When I wrote a few fill-in food columns for Zibby Wilder in December, I made a big stink in the town of Madrid (…bigger?), and I thought I was done-for, never to write in this county again.
But apparently, SFR is into some kinky shit and wanted more of that, full-time. I was like, "Ok wow, thank you, but I should probably…try to not make people mad like that on a regular basis." (The truth is the truth, people!)
So I'm starting out on safe and sacred ground, dedicating my first earnest food column to the Three Sisters: the trifecta of squash, maize and beans, three plant species native to the Americas and staples of Indigenous cuisine.
I was drawn to exploring the Three Sisters after seeing a recipe from Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota), the founder of Indigenous food education business The Sioux Chef and author of The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, the recipient of the 2018 James Beard Award for best cookbook. When he won a 2019 award for leadership from that same organization, he said, "We're not trying to cook like it's 1491. We're trying to take knowledge from the past and evolve it for today." His recipe in the New York Times takes the dried ingredients and, with a little onion, greens and time, transforms them into a savory, filling bowl of plant-based nutrition.
Delving further, I spoke with Christina Chacon, a local farmer who sells at the Farmers Market, for some insight into the process behind the ingredients. Her 40-acre Trujillo Family Farms and Orchard on Nambe Pueblo land is four generations in the making; her grandmother is one of the oldest vendors at the market, helping establish not only the Santa Fe instance but also helping markets in Los Alamos and Española.
"We specialize in traditional New Mexican food," she says between customers. "Everything's handpicked, organic. The corn grows tall and shades your beans and squash, and that's why they go together."
Chacon's products come with recipes and spice packets, so anyone can quickly jump into culinary experimentations, such as a big bag of Pueblo posole mix for $9. Both dry posole and dry beans take some time and commitment to prepare, but that's good—the food deserves our attention and respect, as it took a long time for the Earth and farmers to grow it.
For folks who work 40+ hours a week, though, it's hard to find 3+ hours to stir a pot of beans and/or posole—and that's assuming you remembered to soak them in the first place. Consider making big batches of beans and posole one weekend, and freezing portions in jars or plasticware to use all month. But we're trying to restore these sisters to their rightful place as staples; we might have to make some compromises to get started.
For a weeknight, midwinter Three Sisters, we're basically making a vegan posole stew with a special guest star. You can add turkey, chicken or pork if you'd like, substituting the broth appropriately and cooking the meat before the onions. However, those meaty flavors really benefit from long stewing, whereas the plant flavors are best just-cooked. Chicken and pork aren't indigenous to this continent, either, but neither are onions and garlic, so whatever your family is accustomed to will be fine. This recipe is bare-bones; tweak to your liking, and send me your ruthless criticisms.
1 small acorn squash, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
Olive or sunflower oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic, diced or mashed
1 small can of green chile (optional)
1/2 cup pepitas for garnish
1 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. cumin
12 ounces canned or frozen pre-cooked posole
8 ounces canned or frozen beans, such as pinto or anasazi
4 cups stock
- Preheat oven to 425. Toss acorn in olive or sunflower oil, salt and pepper until lightly coated. Roast ‘em until just soft, about 35 minutes, turning halfway through.
- While the acorn roasts, heat oil on medium-high heat and saute onion until soft, adding green chile if desired, adding salt to taste.
- When the onion is soft, add oregano, cumin and any other herbs and spices you’d think taste good. Thyme? Sage? A whole-ass bay leaf? It’s your kitchen, baby. Work it.
- Once your oil is fragrant, sautée garlic until it’s just golden, about 2 minutes.
- Add stock and bring to a simmer.
- Add posole and beans; salt and season to taste, and simmer, reducing until squash is done and stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the posole; make sure it doesn’t get too mushy and keeps a toothsome bite.
- Serve roast squash on top of bowls of soup; garnish with pepitas and serve with a tortilla.