One sister is tiny, her sibling is long and slender, another and the third — there’s no getting around it — is round and large. And yet, these three sisters are close, caring and have a lot in common. We’re talking beans, corn and squash, the triumvirate known as the Three Sisters, an affectionate Iroquois term for three summer-into- fall crops that love to grow together. Beans stalks and corn stalks give squash’s sprawling, clingy vines something to hold on to. Bean plants enrich the soil by adding nitrogen — they’re free, organic fertilizer. Squash’s low, broad leaves keep the soil moist and keep pests away. They’re an enduring sister act and perfect harvest comfort food.

Beans, corn and squash are natural companions in the garden and natural companions in the kitchen, too. Mild-flavored and sweet, they’re the comforting foods that call to us in the crisp days of autumn. Scarlet beans, golden corn, orange pumpkin — they even dress in autumnal shades, coaxing us to eat in season. They offer other compelling reasons, too.

Pumpkin and other winter squash are sky-high in vitamin A, boosting collagen production for glowing complexions, plus a healthy dose of B and C vitamins.

Long, slender corn is so sweet and yummy, we’ve come to mistrust it, but it contains no more calories than an apple and has a fraction of the sugar. Bonus — it counts as a whole grain, and a gluten-free one, at that. It’s so fabulous, it’s the Whole Grains Council’s October’s Whole Grain of Month.

Beans, though, get their own year — this one. The United Nations has declared 2016 to be the International year of Pulses (that’s dried beans). Beans may be small, but they’re powerhouses of plant-based protein. They’re cheap, sustaining and sustainable, low carbon, low water, high yield.

Despite their different shapes and colors and flavors, squash, corn and beans all provide antioxidants and fiber — good to know. especially now during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The American Institute for Cancer Research links eating more fiber with reduced risk of breast cancer. All three are among the earliest crops we cultivated — growing and eating them is part of who we are. It’s sibling revelry.

Charred corn and squash and creamy beans come together in this comfort food recipe — it’s a family reunion. Yes, you can cheat and use canned refried beans, but homemade refried beans taste so much better than commercially made and they’re so easy, you will never eat that blob of putty on your Mex mix plate again.


The Three Sister Tacos

Serving Size: 4


    For the Roasted Vegetables:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups pumpkin or other winter squash, chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 zucchini,* chopped into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 2 ears corn, husked
  • For the Beans;
  • 2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 jalapeno, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • pinch cayenne pepper or chipotle powder, if desired
  • 2 cups cooked pinto or black beans, or 1-15 ounce can red or black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup reserved bean cooking liquid or vegetable broth
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 handful of cilantro, chopped
  • To assemble:
  • 4 corn or whole grain tortillas
  • fresh chopped cilantro and scallions


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lime juice and spices. Paint the two ears of corn with about a tablespoon of the sauce. Wrap the ears in foil.
  3. Combine the pumpkin, zucchini and onion in a large bowl. Pour the remaining spiced oil over the vegetables and toss gently to coat.
  4. Spread vegetables onto a lightly oiled rimmed baking sheet. Roast the corn and the vegetables for 25 to 30 minutes, giving the vegetables an occasional stir in the pan to prevent sticking or charring. The roasted vegetables are done when they’re tender and darkened at the edges.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare your beans. Heat oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until fragrant and translucent.
  6. Add the minced garlic and jalapeno and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Add the cumin, coriander, optional cayenne or chipotle and the beans. Cook, stirring together, then pour in reserved bean liquid or vegetable broth Stir everything together gently then reduce heat to medium.
  8. Mixture will seem soupy at first, then thicken as it heats through and the bean mashing commences. Mash by hand, using a large wooden spoon or potato masher for about 10 minutes or until you’ve broken up the beans and the mixture comes together with a consistency slightly thicker than hummus. You can also use an immersion blender for more fluffy, uniform puree.
  9. Season generously with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
  10. To assemble, They should be tender and darkened at the edges. Remove from oven and taste for salt.
  11. To serve, spoon about two tablespoons of refried beans onto each tortilla. Top with roasted vegetables. Garnish with fresh chopped cilantro and scallions, if desired.


*Zucchini, like pumpkin, is a squash, but it grows as a shrub, rather than a vine. It’s not one of the Three Sisters, it’s more like the Three Sisters’ cousin.