Skip to main content
  • Native Recipe: Three Sisters Salad

    Photo of a plate full of cooked yellow corn, reddish beans, green zucchini, yellow squash, and red tomatoes, with a carved wooden spoon sticking out.

    Photo courtesy of Renee Comet Photography, Inc./Restaurant Associates and Smithsonian Institution

    Featured in our conversation Corn, Beans, and Squash: What the Three Sisters Tell Us, the following recipe is excerpted from the National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Café Cookbook.

    In Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) villages, as in many other Native communities, women planted, hoed, weeded, and harvested communally, often working in large groups. The staple crops they grew—corn, beans, and squash—came to be known as The Three Sisters. Not only do the three foods grow well together (the beans climb the natural trellis provided by the cornstalks, while the broad-leaved squash plants spread out below, preventing weeds and keeping moisture in the soil), but when cooked together they provide nearly complete nutrition.

    Here, grilled squash and corn are mixed with cranberry beans and yellow and red tomatoes.


    Apple Cider Vinaigrette
    6 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
    1/4 cup honey
    3/4 cup canola oil
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

    2 zucchini, halved lengthwise and seeded
    2 yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
    2 ears corn, husked
    1/4 cup canola oil
    Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
    2 cups cooked cranberry beans, drained
    1 medium yellow tomato or 3/4 cup yellow cherry tomatoes, diced
    2 plum (Roma) tomatoes or 3/4 cup cherry tomatoes, diced


    For the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk to blend. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 10 days.

    For the salad: Prepare a hot fire in a charcoal grill, or preheat a gas grill to high. Brush the zucchini, squash, and corn with oil. Season the vegetables on all sides with salt and pepper. Grill the zucchini and squash until crisp-tender and grill-marked on both sides, about 10 minutes. At the same time, grill the corn until lightly browned, turning to cook all sides, 4 to 5 minutes.

    Transfer the zucchini and squash to a cutting board and finely dice, then empty into a large bowl. Cut the kernels from the corn and add to the bowl along with the beans and the yellow and red tomatoes. Add 1/4 cup vinaigrette and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and toss again.

    Serve at room temperature or cold.

  • Support the Folklife Festival, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, sustainability projects, educational outreach, and more.