The “Three Sisters” of Native American Cuisine

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, Native Americans had been growing corn, beans and squash for hundreds of years. According to legend, the vegetable trio was known as the “three sisters,” and they played a central role in nutrition and agriculture.

When planted together, the corn provided a structure for the beans to climb. The squash spread over the ground as a living mulch, helping to retain moisture in the soil and prevent weeds. In addition to replenishing the soil with nitrogen, the beans served as an important source of protein in meals.

These three crops aren’t just compatible in the field; they also come together to create inspired and nutrient-rich soups and stews. Flavored with onions and dried herbs, the three sisters offer simple and varied ways to create savory and nutritious fall dishes. This Three Sisters Soup requires less than 10 minutes of hands-on preparation and can be ready in a half-hour.

Three Sisters Soup
6 cups vegetable stock
2 cups frozen white or yellow corn or 1-16 ounce can
1 14-ounce can of kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 rib celery, coarsely chopped
1 15-ounce can of pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling) or one package of pureed frozen butternut squash
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon mild chili powder
Bring the vegetable stock to a simmer. Add the corn, beans, onions and celery and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin or squash, plus the dried sage and chili powder. Simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.