Skip to Content

Three Sisters Tacos

These plant-based tacos are inspired by a polycultural style of agriculture traditional to Indigenous North Americans. Three Sisters Tacos are perfect for big-batch meal prep and are adaptable to your taste preferences.

Image of three tacos arranged tastefully on marble.

The Three Sisters garden is a traditional Indigenous practice in which corn, beans, and squash are all planted simultaneously. This polycultural way of agriculture is beneficial because each plant plays a crucial role in each other’s development. I always recommend eating with the seasons to ensure peak freshness of produce. If squash isn’t in season I substitute sweet potatoes or yams. However, I recommend staying true to the Three Sisters’ story!

Who are the Sisters?

In college, I took an ethnobotany class. Ethnobotany is the study of how people and their culture are impacted by the plants growing around them and vice versa. In this class, we read an amazing book titled Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Kimmerer is an enrolled member of the Citizen of Potawatomi Nation; she has heard the native stories and grew up to be a scientist. In her book, she brings together the importance of sharing reciprocity with the land and the sciences of botany in such a way that compels the reader to keep turning the page. One chapter is titled “Three Sisters Garden” and it tells the story passed down through generations:

Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

“The corn is the firstborn and grows straight and stiff it is a stem with a lofty goal. Laddering upward, leaf by long-ribbed leaf, it must grow tall quickly… It needs to be there for its younger sister, the bean. [At first] the bean focuses on leaf growth while the corn concentrates on height. Just about the time that the corn is knee high, the bean shoot changes its mind… [and] extends itself into a long vine, a slender green string with a mission. In this teenage phase, hormones set the shoot tip to wandering, inscribing a circle in the air… pirouetting in a loopy circle dance until it finds what it’s looking for— a corn stem or some other vertical support… For now, it holds back on making leaves, giving itself over to embracing the corn… Meanwhile, the squash, late bloomer of the family, is steadily extending herself over the ground… As the leaves grow wider, they shelter the soil at the base of the corn and beans, keeping moisture in, and other plants out. Native people speak of this gardening style as the Three Sisters.” (130-131)

Kimmerer, Robin Wall. “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants.” Amazon, Penguin Books, 2020, www.amazon.com/Braiding-Sweetgrass-Indigenous-Scientific-Knowledge/dp/1571313567.

After reading this, I was convinced. I had already been making these tacos with corn, beans, and sweet potatoes. I tried replacing the sweet potatoes with squash and it was delicious! Of course, I still make the tacos with sweet potatoes when I can’t find ripe squash. However, when I can, I try to stay true to the Three Sisters.

Three Sisters Tacos

Yield: 6 servings
Prep time: 5 Minutes (not including preheating the oven
Cook time: 25 Minutes
Ready in: 30 Minutes

Saute onions

Ingredients:

  • Squash, Yam, or Sweet Potato: To stay true to the Three Sisters, I recommend using squash. However, in the video attached I use one yam since squash is out of season.
  • Onion: I use one medium white onion, diced.
  • Black Beans: I’m using canned black beans. If you’d rather start from dry, more power to you! 
  • Sweet Corn: I’m using a can of sweet corn, but again if you would like to start from the cob, I’m sure it will taste better in the end!
  • Lime Juice: I used the juice of half of a lime in the whole batch. Use the remaining half to garnish-as-you-go with individual servings.
  • (Optional) Seasonings: Add whatever you’d like. I’m using a seasoning blend here.
  • Corn Tortillas: I always recommend buying local when you can. If you can’t find someone near you who makes fresh tortillas, you can always opt for store-bought!

How To Make Three Sisters Tacos:

To begin, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Ferinhiet (204 Celcius). Next, peel and cut your squash, yam, or sweet potato into bite-size pieces. Once chopped, add to a lined baking sheet. Drizzle and toss in olive oil, and add salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until tender. 

On the stove, heat olive oil in a large skillet. Trust me, you will want a large skillet! Begin to sauté one medium white onion.

As that cooks, drain and rinse one can of black beans. Once the onion is mostly translucent, add the drained and rinsed black beans. While that is heating up, drain a can of sweet corn, and add that to the skillet as well. Mix these to combine.

