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Beans and corn (Recipe: Twisted Three Sisters Soup) {vegetarian}

Today, Arlo joins The Perfect Pantry as our first guest blogger. Many of you remember her letters earlier this year. A wonderful and generous storyteller, Arlo writes from Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, and I'm delighted to welcome her. Watch for her posts once a month or so.


Guest post by Arlo from Ottawa

Years ago I was asked by my son’s school council if I had an Aboriginal recipe I could prepare for our first ever Stone Soup Café, a fundraising event that would sell the students' hand-decorated bowls and a range of parent- and restaurant-donated soups.

Being new to the Ottawa region at the time, I immediately called a friend who is indigenous to this territory and asked her how to make corn soup, a traditional fare at many eastern Native festivals and ceremonies. Sadly, she never really made the soup herself and didn’t know where I could buy white corn either. So that year I ended up making a venison stew, a popular feast dish in my home prairies. The following year I made Metis boullets, a meatball soup made every New Year’s Eve. This year, I was determined to succeed with Three Sisters Soup, a recipe that has been passed down since the time when corn, beans and squash were first planted.

Three Sisters Soup is as diverse as the people who have adapted it. Top contenders for claiming the origin of this recipe include all of the Six Nations tribes on the eastern seaboard, and all of the tribes in the area known as the Four Corners in the US (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado). Throughout the centuries, regional variations have all become traditional fare, and each Three Sisters Soup maker believes hers or his is the original version. And I agree -- each should have that prize as most are tasty, full of fiber and good things, and just make you feel with each spoonful that you are connected with Mother Earth.

Modern day organic growers loudly proclaim the benefits of companion planting, a technique practiced by indigenous gardeners since dirt was invented. Corn or maize is planted, followed by beans and squash. The corn supports the climbing beans, and the fat, wide leaves of the low-lying squash keep all of their roots shaded, retain moisture, and deter weeds and greedy insects. The beans also capture nitrogen from the air, which the corn absolutely needs. Vegans may not appreciate this tidbit, but sometimes on the east coast fish and eel were once used to enrich the soil as fertilizer and to discourage pests, but I am not sure if this is still practiced.

Many legends surround the Three Sisters, so much that many eastern tribes refer to them as spiritual entities and the sustainers of life. Consumers of corn, beans and squash did not have to rely on meat, fish, fowl or other animal products to survive, as the combination provided essential amino acids and complimentary proteins. Frances Moore Lappé would be pleased, as were the pilgrims who survived on this mix 400 years ago.

My first attempts with a traditional recipe tasted like salty bland dishwater, and as I was competing with soup masterpieces from around the world (we have many cultures in our school) and with Ottawa’s finest restaurants, I kicked it up a notch. I checked a couple of our southwestern cousins’ versions and added ground chile peppers and sage (native to North America). I used dried hominy corn, which is more traditional, but regular or canned hominy can do in a pinch, especially for speed cooking.

There are many Three Sisters Soup recipes that throw in things like curry powder and yogurt, which I am sure taste delicious, but my version tries to keep with the original spirit of the soup -- that is, Sister Corn, Sister Bean, and Sister Squash.

And almost everything in this soup comes from my pantry.

Twisted Three Sisters soup

Created for Stone Soup Café at the Connaught School, Ottawa, Ontario. Serves 10-12; with corn bread or whole wheat bannock, this makes a very complete and filling meal. Like many soups, it's even better the next day.


1 cup dried yellow or white hominy corn (or 2 large cans)
1 cup dried white navy beans (or 2 large cans)
1 acorn squash (peeled and diced)
1 butternut squash (peeled and diced)
1 medium zucchini  (sliced into 1/2-inch rounds, then quartered)
1 medium red onion diced
2 cups fresh or frozen green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp fine ground black pepper
1/4 tsp crushed red chile flakes, or more to taste
1 tsp dried ground sage
2 Tbsp margarine, butter or oil
Water -- lots


If you are using dried corn and beans, they will take a lot longer to cook than the squash, so start with the beans and corn first. Even if you have pre-soaked overnight, count on 1-1/2 to 2 hours simmering on the stove to cook them. Use lots of water and DO NOT add salt yet. I use separate pots because, oh, I don’t know, I am afraid the corn will beat the beans or vice-versa! Canned beans will work when time is short, but I prefer the non-processed version. Reduce salt if using canned corn or beans unless they are sodium-free.

