Three Sisters soup is one of my absolute favorite dishes to make. It’s pretty easy to prep for lunch or dinner, creamy without any dairy, vegan, and carries a matrix of textures and flavors that give it real depth. It’s also a dish that every American should have in their repertoire — seeing as that it’s an American dish that pre-dates Columbus and colonization.
In my personal opinion, dishes based around the Three Sisters should be available on every corner in this county at every dining level. The agricultural practice of growing winter squash, common beans, and corn (maize) together goes back at least six millennia in North America. But this tradition was stamped out by European monoculture techniques, which is proving to be more and more of an ecological disaster compared to long-held Indigenous agriculture practices. Colonization also led to the loss of an entire continent’s worth of cuisine, culinary regions, and all the restaurants (from fast food to fine dining) that would have eventually come with it.
Despite that adversity, Indigenous American foods are still here and ready to return to our tables. If you haven’t made any, let this dish be your first foray. It’s the perfect balance of spicy, sweet, and savory with a texture balance of crunchy, soft, and silken. Let’s get cooking!
Three Sisters Pumpkin Soup With Sumac Corn and Black Beans
- 4 cups butternut squash
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 yellow onion
- 2 fresh ears of sweetcorn
- 8-oz. can of black beans
- 1 tsp. wild sumac
- 1 tsp. allspice
- Fresh sage
- Chili oil
- Ancho chili flakes
- Sunflower oil
Hey! Did you know Chicago is a Miami-Illinois word meaning “wild onion?” I would usually use those in this recipe. Unfortunately, my greengrocer was out of ramps (wild onion or wild garlic depending on where you are in the world) when I went shopping. So I substituted a standard yellow onion. Other than that, this recipe is fairly easy to source. You should be able to get these ingredients at any farmer’s market or decent grocery store. Or you might be growing them in your own backyard if you’re savvy like that.
Other than the yellow onion substitute (originating from Central and East Asia), these are all agricultural products you would have found being cultivated and traded across North America for thousands of years before Europeans showed up.
What You’ll Need:
- Large pot
- Medium saute pan
- Cutting board
- Kitchen knife
- Large spoon
- Immersion hand blender (or regular blender, food processor, etc.)
- Break the corn cobs in half and run the knife under the kernels to remove them from the cob. SAVE THE COBS.
- Roughly dice the onion.
- Roughly cube/dice the butternut squash (alternatively use frozen pumpkin).
- Drain the beans and thoroughly rinse.
- Thinly slice ten fresh sage leaves and prepare a few small leaves for garnish.
- Put the large pot on medium-high heat and add a thin layer of sunflower oil.
- Add the corn cobs, onion, and a pinch of salt.
- Add about a 1/2 cup of water and cook while softening the onion and drawing the starchy “corn milk” from the cobs.
- Add the squash and vegetable broth then season with allspice and a sprig of fresh sage.
- Bring to a low simmer and cook until the squash is completely falling apart (about 20 minutes).
- Remove the cobs and sage from the soup.
- Use an immersion hand blender to puree the soup into a creamy base.
- Remove from heat and place a lid on the pot.
- In a medium saute pan on medium heat, add a thin layer of sunflower oil to the pan.
- Add the corn kernels and toss with a pinch of salt and wild sumac.
- Once the corn kernels deepen in color, add in the beans and thinly sliced sage and toss again until well mixed.
- As soon as the corn starts to just brown, turn off the heat.
- Ladle the soup into a waiting bowl.
- Scoop about 1/2 cup of the corn/bean mix into the center of the bowl.
- Drizzle the chili oil around the corn/bean mix and sprinkle with plenty of Ancho chili flakes.
- Place a small sage leaf atop of the corn/bean mix and serve.
It’s sort of amazing how creamy and velvety the pumpkin soup base comes out when you boil out those corn cobs in the soup. The “corn milk” emulsifies with the broth and pumpkin to create this velvet texture that’s soul-nourishing. The addition of allspice brings a familiar spicy edge with a mild woodiness.
The real x-factor is the sumac-flavored corn and beans though. The corn is still crunchy while carrying a sweetness, tart, and savory edge. The beans add in a soft counterpoint. The sage helps deepen the savory herbal notes.
The chili oil and flakes tie it all together with a mild warm spice with an almost bitter yet dry and smoky Ancho chili vibe that becomes just the right accent to the silky soup. It’s hard not to go back for seconds with this gem.
All told, this took about 45 minutes from start to finish with maybe 15 minutes of actively cooking. Plus there were plenty of leftovers for lunches throughout the week. Those are wins all around.