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November 8, 2006

Squash, Beans, Corn: The Reunion of the Sisters


Once in a great while, in our travels, we come across a food that provides nourishment and dish at the same time.


These are foods to be admired, to be revered.


Such is the acorn squash, which brings us earthy goodness and one part of the triumvirate known as the three sisters.


Who are the sisters? Are they witches, the servants of Hecate, found on Scottish moors telling the future to future kings?


They are not. They are squash, and bean, and corn; three staples that come to us from the depths of history from Latin America.


Here, we will unite the sisters under one roof.


We start with sister number one, the squash.


You must cut her in half. Relax, she is not your sister, and will thank you for it later.


Inside, you will find a stringy pulp and some seeds. Scoop this out and lay aside. The seeds when baked and salted provide the stuff of fine snacking.


Cooking the squash is as simple as turning on the oven and putting the squash inside of it. But, there is a hitch. The oven must be set at 400 degrees, and the squash must be placed in a dish – rind-side up – in a little water. It will be there for some time, and we do not want the squash to dry out.


After 25 minutes, flip it and cook it for another 15 or 20 minutes. You will want it to be as easy to cut with a spoon as softened butter.


While it is in its second stage of baking, it will be time to unite the other two sisters.


We start, where we so often start, with olive oil, garlic and onion.


Heat the oil over medium heat, and add the garlic and onion. If you have mushrooms, and consider them an appropriate accompaniment with squash, corn and beans (and they are), you will want to add them here. But, do not let them stay big, for they might bully all others through sheer size.


Once everything is warm and softened, we bring together our two other sisters.


Two tablespoons of frozen corn, two tablespoons of black beans. Salt. Pepper. Add them! Stir them! Love them!


You might wonder why black beans. Why not pinto beans? How about the kidney, biggest and reddest of the beans?


Do not let such a foolish thing as the written word hold you back. Substitute, combine, create! Be aware, however, that the black bean is the bean most commonly associated with Latin American cooking. It is also small and black, and lends certain distinct aesthetic qualities.


Once this is together, its appearance might be lacking. Consider this – crumbled fresh broccoli florets. It will provide a small pop of tree-like green that will evoke warm thoughts of the primeval forest.


Then will come the big moment. The union of the three sisters.


Carefully scoop out the insides. Beware, the squash has a thin skin, and doesn’t suffer well the insult of a carelessly used spoon.  Carelessness will be punished with a ruptured side.


Apply the scooped squash to the corn and beans. Unite the sisters!


Stir, considering a few dashes of ground cardamom if you have it around, until you have achieved uniformity and even-ness in appearance.


Now, a moment of magic. Return the squash and its sisters to its home. Mound it slightly over the top if need be. Smooth it all over.


You are not yet finished putting the sisters to bed.


Heat your oven to 350 degrees. In one hand, take your acorn skin full of three sisters. In your other, take some shredded Swiss cheese. Sprinkle one over the top of the other, like an Alpine snow.


Your concern, still formulating in your head, is noted … and rejected. The three sisters are not so parochial that they mind being covered in a blanket straight from the Old World.


Return the squash to the old pan, standing straight up. Prop if need be. It is a proud union, it must stand tall.


Cook until the cheese is melted and turning brown.


You are finished, and it has come time for you to meet the sisters in their most delicious form.


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