RECIPE: Three Sisters Salad

Three Sisters Salad

  • This recipe features the three sisters of Native American agriculture: corn, beans, and squash.
  • This dish is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals essential for healthy growth and development.
  • Three Sisters Salad contains 100% whole plant foods.
Variation #1 of Three Sisters Salad as described in this recipe, with recipe doubled and diced avocado added.
This heart-healthy recipe is centered on corn, beans, and squash — the infamous Three Sisters of traditional Native American agriculture.
[Scroll to bottom if you just want the recipe].
Celebrating the 3 Sisters Who Grow Cooperatively

The three sisters crops are traditionally planted together because of the way they cooperate in supporting each other. The tall corn stalks provide a pole for running beans to climb, the big fanlike leaves of the squash shade the ground conserving moisture for all the plants in the hottest driest times, and the beans fix nitrogen in the soil acting as a living fertilizer helping its neighboring plants to get a bigger dose of nutrition. All three sisters give something to the others, and all receive assistance. This early form of what today is called companion planting or guilds.

The three sisters grow together in a cooperative ecosystem where each plant – corn, beans, and squash – supports and receives support from the others.
The three sisters were a primary focus of the 1917 book Buffalo Bird Woman’s Garden by Gilbert Livingston Wilson which described traditional agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians as practiced by one woman. Buffalo Bird Woman and her family grew large gardens of corn, squash, beans, and sunflowers and their practices and recipes are included in the book. After reading about the three sisters in detail here and while studying permaculture I, of course, wanted to grow them for myself.
Photo courtesy of the Homestead Guru:
I have planted the three sisters together when I was blessed to have a spot of Earth to garden on. Through their cooperation these plants teach the gardener an important lesson about interdependence. To the Iroquois the three sisters are β€œsustainers of life,” special gifts from the Creator. There are many Indian legends which say the sisters should never be apart – they are planted together, grow together, are eaten together and are celebrated together. The Three Sisters Salad is one way to eat and celebrate the three sisters together.

Sister #1: Corn

Corn is still one of the most important crops in America but the wisdom of the three sisters companion planting has been largely replaced by massive fields of corn grown on an industrial scale.

Much of the corn today is also genetically modified which, given the lack of science around the safety of GMOs and the various health concerns (like GMO corn that causes sterility), it is wise for the health-conscious consumer to avoid non-organic corn. For this recipe I recommend organic corn. The best corn is always the fresh corn from your own three sisters garden, but next best is to use fresh locally-grown corn from the market.

Frozen and canned corn will also work fine and I used frozen corn when I made the three salad variations shared here.

Sister #2: Beans

There are so many kinds of beans and any of them would work great in this recipe. The great thing about Three Sisters Salad is you can use ANY type of bean you like and you can experiment with different beans to enjoy many variations in color and flavor. Soak your dry beans overnight and cook them in a slow-cooker or stove top or used canned beans for the convenience. Today a can of organic canned beans can be purchased for under $1 meaning you don’t really save that much money cooking bulk dry beans.

The slight extra expense of canned beans is worth it for me as a working single mom because it saves me time and prevents waste if I happen to cook too many beans or burn the beans because I’m trying to cook, blog, fold laundry, and parent at the same time. For the three variations of Three Sisters Salad I shared here I used canned beans. My favorites are black beans, garbanzo beans, or kidney beans for this recipe.

Sister #3: Squash

Squash comes in so many delicious and nutrient-packed variations and most any of them could work for this salad.

Find tips for growing squash at Harvest to Table:
There are summer squashes with their soft flesh which are super easy to cut up and almost melt in the mouth, and then there are winter squashes with their tough exterior which take muscle to break into and must be baked to yield the soft, creamy, rich flesh. Either type of squash will work. I uses zucchini for the salad in the feature photo and baked butternut squash for the salad pictured below. Both are super tasty and nutritious salads and using different squashes allows you to sample a variety of flavor combinations.
Variation #2 of this recipe using baked winter squash that is peeled and diced (in place of zucchini). This salad included green edamame soy beans with baked butternut squash, frozen yellow corn, and arugula greens.
Variation #3 of this recipe used more greens and less beans, corns, and squash for a lighter salad meal.
You can also experiment with how much of each ingredient you add to this basic Three Sisters Salad recipe depending on your hunger and nutrition needs. If you are in the mood for a hearty-filling meal then you might want to use more beans and used baked winter squash or add advocado to the mix. If you are in the mood for a lighter salad, use less beans, fresh summer squash, and more greens like the Three Sisters Salad I made pictured below.
However you mix and toss it, The Three Sisters Salad should provide you with a perfect cocktail of nutrients from plants in a satisfying tasty meal for which we have our ancestors to thank.
Healing With Plants is a holistic health education website empowering people to heal themselves at home, with plants. Look out for new whole food plant-based recipes published every week.
Print Recipe
Three Sisters Salad
Course Main Dish, Salads
Cuisine Vegan
Course Main Dish, Salads
Cuisine Vegan
  1. Wash zucchini, tomatoes, leafy greens, and green onions.
  2. Chop zucchini, tomato, onions and greens into small pieces.
  3. Combine beans, corn, chopped tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and greens into bowl.
  4. Cut lime in half and squeeze juice on top.
  5. Add garlic, sea salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  6. Stir until well combined.
  7. Share with friends or family. Enjoy πŸ™‚
Recipe Notes

Try it at home Experiment with different variations on this simple plant-protein-packed salad and see what recipe you like the best.

  • Use any type of beans. Pinto, white, garbanzo, kidney, navy, lima, or edamame soy beans would all work nice with this recipe.
  • Make dry beans by soaking them overnight and cooking on the stovetop with the guidance of an adult. Or used can beans for the convenience factor.
  • Use fresh corn off the cob. Peel the corn, remove the silky threads, and use a sharp knife to carefully cut away the corn kernels from the cob.
  • Try adding a jalapeno pepper with seeds removed and chopped into small pieces.
  • Add a1/4 a green, red, or yellow bell pepper chopped small.
  • Try different types of greens. Besides the ones mentioned above mustard greens, dandelion greens, endive, and cabbage would all go well chopped into small pieces for this salad. Notice how different greens have distinct flavors that add a new taste sensation to your recipe.
  • For a different flavor try cilantro chopped small instead of garlic.
  • Red onion chopped small is a good substitute for green onion. Onion powder canalso work to help season your salad.
  • Try adding a splash of apple cider vinegar or hot sauce if you like extra spice.
  • Add one avocado chopped into small pieces to take your salad to the next level of yum.


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