The Meso and Native American three sisters – squash, beans and corn – are not only one of the best examples of companion planting (see my previous post), but also make an amazing nutritional bundle; carbs, fibre, vitamins and the powerful protein complementation of the grain/legume combo are all amongst the many strengths of these three gifts from Nature. In Mexico, zucchini are used in many recipes, from ritzy stuffed baby zucchini, to simply stewing them in tomato sauce; the latter is not only a popular way to cook zucchini, but when its sisters are added – in the form of green beans and corn kernels – the dish becomes a complete meal.
Three Sisters Stew (Zucchini with Corn and Green Beans) –
Estofado de las tres hermanas (calabacitas con elote y ejotes)
2 tbsp. oil
½ onion; chopped
2-3 hot green peppers, such as serranos or jalapeños; stems removed and sliced thin
1 cup green beans; trimmed and sliced into short cylinders
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
3 medium zucchini; ends removed and cubed
2 tbsp tomato paste
½ cup water
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup sprouts, such as sweet pea, alfalfa or mung bean
1 ½ cups fresh cheese, such as Cotija, panela or feta; crumbled
1 link dry cured Spanish style chorizo*; sliced and pan-fried
Note: Traditionally, the base for stewed zucchini is prepared by frying and then simmering chopped onions, hot peppers and tomatoes; I personally do not care for the texture of the tomato pieces at the end of that process so, for my dish, I chose smooth tomato paste instead, which may be added later.
Fry the onions and hot peppers with the oil in a large pan over medium heat (photo below, left); once the onions are translucent, add green beans and continue cooking and stirring (photo below, right):
After a couple of minutes, add corn kernels, and continue cooking for another two to three minutes (photo below, left); stir in zucchini, mixing together with the rest of the vegetables (photo below, right):
Mix tomato paste with water, then add to the pan, stirring to coat all the vegetables with the sauce (photo below, left); season with salt and pepper to taste and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, undisturbed, for a few more minutes, until reaching desired texture for the zucchini. My mom used to cover the pot and cook them beyond recognition, but I like them firm, so I cook them uncovered (photo below, right, after five minutes):
Adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper, if needed. The usual way to serve this stew is generously topped with crumbled fresh cheese, as seen in the photo at the top of the post. This makes a wonderful main course for a vegetarian meal, or a side, great with chicken, or a steak; other toppings may be chosen, depending on diet preferences. In the photo below, from left to right: sweet pea sprouts, for a vegan meal; crumbled cheese, as mentioned before; a complete meal with crumbled cheese and slices of fried Spanish chorizo:
This presentation almost looks like a Mexican flag, and it would be my choice to please my family’s diverse tastes, from vegan/vegetarian to meat-lover daughters, and my husband, who is not fond of zucchini, but in his words, “the chorizo made the dish tolerable” (he even had seconds, ha!) For me, as long as the texture of the sauce is smooth, and the zucchini are not overcooked, I like any and all versions.
This dish is probably best prepared in late summer, when the weather is not too hot, and the three sisters are available fresh from the garden or a local market. However, supermarket zucchini, and frozen corn and green beans are a good alternative for a winter craving. The fresh sprouts provide an extra crunchy bite; in my next post, I will talk about how I lighten the baggage of the “impatient gardener’s winter blues” by sprouting seeds indoors.
*Note: Any chorizo sausage, sliced or crumbled, and pan fried, may be used as a topping. I used dry cured Spanish style chorizo for this post:
This is a great recipe to cook any day of the week, so I am also sharing it at What’s for Dinner? Sunday Link-up # 187, graciously hosted by Helen @ The Lazy Gastronome. And thank you so much to Helen for featuring my Atole recipes at this party!