“Three Sisters” Stew

Three sisters stew recipe

Here’s a great main dish option for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s somewhat like chili, though more about the squash than beans. In Native American mythology, squash, corn, and beans are known as of the “three sisters” — the very crops that the harvest festival of Thanksgiving is meant to celebrate! If you bake your pumpkin or squash a day ahead, the stew will come together in a snap. And if you’re not accustomed to dealing with winter squash, or don’t have the time, see the shortcut following the recipe. Photos by Hannah Kaminsky.

“Three Sisters” Stew
Recipe type: Squash and bean stew / Thanksgiving
Cuisine: Vegan / Healthy
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 to 10
Here's a great main dish option for Thanksgiving dinner. It's somewhat like chili, though more about the squash than beans.
  • 1 small sugar pumpkin or 1 large butternut squash (about 2 pounds), or see shortcut following recipe
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium green or red bell pepper, cut into short narrow strips
  • 14- to 16-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, with liquid
  • 2 to 3 cups cooked or canned (drained and rinsed) pink or pinto beans
  • 2 cups corn kernels (from 2 large or 3 medium ears, or frozen)
  • 1 cup homemade or canned vegetable stock, or water
  • 1 or 2 small fresh hot chiles, seeded and minced, or one 4-ounce can chopped mild green chilies
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder or mesquite seasoning, or more, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro or parsley
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. Remove stem from the pumpkin or squash and cut in half lengthwise. Cover with aluminum foil and place the halves, cut side up, in a foil-lined shallow baking pan. If your knives aren't sharp enough, just wrap the pumpkin or squash in foil and bake it whole. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until you can pierce through with a knife, with a little resistance.
  3. When cool enough to handle, scrape out the seeds and fibers (clean the seeds for roasting, if you'd like). Slice and peel, then cut into large dice.
  4. Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until the onion is golden.
  5. Add the pumpkin or squash and all the remaining ingredients except the last 2, and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. If time allows, let the stew stand for 1 to 2 hours before serving, then heat through as needed. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro. The stew should be thick and very moist but not soupy; add additional stock or water if needed. Adjust seasonings to your liking. Serve in bowls.


Shortcut: If you’re short on time or simply can’t deal with chopping and peeling pumpkin or squash, you can get peeled, cut raw butternut squash. At this time of year, it’s easy to find in the fresh produce department of supermarkets or natural foods stores.

Three sisters stew

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28 comments on ““Three Sisters” Stew

  1. Crista Meyer

    Working ahead of time I soaked and cooked my beans for this and then was going to prepare the stew the next day. I then overlooked getting the cooked beans in the refrigerator so they sat in the pot on top of a gas stove all night, meaning more warmth there than if just on the counter. Did I kill them and need to toss them or should they be okay?

  2. Nava Post author

    This is a tough call. If it were summer and the beans were in a warm kitchen aside from being on a warm stove, I’d say toss them. But if they taste OK and smell OK, chances are that they are fine. Not much in beans that is too perishable. I hope I’m giving you the right advice!

  3. Pause2Shop.com

    Finally got the opportunity to make this last night. I peeled the butternut squash, diced it and then lightly steamed it – this seemed to speed things up a bit. I didn’t have any pinto beans in the house, so used small red beans instead. I have to tell you – this recipes is AMAZING. The whole family devoured this and came back for more. Definitely one of our new favorites. Will make again and again – thank you Nava!! (Looking forward to the leftovers for lunch today!)

  4. NedMan

    I have been making the recipe for Thanksgiving for the past few years. It has become a tradition now for the holiday in our family. This is just an incredible recipe. I have always made it with butternut squash.
    I usually make it the day before I am going to serve it and let it sit on the stove or refrigerate it. If you are serving this to people that are sensitive to spicy food you may want to be be careful on how many chiles you put into it.

  5. reeanna chino

    I think these recipes are really good. I made one of these recipes for NY class, they really liked it, I was happy. So thanks to all the people who left these recipes. I hope other people enjoy these great dishes.

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  10. Gina

    I am making this (with butternut) for the main dish at this year’s family Thanksgiving dinner. I love this recipe for lots of reasons: it’s the perfect blend of historical representation, good nutrition and deliciousness. Thanks!

  11. Nava Post author

    I made it this week just for the weekday meals, as I had a bunch of squashes. If you’re feeding a bigger crowd, add another cup or two of beans, and spice it up to your taste. It’s a very flexible stew! I also added a pinch of mesquite seasoning (available in the supermarket spice section), which gave it a deliciously smoky flavor. Enjoy and have a great Thanksgiving!

  12. Gina

    Thanks for the above comment and suggestion. I did add the extra beans, and some of my last jalapeños (from plants now in the garage, to avoid the frosty nights). Lovely, simple recipe. Perfect for today.

  13. Gina

    I also doubled the onion and red pepper. I’ve now entered this recipe into my hand-written recipe book, meaning tried and true. Thanks again, and hope you and yours have a happy Thanksgiving celebration.

  14. David Nurbin

    I have made this as the vegetarian main dish for Thanksgiving for almost 10 years. I increase the cumin and the beans, but other than that, do it this way. It has been popular even with my “won’t eat healthy ir vegetarian stuff” friends.

  15. Scotty

    How would black beans go with this stew? I would love to try this recipe, but I prefer the taste of black beans over pinto…

  16. Penny

    Well, I tried the crockpot myself and it works! I did start out in a dutch oven and let it cook for a few minutes and then put it in the crockpot on high for two hours. This recipe is so good!

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  18. Jan

    Very tasty stew. Great combination of heat, savory, and sweet. I used steamed butternut squash. Next time I will use small red bean for the color contrast.

  19. Rizan

    Would this still be good if made ahead of time and frozen? I’m trying to make several dishes beforehand as I have many dishes to make.

  20. Nava Post author

    I’m not a big fan of freezing, but this is one of those dishes that thaws out well. So yes, go ahead, and I hope you enjoy this!

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