Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three Sisters Stew

At some point during your childhood, you probably heard of the Iroquois legend of the Three Sisters-the smallest, who could only crawl and was dressed in green, the middle, clad in yellow who liked to run off by herself, and the eldest, robed in pale green with flowing yellow hair standing tall over her sisters and protecting them. In a nutshell, the legend tells the story of how the youngest and middle sisters are taken from the field and the eldest stands mourning their loss until she is reunited with her beloved sisters at the harvest. More than just a charming story, this Indian legend explains the symbiotic relationship between these three vegetables, who are currently in the midst of their family reunion. These are truly the glory days of the farmers' market, where one can still buy the last of the sweet corn, myriad beans, and the first of winter squash, and this stew is the perfect way to unite those last flavors of summer with the first tastes of fall.

With temperatures dropping into the thirties overnight this week and only reaching the sixties during the day, I was more than ready to embark on soup/stew season. This thick and hearty stew is overflowing with delicious vegetables and flavors that make for an immensely satisfying meal on their own, but are also happily soaked up into a piece of crusty bread or fresh corn muffin. (I've been craving corn muffins/corn bread for a while and this stew was the perfect excuse to whip up a quick batch-believe me, the effort is well worth it.) While I chose a comforting combination of butternut squash and pinto beans, this soup would gleefully accomodate black, cranberry, or kidney beans, acorn squash, or even sweet potatoes. So grab a big pot, an armful of fall vegetables, and make this stew to protect yourself against the impending cold.

Three Sisters Stew
adapted from Food and Wine
serves 4

1 quart water 
One 1 1/2-pound butternut squash—peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
4 cups fresh corn kernels (cut from about 6 ears) 
One 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained
1/2 cup chopped basil leaves 
2 tablespoons canola oil 
1 large onion, coarsely chopped 
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped 
1 green bell pepper, coarsely chopped 
1 teaspoon ground cumin 
1 teaspoon dried oregano 
1 teaspoon smoked paprika 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large pot, bring the water to a boil with the squash and corn. Cover and simmer over moderately low heat until the squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Add the beans and cook until the beans are hot. Transfer 3 cups of the squash mixture to a blender along with some of the liquid and the basil; puree. Return the puree to the pot and keep warm.
2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat  the oil. Add the onion and bell peppers and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 minutes. Add the cumin, oregano and paprika and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 4 minutes. Stir the vegetables into the stew and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the stew into bowls and serve.

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