Old New World: Haudenosaunee Three Sisters salad

Haudenosaunee Three Sisters salad

I feel like the Three Sisters are something that is glossed over only very briefly in California public grade schools, right before you learn how to make hand turkeys. But it's such an interesting thing! If you've never heard of the Three Sisters, they are companion plants,  staple crops grown together - corn, beans and squash. The corn provides a natural trellis for the beans, the beans provide nitrogen to the other plants, the prickly vines of the squash deter pests and the leaves of the squash protect the soil below against weeds and also allow it to retain moisture. When eaten together, these Three Sisters also provide a wonderful balance of nutrition. This salad is based on a Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) dish.

cranberry beans after soaking overnight

Three Sisters salad

makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 2 cups dried cranberry beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 TBSP sunflower oil
  • 2 TBSP agave nectar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 summer squash
  • 2 ears corn
  • 3 tomatoes

Drain and rinse your beans. Put in a large pot and cover with at least 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 2 hours. Drain and set aside.

While your beans are cooking, you can prepare the corn and squash. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. If using a grill, grill the squash until crisp-tender (about 10 minutes) flipping once, and husk and grill the corn until lightly browned, turning to brown on all sides. If using an oven, at 425 roast the squash for 20-25 minutes, turning once, and roast the corn, unhusked, at 350 for 30 minutes.

Cut the corn from the cobs into a large bowl. Slice the squash into half-moons and add to the bowl. Add the beans and chop and add the tomatoes. Toss gently to mix.

In a small bowl, combine the apple cider vinegar, agave nectar, sunflower oil and salt and pepper. Toss with the salad in the larger bowl.  Serve at room temperature.


I like to use mixed colors for the tomatoes and the squash. 

Cranberry beans are a beautifully striated and quite round bean, but they will lose a bit of their distinct striping after soaking and cooking. If you can't find them, pinto beans or even cannellini beans would work here.

Recipe adapted from The Mitsitam Cafe Cookbook: Recipes from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian  by Richard Hetzler.

 Haudenosaunee Three Sisters salad in a small bowl