The other day I did one of those double glances — the kind you do when a super hot guy walks past you and you reflexively jerk your head back twice to confirm he was really that good-looking. Except I did it with beans.
I walked past these little babies in Berkeley Bowl and after my double glance confirmed they really were that beautiful, I put myself in reverse, grabbed a bag, and filled it up with crimson-streaked cranberry beans without stopping to consider that my fridge was already way too full and I already had more than enough produce that was barely holding on for its life before I could prepare it.
But I didn’t care. When it’s love at first sight, you act before you think. I was acting on such an impulse that I got home with my beans and realized I hadn’t even thought about what I’d need to go with them.
The scrounging session in my fridge revealed an ear of fresh corn and some leftover summer squash from a curry I made last week. There was my answer: the Three Sisters.
For those of you who don’t know, my day job is as a nutritionist for the Native American population (some find it surprising to learn that he Bay Area has a significant urban Indian population — almost 50,000). I have the pleasure of doing cooking demonstrations for our patients and one of my favorite demos I’ve ever done paid homage to the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. These three crops have been planted together in the same mound by native people for centuries in a perfect example of permaculture/companion planting. The corn provides a pole for the beans to grow up, the beans put nitrogren into the soil that the corn needs to grow, and the squash grows around them both, shading the soil to keep it moist and keeping critters out. The three crops also compliment each other nutritionally, providing all the essential amino acids when eaten together. This beautiful relationship between these three crops is reflected in a touching Iroquois legend about the three sisters.
For my dish, I decided that a simple succotash would be a nice way to honor the Three Sisters. The cranberry beans, which are an heirloom bean native to Colombia, turn a beautiful lavender color when cooked and have a super creamy texture that compliments the crisp summer corn. To finish it off with another ingredient native to this area, I fried up some sage leaves for a crispy, earthy finish.
Three Sisters Succotash with Crispy Sage
- 1 lb cranberry beans, shelled
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 8 sage leaves
- 1 bunch green onion, white and green parts diced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 ear fresh corn, kernels sliced off
- 1 yellow summer squash, diced
- 1 zucchini squash, diced
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- salt and fresh black pepper
Bring a small pot of water to boil and add the shelled beans and salt. Simmer for 15 minutes or until beans are fully cooked and tender. Drain.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. When oil is hot, tip the pan so the oil pools on one side of the pan and add the sage leaves. Let the leaves fry in the oil for about 1 minute or until they darken in color but do not burn. Remove them from the oil and place on a paper towel for later.
Using the same oil in the skillet, saute the green onion and bell pepper for 1-2 minutes. Add the corn and summer squash and saute for 1 more minute. Add the cooked beans, vegetable stock, black pepper and salt to taste and let simmer for about 5 minutes or until everything is tender, the stock is partly evaporated, and the flavors are melded. Serve hot with two crispy sage leaves as garnish.