Meatless Meals :: Three Sisters Stew

This following recipe was submitted by Dust Thou Art.  She says, "I made this for St. Katharine Drexel this past Saturday, but it would also work very well for Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha (July 14th), and it is meatless also." 

March 3rd was the commemoration of St. Katharine Drexel. As I wrote in my monthly planning post:
St. Katharine is kind of a hilarious story. She was an American heiress (think Paris Hilton with a brain) who read books about the plight of the poor, and in particular about the suffering of American Indians. So (being rich, naive, and headstrong) she went to Rome to ask the Pope, in private audience, to do something about it. And the Pope was like "Um... what are YOU doing with your time?" And to her (everlasting) credit, instead of reacting like "What do you mean, I was thinking more along the lines of me holding 'awareness' events and cocktail parties," she was shocked into actually really thinking about what he was saying. It didn't happen overnight, but she began to do more and more, and soon she actually gave up all her wealth and founded an order of religious sisters. Anyway. Since it's also an ember day, I was thinking a hearty meatless stew with native North American ingredients--corn, beans and squash. Often called "three sisters soup", so doubly appropriate for a religious sister. :)
Three Sisters Stew

If you Google around for this soup, nobody makes it the same way. Nobody even makes it close to the same way. One recipe will include pureed pumpkin, hominy, and kidney beans. The next will be chunks of butternut squash, frozen corn, and green beans. The only must for this recipe is some kind of squash, some kind of corn product, and some kind of bean. You MUST have one of each of these three categories, as they are the "three sisters" of the title. They go together because they grow well together. But other than that you can really go for whatever's in season and your own tastes.

Accordingly, this is more like a blueprint for you to follow. I'm giving what I put in this time, but I don't expect you to put the same things in your soup. I don't expect me to put the same things in next time I make it. Many different indigenous groups planted using the Three Sisters technique. I had some southwestern ingredients handy so I followed that style.

1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 c. sliced mushrooms
(or other aromatics, such as shallots, celery, etc)

1 T olive oil
1/2 T butter
(or however you like to saute)

4 c. vegetable broth
(or other broth, or water)

1 butternut squash, peeled and cleaned, cut into large dice
1/2 lb fresh green beans, trimmed and broken into bite sized pieces
1 lb baby yellow potatoes, large dice
2 c. frozen corn
(or other soup veg, making sure you include corn and squash!)

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 c. dry lima beans, soaked overnight and drained
(or other protein beans, are you getting the idea yet)

cumin seeds, ground cumin, cinnamon, black pepper, oregano, chili powder... all to taste
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1. Take a large stock pot and heat up the fat in it over medium heat. Add your aromatics once the fat is hot and "sweat" them. You can add some seasoning at this time (like cumin seeds) also. The aromatics will release their lovely scents, as well as water, which will evaporate so that the mixture reduces somewhat in volume, and maybe even caramelizes. We like this.

2. Once this mixture is looking brilliant, we add in everything else, liquid last. If you want it thick, only add liquid up to the point where it barely covers the veg. If you want more liquid... add more! Turn the heat up to high.

3. Once the soup hits boiling, reduce to a simmer. The temperature will depend on whether you cover the pot, how big the pot is, how hot your stove is, sunspots, etc. On my stove it was on medium-low uncovered.

4. Let it simmer for an hour or so, until vegetables are tender to your liking or you get too hungry to wait any more. This is assuming that you are like me and like your soup vegetables very tender. If you like your green beans (or what have you) more crisp, you'll have to divide your vegetables into two groups. One group being the squash, carrots, potatoes, and other things that need to cook for a while. The second group being green beans or other quick cooking veg. Add the first group, and reserve the second until ~10 minutes before serving.

ripe avocado slices
shredded cheddar cheese

The avocado and cheese suited the Tex-Mex style of the soup. You might try sprigs of fresh herbs or croutons, or if you want to get advanced, corn fritters or fried squash blossoms.

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