernels fresh or frozen
  • 3 to 4 cups water
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro or parsley, fresh, chopped

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven. Add the chopped onion and sauté over medium-low heat until softened and beginning to caramelize; 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if using; continue to sauté until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the cubed squash, bell pepper, zucchini, tomatoes, and drained beans to the pot. Pour in 3 cups of water and bring to a simmer.
  3. Cover and gently simmer until the vegetables are tender; 20 to 25 minutes. Add additional water if needed. The stew should be thick and moist, but not overly soupy. It will continue to thicken as it cools.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, garnish with fresh cilantro or parsley.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 192Total Fat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 458mgCarbohydrates: 31gFiber: 5gSugar: 7gProtein: 8g

31Daily.com occasionally offers nutritional information for recipes contained on this site. This information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate only. This information comes from online calculators. Although 31Daily.com attempts to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.

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3 Comments

    1. Hi Laura, you can definitely freeze the Three Sisters Stew. I think it’s always best when freshly cooked, but it can be frozen either before baking or after baking, once cooled and in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

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