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November 8, 2010

Recipe for Three Sisters soup (beans, squash and corn)

Three Sisters soup

Native American peoples believe in the magic of the "three sisters": beans, squash and corn, planted together in a mutually supportive ecosystem. The beans climb onto the corn, and return nitrogen to the soil; the squash, nourished by the beans, provides shade to the shallow roots of the corn plants and keeps the weeds down. Native Americans also believe that since these three foods protect each other while growing, they will protect whoever eats them together. If that's true, this soup offers plenty of protection. The base of apple cider gives the soup a sweet undertone, which you can balance to your taste with a bit of hot pepper flakes.

Three Sisters soup

Serves 8.


3 cups apple cider
2 cups water or defatted vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup orange juice
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, peeled and diced
4 cups cooked black beans or 2 15-oz cans (if using canned, rinse and drain the beans)
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or mild red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 Tbsp agave nectar, or more to taste
1 tsp sweet or Madras curry powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp fresh black pepper, or to taste
2 cups frozen corn kernels (no need to defrost)


In a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy stock pot, add the cider, water or stock, orange juice, squash, onion and black beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Stir in the Aleppo pepper, agave, curry powder and cumin. Keep the soup at a high simmer over low heat and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Then, add in the salt, pepper and corn. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes uncovered, stirring frequently, until the soup has reduced and thickened to the consistency you like. (It should be fairly thick.)

Print recipe only.


Posted by: Katie | November 8, 2010 at 02:58 AM

I love the sound of this... Got lots of butternut squash and It's definitely soup weather. I wonder if I can find frozen corn at the frozen food store I went to last week... I've never seen it here and I really don't like canned corn. (as far as I know they only use it for a pizza topping) Corn is not popular here - pig food.

Posted by: Jean Gogolin | November 8, 2010 at 09:52 AM

The soup looks warm and comforting. But as an aside, I tried the Three Sisters system in my garden this year and the bean vines curled around the corn so tenaciously they half-strangled the growing ears of corn as they were forming as well! Not sure how the Pequots solved that one.

Posted by: Lydia | November 8, 2010 at 02:07 PM

Katie, I remember thinking that when I visited France one summer. I see the corn growing in the field, but where does it go? Never on menus.

Jean, sounds like you had some aggressive beans!

Posted by: RamblingTart | November 22, 2010 at 01:30 PM

Wow, this looks so very delicious and hearty. :-) I like the history behind this concept too. So interesting. :-)

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  • I'm Lydia Walshin, a longtime food writer who lives and cooks in a real log house. If I could, I'd eat Chinese noodles, grapes, ice cream and soup every day.
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