Three Sisters Stew
Three Sisters Stew is a delicious combination of winter squash, corn, beans, tomatoes, peppers and more! Comfort food can be healthy!
I used to think of Three Sisters Stew as a fall recipe. With so many fall-harvested ingredients and the glorious warm colors, it’s a beautiful tribute to the season.
But when the New Year arrived–and I wanted to make up for our holiday indulgences–this was the first dish I thought of. It’s hard to beat the abundance of healthy ingredients in here. And it even counts as comfort food!
And that’s how I decided to update my 2015 post to make my first soup of 2022. (The original recipe came from the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel and a local casino chef but is no longer online.)
Isn’t This An Unusual Name for a Soup?
Three Sisters Stew is a Native American soup made from beans, corn and winter squash, known collectively as the “three sisters.” The combo is traditional in native American gardening because they offer collective benefits planted in combination.
According to the Native Tech website, “The corn stalk serves as a pole for the beans, the beans help to add the nitrogen to the soil that the corn needs, and the squash provides a ground cover of shade that helps the soil retain moisture.”
Nutritionally they work well together too. First, the combination of beans and corn forms a complete protein. Then the addition of squash, peppers and tomatoes supercharges the vitamin content.
While you will most often see the three sisters together in soups and stews, they can be used in other dishes as well.
According to PBS Native Voices, “Three Sisters are included in an array of traditional dishes across Native America. … Native chefs use Three Sisters as appetizers that top smoked salmon, as side dishes accompanying beautiful golden duck legs, and as main soup dishes to feed protesters at Standing Rock.”
What Makes This a Winner
The blend of sweet and a hint of heat in the Three Sisters Stew makes a delicious combination. If that’s not enough, consider that it’s:
- Loaded with nutrition. This soup offers a meatless combo that still forms a complete protein from the beans and corn. And the tomatoes, winter squash and peppers add an abundance of vitamins and phytochemicals.
- Can go local or pre-packaged. This can be made with convenient packaged ingredients or with local ingredients. The first time I made it, I used pre-packaged/canned food which was super easy and convenient. The second time I went completely local from scratch. And even in winter, the only thing I don’t have home-canned or frozen (from my garden or CSAs) is the beans!
- Quick and easy. The hardest task in making this is cutting up the squash, but many stores now have fresh butternut cubes pre-cut for you. And if you make this using canned corn, etc., it’s as easy as… well, opening a can.
But even going local, I was surprised to find how easy it was using things I’d preserved last fall. With home canned (or frozen) ingredients—plus drafting my husband to cut up the squash—this came together fast! Of course, if you’re cutting off kernels of corn and skinning tomatoes, the prep time will increase. Still worth it!
- Satisfies vegans and meat eaters. This soup is vegan if you make it using vegetable broth. But it’s still hearty enough to satisfy even my carnivore husband!
Plus if you’re a gardener or a CSA member, this will help when you’re buried in a bountiful harvest! Or even finishing off your stored food as winter progresses.
Step by Step Directions
Chop ingredients as needed
Sautee onions, peppers, garlic
Add remaining ingredients and cook until tender
What to Serve With
This stew is hearty enough to be a meal all by itself. In that case, a nice fresh bread is a welcome accompaniment . Someday I’d like to learn to make Indian fry bread but in the mean time, I serve this with a loaf of French bread if I’m busy. Otherwise a nice cornbread or other homemade bread is delicious.
For a more elaborate meal that is still light, a side salad or half sandwich makes a great combo with this soup.
Of course this stew can also work as a first course and will get your meal started with a nutritional bang!
Tips and FAQs
Part of the beauty of this soup is it’s versatility. While the recipe lists black beans, feel free to use another type of bean if that’s what you have. No canned tomatoes? Use a jar of chunky salsa instead and reduce the peppers. Froze your corn in a 3-cup container? Toss it in.