Once your squash, yam, or sweet potatoes are tender, remove them from the oven and add them to your skillet. Add the juice of half of a lime, and season to taste. When all of this is nice and hot, remove from the stove. Plate your tacos with whatever seasonings and toppings you’d like to and enjoy

Yield: 6 Servings

Three Sisters Tacos

Three tacos with black beans and corn on a marble table.

These plant-based tacos are inspired by a polycultural style of agriculture traditional to Indigenous North Americans. Three Sisters Tacos are perfect for big-batch meal prep and are adaptable to your taste preferences.

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Additional Time 1 minute
Total Time 31 minutes

Ingredients

  • Squash, Yam, or Sweet Potato: To stay true to the Three Sisters, I recommend using squash. However, in the video attached I am using one yam due to squashes being out of season.
  • Onion: I use one medium white onion, diced.
  • Black Beans: I’m using canned black beans. If you’d rather start from dry, more power to you! 
  • Sweet Corn: I’m using a can of sweet corn, but again if you would like to start from the cob, I’m sure it will taste better in the end!
  • Lime Juice: I used the juice of half of a lime in the whole batch. Use the remaining half to garnish-as-you-go with individual servings.\
  • Olive Oil: I used 3 Tablespoons; one for sauteing and two for roasting.
  • Salt & Pepper: No measurements, just to taste.
  • (Optional) Seasonings: Add whatever you’d like. I’m using a seasoning blend here.
  • Corn Tortillas: I always recommend buying local when you can. If you can’t find someone near you who makes fresh tortillas, you can always opt for store-bought!

Instructions

  1. To begin, preheat your oven to 400 degrees Ferinhiet (204 Celcius).
  2. Next, peel and cut your squash, yam, or sweet potato into bite-size pieces.
  3. Once chopped, add to a lined baking sheet.
  4. Drizzle and toss in olive oil, and add salt and pepper.
  5. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes or until tender. 
  6. On the stove, heat olive oil in a large skillet.
  7. Trust me, you will want a large skillet! Begin to saute one medium white onion.
  8. As that cooks, drain and rinse one can of black beans.
  9. Once the onion is mostly translucent, add the drained and rinsed black beans.
  10. While that is heating up, drain a can of sweet corn, and add that to the skillet as well. Mix these to combine.
  11. Once your squash, yam, or sweet potatoes are tender, remove them from the oven and add them to your skillet.
  12. Add the juice of half of a lime, and season to taste. When all of this is nice and hot, remove from the stove.
  13. Plate your tacos with whatever seasonings and toppings you’d like to and enjoy! 

Notes

The story of the Three Sisters garden came to me through Robin Wall Kimmerer's book Braiding Sweetgrass. Through this book, she shows that spirituality, reciprocity with the land, and scientific botany can all coexist beautifully. I highly recommend picking up a copy of her book! If your local bookstores don't sell it, you can always find it on Amazon.

For now, here's a little backstory, and an excerpt from the above-mentioned book:

The Three Sisters garden is a polycultural style of agriculture traditional to Indigenous North Americans. Corn, beans, and squash are planted simultaneously, and their growth cycles benefit one another. The corn provides a steady stalk for the bean to circle around; the beans help to provide the soil with necessary nitrogen, and the squash's large leaves help to deter competing plants and lock moisture into the soil. Kimmerer says it beautifully:

“The corn is the firstborn and grows straight and stiff it is a stem with a lofty goal. Laddering upward, leaf by long-ribbed leaf, it must grow tall quickly… It needs to be there for its younger sister, the bean. [At first] the bean focuses on leaf growth while the corn concentrates on hight. Just about the time that the corn is knee high, the bean shoot changes its mind… [and] extends itself into a long vine, a slender green string with a mission. In this teenage phase, hormones set the shoot tip to wandering, inscribing a circle in the air… pirouetting in a loopy circle dance until it finds what it’s looking for— a corn stem or some other vertical support… For now, it holds back on making leaves, giving itself over to embracing the corn… Meanwhile, the squash, late bloomer of the family, is steadily extending herself over the ground… As the leaves grow wider, they shelter the soil at the base of the corn and beans, keeping moisture in, and other plants out. Native people speak of this gardening style as the Three Sisters.”

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to Recipe