Most of you have probably heard of the traditional Three Sisters of gardening incorporating corn, beans, and squash but you may have not heard of the Fourth Sister in Anishinaabe agriculture. The Fourth Sister are the super pollinator lover, sunflowers.
This form of agriculture follows the traditional planting pattern of the Three Sisters; planting rows or mounds of corn, followed by planting a bean around each stalk of corn, then surrounding the corn and beans with squash. The corn provides nutrients for the beans and squash as well as a sturdy stalk for the beans to grown on. Beans provide nutrient rich food to the corn and squash and helps to sturdy up the corn stalks. The squash gives nutrients to the beans and corn, provides shade to beans and corn, and forms a weed barrier.
Bringing in the Fourth Sister, the sunflower, makes a perfect harmony. The sunflower planted around the perimeter of the Three Sisters Garden provides protection from the wind and also brings in super pollinators for the entire garden.
Making this Anishinaabe Four Sisters recipe marries all of these fabulous ingredients together and it's just as beautiful as when they're in the garden. The flavors and textures of each ingredient adding their own uniqueness, nutrition, and flavor. It's truly beautiful.
1/2 C dried mzhwemogis (beans; pinto, black, Potawatomi, etc.). Let soak overnight.
1/2 C dried bnegzegen (hulled corn-hominy). Let soak overnight.
1 C fresh kwesmen (squash) cut into bite sized pieces (butternut, acorn, winter squash)
1 C raw sunflower seeds.
Kishki (Cedar twig) (optional)
Benegen zisbakwtabo (Maple vinegar) (or apple cider vinegar)
Sitagen epe waskek (Salt and pepper)
Kekshe - Culinary ash (optional)
Add beans and corn to separate saucepans and add enough water to cover them two inches. Add cedar twig to the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, simmer for 45 minutes to one hour depending on preferred texture and density.
While beans and corn are cooking, heat up a medium sized skillet (I like to use my cast iron for this), add about 2 tsp sunflower oil at high heat. Add the sunflower seeds and toast until golden. Add 1/2 tsp salt. Once toasted set aside on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to cool.
Over medium to high heat, add 1 TBS sunflower oil. Once heated add the squash. Stir to coat each side of the squash with the oil. Add 3 TSP water, salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for 5-7 minutes or until it's the density and texture you like.
Once the beans, corn, and squash are cooked to your desired firmness, drain.
Over medium to high heat add 1 TBS sunflower oil and bring to temperature. Add the beans and corn, stir well. Add the squash and stir well. Add maple vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and stir well.
Stir in the sunflower seeds and bring all up to heat.
Plate up and sprinkle culinary ash over the top.
Enjoy! (Pairs well with fish)