And for more delicious and healthy bean recipes see:
Best Bean Recipes
- 15 Bean Soup from Devour Dinner
- Bavarian Cassoulet from Palatable Pastime
- Bean and Bacon Soup from Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- Cast Iron Root Beer Baked Beans from The Spiffy Cookie
- Cheesy Tomato and White Bean Dip from Magical Ingredients
- Portuguese Beans from That Recipe
- Quick Samp and Beans from A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures
- Three Sisters Stew from Art of Natural Living
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- • 1 tablespoons vegetable oil
- • 2 cloves garlic, minced
- • 1 medium onion, diced
- • 1 medium green pepper, chopped roughly
- • 2-3 cups pumpkin or winter squash cubes (1 butternut squash or 2 smaller squash)
- • 1 can (14.5 to 16 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice (or about 1 quart fresh)
- • 1 can (4 ounces) chopped mild green chiles (or 1-2 finely chopped jalepeno peppers)
- • 2 cups cooked black beans (if using canned, rinse and drain)
- • 2 cups corn kernels (2-3 ears of fresh corn)
- • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- • 1 teaspoons salt
- • 1 teaspoon pepper
- • 2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
- • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- In a large pot, heat oil. Add garlic, onion, green pepper and squash and sauté a few minutes over medium heat. Stir in tomatoes, chiles, beans, corn, cumin, oregano, salt and pepper and cook until hot.
- Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and simmer 30 minutes.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as desired (you can also add extra broth if it is very thick). Add a spoonful of cilantro to individual bowls just before serving.
- Although the vitamin A content of this dish is high, the recipe app I am using is likely overestimating it.
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My husband and I made this tonight for Maboon and it was lovely. The colors and smells…amazing! I made honey cornbread with it. A blessed holiday meal. Thank you!!!
The cornbread sounds wonderful! So happy you enjoyed this!
This is really good! I used frozen corn, canned black beans, and frozen butternut squash, plus canned fire roasted tomatoes. The squash helped tame down the chilis.
I’m so goad you enjoyed it! You’re right about how the flavors blend! It’s one of our favorites!
I need this healthy and delicious stew!! I have maxed out my allotted winter weight. lol
And what an ingenious way of planting crops!!
You and me both Thao!
What a nice dish! I love that trio of ingredients — they work so well together. This is a great looking stew — thanks. And I, too, need to learn to make fry bread. 🙂 Happy New Year!
Thanks John. Happy New Year to you too!
I love the unusual name and the reason behind it. Companion planting is a lost art sadly. I do it with tomatoes and basil but should really do more of it. May 2022 hold all that you need 🙂
Yes, I’m going to try to remember for this year’s garden. That’s if I can beat back the wild grasses that completely overwhelmed my beds last year.
Yum! Fun combination of flavors in this recipe.
This is a very healthy soup! I love soup and this is a nutritious one.
Yes, I could see this in your repertoire!
I’m definitely going to make this!! It looks great! Thanks, Inger!
Thanks Jean–hope you enjoy!
Sounds like a yummy combination of hearty ingredients!
It is indeed!
what to serve with “three sister soup
A nice bread is probably all you would need Nola. If you wanted to get super healthy perhaps add a salad. Isn’t it nice to have some easy meal options?!
The Three Sisters Story
Modern day agriculturists know it as the genius of the Indians, who inter-planted 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.
Thanks for your insights Sue! I love being connected to something like this…
Best soup I ever made very healthy thank you to our Native American Indians the sister soup recipe has been shared with my family. I would love to learn more.
Thanks Gina! I love that it is so healthy and still really flavorful! I have a couple links that have a little more information in the post already. And I’ll consider adding more if I update it again.
Perfect fall dish!
Soup weather is here. This is a fantastic healthy soup! I love the addition of pumpkin/winter squash.
i’d definitely opt for winter squash over pumpkin for something like this, but that’s just my preference. i love the other ingredients in this stew–dishes like this are part of the reason i enjoy fall so much!
Inger, this is such a hearty stew…I like the idea of pumpkin/squash and beans…this stew would sure make a great meal.
Thanks for the inspiration…have a wonderful week ahead 🙂
Hasn’t fall gotten here quickly Lynn!
This looks amazing! Perfect for a fall day!
Having worked with the Native American community in New York, the three sisters reference made me smile with great memories of those wonderful, American ingredients. Your stew looks beautiful and healthy – and such a welcome harbinger for autumn!
I was excited to find such a fine mix of seasonal ingredients David. Belonging to two CSAs does have its challenges in the bountiful fall!