When beans and hominy are tender, combine into one large pot and add the butternut and acorn squash, and seasonings (salt, pepper, chile flakes, sage).  Simmer 15 minutes until squash is still firm but not hard. Add zucchini, red onions and green beans and simmer another 10 minutes or so until all are tender. Depending on preference, pieces can be left intact or mashed a bit. Add butter or margarine or oil, adjust seasonings. If too watery, add flour paste or cornstarch paste to thicken (let simmer another 3-5 minutes if doing this) or pureé a cup or two of the mix. If too dense, add more water. I prefer mine like a chowder but others may like it thinner.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Zuni corn soup
Everything-in-the-pantry bean soup

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Sounds like a great soup.

What a beautiful post! I must try this soup. Hominy corn is new to me, but I am going to look for it.

wonderful recipe! I love hominy, especially in posole. Am delighted to see another delicious way I can use it.
Thank you for your post.

I love the story behind this soup - both the modern day story, and the traditions you surfaced in your new community. Every dish tells us so much about communities old and new.

The three sisters are common to my ancestors as well. I would never dream of having chili that didn't include beans, corn and squash. It just wouldn't be right.

this soup looks just as amazing. I'll have to give it a shot one day when my wife is off on duty somewhere other than home. (She very much dislikes hominy.)

Awesome post, awesome-sounding recipe. Thank you!


What and interesting combination for a stew, I will have to give this a try next fall. I also love the story!

Lovely story. Sounds like perfect soup. And there's a chill today! And I do love hominy!

Hi Lydia's Perfect Pantry people! I am so tickled to be a guest and your comments make it so much better. Meegwetch and tansi Lydia for having me!

Thanks Peabody - My Dad's family are Dakota Sioux and were fond of any kind or corn soup, including those with "Squaw" corn, those multicoloured cobs you see in the autumn.
Nupur - yes, hominy is not a common ingredient. Regular corn can be substituted in a pinch. Thanks for commenting!
Marcia - now you have me curious about Posole! Please write again.
T.W. Barritt - Yes, I really enjoyed writing this piece. The stories surrounding the Three Sisters are endless and beautiful.
Jerry - It will make a big pot! Better invite friends over to eat it all. Does she like corn? I will have to try squash in my next chili. Thanks.
Paz - I know your name as well from Lydia's blog. Thanks so much for writing and try the soup.
Jason - the nice thing about a pantry and this soup, you can have it all year round which is what they do here at feasts and celebrations. Let me know if you try this next fall.
My Kitchen in Half Cups - Wow, it is great to hear from you. This is a great soup for potlucks.

Beautiful hominy soup! I love hominy have limited my self to its use in Vietnamese cuisine, which is a hominy & mung bean dish. Hominy is like steamed rice for me, I can eat it as a base for anything! I'll look into trying it in this soup!

Great recipe! I love hominy and always looking for new recipes. And what an interesting post. Thank you!

I've never heard of hominy corn. Great story!

Sounds like a good and filling soup, mmm.

Arlo - Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipe and the story behind it. So enjoyable!

Lydia - Thanks for bringing your readers Arlo's guest post. What a lovely idea!

Great story Lydia!
I wonder how this hominy tastes like.. by reading your recipe, it sounds really tempting!

White on Rice Couple - Thanks for writing. I used to think only Native Americans used hominy. The Perfect Pantry has taught me so much!
Sher - Cooking with dried corn used to intimidate me from making traditional meals. But now I'm on a roll and finding it in cans is a bonus.
Veron - I'm glad you liked the story. I left out the part where I sneezed & dumped in too much black pepper. Had to scoop it off, and at the end of the Cafe, my soup was pretty "spiky"..
Kelly-Jane -- Some of the original recipes called for chicken or meat stock, but I made my version vegetarian to accomodate all our school families. It really is a meal in itself.
Sandie - Yes, I am honoured to be a part of Lydia's blog. She has really supported me since our first letters. Thanks Lydia and for your comments Sandie.
Stella -- I've heard they sell frozen cubed squash and zucchini. Hope to find some as peeling acorn and butternut squash not a quick feat!

Thank you ladies for this collaberation...excellent post as always:D

Dried hominy (called posole here in the Southwest)tastes much better than the canned stuff. I will have to try this soup, sounds delicious!

Nmgirl, welcome to The Perfect Pantry. Dried hominy isn't as easy to come by here in the Northeast US, so we often have to substitute the canned. Like dried vs. canned beans, the dried is always better. Hope you like Arlo's soup!

Bellini Valli - thanks! I really do like working with Lydia, I love the Perfect Pantry.
nmgirl - hi there! I didn't know I was cooking posole, see how much I learn here from the comments? I agree although it takes longer to cook from dried, it is tastier!
Hi Lydia - thanks for the chance to do this. It was super.

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