Three Sisters Layered Casserole

The tradition of the Three Sisters in Native American Gardening Three sisters casserolerefers to the practice of planting a mound of soil with 5 to 7 corn plants in the center. After the corn grows 6” tall 7-8 beans are planted around the corn which supports the beans. A week later 7 or 8 squash or pumpkin seeds are planted around the outer edge of the mound. The beans provide a nitrogen boost for the corn and the broad squash leaves suppress weeds and conserve moisture. Additionally, the three vegetables form a nutritional compliment.

After buying a few bags of fire roasted chiles at our local farmers market I wanted to make something new and special with them and use up some odd bits in the refrigerator. The result, featuring corn, beans, and squash is reminiscent of both a chile relleno casserole and stacked enchiladas.

6 roasted chiles
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons flour
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
4 corn tortillas, quartered
2 cups grated jack cheese or 1 cup jack & 1 cup cheddar
1 cup cooked, cubed, winter squash
1-2 cups drained black beans
1/2 cup or less diced chicken or meat (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove skins and seeds from roasted chiles, slice lengthwise into 1” strips. Whisk together, eggs, milk, flour, cumin and oregano. Take a 10″ glass pie plate or shallow casserole and lightly oil. Arrange half the tortilla pieces in bottom of casserole. Then lightly layer with half the cheese, ½ the peppers, followed by 1 cup beans and ½ cup cubed squash and all the chicken. Cover with 1/2 egg mixture. Give the dish a gentle shake so ingredients are evenly layered and tortillas begin soaking up egg mixture. Repeat layering beginning with tortilla pieces followed by remaining ingredients. Reserve 1/3 cup of cheese to sprinkle over the top as the last step. Bake on middle shelf in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Serves 6.
My beans were seasoned with salt, onions and garlic so I did not include salt, you may wish to add ¼ teaspoon.

Thankgiving Baked Squash

Winter Squash with Maple Syrup
Squash is historically a staple crop throughout most of the Western hemisphere. Indeed intercropping of squash, beans and corn formed the fabled “Three Sisters”of the South West. These three plants grow harmoniously together, store well and when eaten together are nutritionally complete. Native Americans in the North East were collecting maple sap and cooking it down to use as a sweetener and flavoring. Added to squash it boosts the flavor. Allspice berries are collected from the Pimenta dioica tree native to Jamaica. Because it’s complex flavor reminded Europeans of cloves, pepper, cinnamon and even nutmeg it was dubbed Allspice. Peppers of course are native to the Americas. Chipotles are jalapenos, smoked and dried creating a unique flavor. Chipotles are also canned in adobo sauce and this can be substituted for the dried. Use sparingly at first as you can always adjust and add a little more.
I cooked an entire 10 pound heirloom Sweet Meat squash for this and used 1/3 for the mashed squash. My favorite is Oregon Homestead a superbly flavored selection from Carol Deppe who spent ten years in a process of always picking the best flavored, largest seeded and thickest walled. Set aside some squash for pie, make soup or freeze until needed. I find it easier to cook it all at once rather than store pieces of uncooked squash. Almost all canned “pumpkin” is actually squash. The old fashioned ‘Small Sugar Pumpkin” makes a fine pie.

Sweet Meat or other Winter Squash (3.5 pounds) 4 tablespoons butter
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chicken broth
1/3 teaspoon ground allspice or cinnamon
½ teaspoon seed free dried chipotle pepper
1/3 cup real maple syrup
salt if needed

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set deseeded squash halves, cut side up on a baking sheet. Bake until soft and fork tender, about 90 minutes, less if using smaller squash like Butternut. Remove from oven and when slightly cooled scoop out flesh to a large bowl.
In a medium sauce pan set on medium heat melt butter and saute’ onion until softened and translucent about 10 minutes. When onion is cooked add chicken broth, allspice and chipotle pepper to pan and simmer for two minutes. Add this mixture and maple syrup to pumpkin. Transfer in batches to a food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt as needed. This may be prepared several hours ahead and reheated before serving with a nice pat of butter swirled across the top.