Three Sisters Stew

We can think of no better dish to celebrate the ancient trinity of corn, beans, and squash.

  • Serves


  • Cook

    1 hour 15 minutes


By Lois Ellen Frank and Walter Whitewater

Published on November 22, 2023

Named for three of the staple crops of many Indigenous nations—corn, squash, and beans—this rich, restorative stew is adapted from food historian and cookbook author Lois Ellen Frank’s book, Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients. Frank and Walter Whitewater, a Diné chef and the book's culinary advisor, consider the trio a beautiful example of the interconnectedness of nature: Beans provide nitrogen to the soil, helping the corn to grow, while corn offers beans a pole to climb up; meanwhile, squash’s large leaves give shade to the soil, maintaining its moisture and keeping weeds at bay. The rib-sticking dish makes splendid use of this trifecta of Indigenous ingredients—and further enriches their aroma with a nutty, earthy blackened garlic paste. Serve this three sisters stew recipe with a side of bread, like Frank and Whitewater’s no-fry frybread recipe.

Excerpted from Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients by Lois Ellen Frank. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.


  • ¼ cup garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 tsp. sunflower oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped (about ½ cup)
  • 1 zucchini, cut into ½-in. cubes
  • One 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, preferably no salt added
  • One 15-oz. can dark red kidney beans, drained
  • One 15-oz. can pinto beans, drained
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1½ Tbsp. mild New Mexico red chile powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme


Step 1

Preheat a medium cast-iron skillet over high heat until it is hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the garlic blackens evenly on all sides, 15–20 minutes. (It’s okay if some of the original color is still visible.) Transfer the blackened garlic to a small bowl and cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to a food processor and pulse, scraping down the sides as needed, until a rough paste forms. Transfer to a container, cover, and refrigerate until ready to use. (The blackened garlic will keep in the fridge for 3 days. To extend its life, add enough sunflower or olive oil to cover the garlic, and it will keep in the fridge for one week.)

Step 2

In a large pot set over medium-high heat, cook the sunflower oil until it is hot but not smoking. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown, about 3 minutes. Stir in 2 teaspoons of the blackened garlic and the tomatoes and cook, stirring continuously, until aromatic, about 2 minutes. Stir in the kidney beans, pinto beans, corn, chile powder, salt, black pepper, oregano, thyme, and 4 cups of water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced by about half, about 25 minutes.

Step 3

Transfer to serving bowls and serve hot.

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