Three Sisters Chili

Related event: 2012 Terra Madre Day


Three Sisters Chili

Servings 4 people


  • 1 cup pinto beans soaked overnight and drained
  • Salt
  • 1 pound tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped; juice reserved fresh or canned
  • 3 tablespoon ears corn, about 1½ cups of kernels fresh or frozen
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 inch piece of cinnamon stick or about ¾ teaspoon ground
  • 3 cloves or about ¼ teaspoon ground
  • 4 tablespoons corn oil, light sesame oil, or light olive oil
  • 1 large onion, cut into a medium dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 cups bean broth or stock
  • 3 cups pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 or 3 serrano chilies, seeded and finely chopped
  • Cilantro or parsley, chopped for garnish


  • If you have not pre-soaked the beans, clean them, rinse them well, cover them with boiling water, and let them soak for 1 hour.
  • Drain the beans, cover with fresh water, and bring to a boil.
  • Cook about 1½ hours, or until the beans are tender.
  • Drain the beans, reserving the cooking liquid.
  • Warm a small heavy skillet and toast the cumin seeds until their fragrance emerges.
  • Add the oregano, stir for 5 seconds, and quickly transfer the spices to a plate or bowl so they don’t burn.
  • Combine with the cinnamon and cloves and grind to a powder in a spice mill.
  • Heat the oil in a wide skillet and sauté the onion briskly over high heat for 1 minute, then lower heat to medium.
  • Add the garlic, spices, paprika, and 1 teaspoon salt.
  • Stir well to combine; then add ½ cup reserved bean broth (or stock of vegetable broth) and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is soft.
  • Add the tomatoes and cook 5 minutes.
  • Add the pumpkin or winter squash and another cup of bean broth or stock.
  • After 20 to 30 minutes, or when pumpkin or squash is half cooked — soft but still too firm to eat — add the corn, beans and fresh chilies.
  • Thin with the reserved tomato juice, adding more broth or stock as necessary.
  • Cook until the pumpkin/squash is tender.
  • Add more salt if necessary.
  • Serve garnished with the chopped cilantro. Serve with corn bread, tortillas, or corn chips.