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Monday, September 27, 2010

Three Sisters Talking Story

I came up with this casserole quite a while ago. It started as a reconstruction of a recipe Christie had made once for us, but has progressed to a new and even tastier dish.

I named it "Three Sisters Talking Story" for a couple of reasons. The use of "Three Sisters" pays homage to the ingredients that were once the staple of the Native American diet. Many groups doing outreach to Native communities are working to bring attention to the health benefits of the traditional diet. The Three Sisters refer to the corn, beans and squash that are the stars of this hearty casserole. "Talking Story" is a term we heard in Hawaii, it refers to a close conversation where each participant shares deeply from the heart. In this dish the 3 ingredients all share the credit in this dish, each shining through.

The Stuff
  • 3-4lb winter squash (pick something with more flavor than an acorn squash for this: butternut, delicata, carnival, dumpling, hubbard, etc.)
  • 2 cups cooked pinto beans (1 15oz can is fine, just drain and rinse well)
  • 2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced (a 15oz can will work, Muir Glen's fire roasted would be perfect)
  • 1/2 cup diced Anaheim chilies (or a 4oz can, I like Hatch)
  • 1 small yellow or sweet onion, diced small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup polenta
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup + 2 T fine nutritional yeast powder
  • 1 t sweet, smoked paprika
  • 1 t cumin seeds
  • 1/2 t ground cumin
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste

All of the steps for making this are split into separate steps that can be done concurrently. Each of the different steps will be combined at the end in layers.

Making: Roasted Squash
Pre-heat oven to 350. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds. Lightly spray the bottom of a roasting pan with oil. Place squash in roasting pan, cut side down. Roast in oven until soft. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.

Roasting time will vary greatly depending upon the size of the squash you used. Delicata are very small and can be done within 15-20 minutes. A Hubbard is so large and dense that it should be cut into quarters, at least, and will take closer to 30-40 minutes to roast through.

Leave oven on, it will be used to bake full casserole.
Making: Cumin Polenta
Spray a little oil into the bottom the pressure cooker on medium-high heat. Add cumin seeds to heated pot and saute until the seeds are fragrant, darken and begin to pop & sizzle. Less than 5 minutes

Add the water carefully and bring to boil. Add polenta and 1/2 t of smoked paprika while stirring. Put lid onto pressure cooker, bring to high pressure, reduce heat, and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. Remove pressure cooker and let sit for 10 minutes. Release any pressure if cooker has not unlocked and open. Stir in 1/3 cup of fine nutritional yeast and freshly ground black pepper. Set aside.

**If you are not using a pressure cooker you can cook this on the stove top. Just bring the polenta back to a boil, stirring often, once it is fully boiling again reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring fairly often.
Making: Stewed Pintos & Tomatoes
Spray a little oil into a sauce pan on medium-high heat. Add onions and saute until just translucent (about 5 minutes), add garlic. Continue to saute until the onions and garlic begin to caramelize (about 5 minutes more). Add fresh chilies and saute until they soften (about 3 minutes). If you are using canned chilies they can be added along with the tomatoes (fresh or canned), cooked pinto beans. Stir in 2 T nutritional yeast, 1/2 t smoked paprika, 1/2 t of ground cumin. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the fresh tomatoes have softened, or at least 20 minutes.
Making: The Casserole "Three Sisters Talking Story"
In a dutch oven or a 9x12 baking dish spray a little oil. Scoop roasted squash out of skin and put into the bottom of the baking dish. Press down with spoon or spatula to get a even, 1-2" layer of squash. Pour stewed beans & tomatoes over the layer of squash and smooth out evenly. Top with the polenta, making as even a layer as possible.

Put casserole into the hot oven (350). Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lightly spray the top of the polenta with oil. Return to oven and reset to low broil. Broil on low for 5 minutes or until the polenta is lightly browned and golden.

Remove from oven and let stand for at least 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with avocado slices if you want.

Makes 8 very hearty servings


  1. Looks delicious. I'm searching for ideas to use up some polenta I've got left over from making polenta bread.

  2. Thanks very much! I love finding new ways to use polenta.