Three Sisters Stew

Chef Walter Whitewater and I originally made this recipe on the Navajo Reservation in the town of Pinon, Arizona, where he was raised. It has been made for numerous family gatherings and ceremonies. For this version, I’ve added zucchini instead of meat. The squash makes this stew hearty without being heavy. This recipe is great because you can make it to feed four to six people, or you can add to it and make enough to feed sixty to six hundred. Makes 4 to 6 servings What are the Three Sisters, and what significance do they have for Native Americans? The Three Sisters are corn, beans, and squash. They are believed by a number of tribes to be gifts from the great spirit. The way these vegetables grow in the garden exemplifies the notion of interconnectedness, as do the nutrients they provide. They are three ingredients that Chef Walter and I use regularly and a foundation to a healthy ancestral Native American diet.
Servings 6


  • 1 tablespoon bean juice
  • ½ large yellow onion chopped (approximately 1 cup)
  • ½ green bell pepper seeded and chopped (approximately ½ cup)
  • 1 zucchini cut into small cubes (approximately 1½ cups)
  • 2 teaspoons blackened garlic
  • 1 can 14.5 ounces diced tomatoes,
  • no salt added if possible
  • cups cooked organic dark red kidney beans or one 15-ounce can
  • cups cooked organic pinto beans or one 15-ounce can
  • 1 cup corn kernels fresh or frozen
  • tablespoons New Mexico red chili powder mild
  • 1 teaspoon New Mexico red chili powder medium (optional, for a slightly hotter stew)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 cups water or bean juice


  • Preheat a cast-iron soup pot or heavy bottomed metal soup pot over medium-high heat.
  • Add the bean juice and heat until hot.
  • Add the onions, sauté for approximately 3 minutes until translucent, stirring to prevent burning.
  • Add the bell pepper and sauté for another 3 minutes, stirring to prevent burning.
  • Add the zucchini and sauté for another 3 minutes. You want the vegetables to caramelize and begin to turn brown. The bottom of the pan may begin to turn brown, but this is part of the caramelization process.
  • Add the garlic and cook for another minute, stirring to prevent burning and to incorporate into the other ingredients.
  • Add the tomatoes. Cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  • Add the kidney beans, pinto beans, corn, mild chili powder, and medium chili powder (if you want a spicier stew), black pepper, thyme, and oregano, then mix well.
  • Add the water, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings, if desired. Remove from heat and serve immediately.


Fresh thyme and fresh oregano can be used if available. Simply double the amount from ¼ teaspoon of each to ½ teaspoon of each. I usually buy herbs fresh if they are available, and if I have leftover herbs from whatever I am cooking, I dry them on a sheet tray in my pantry and then put them into glass jars for future use.
Source: Excerpted from Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients by Lois Ellen Frank. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.