Corn, beans and squash come together with spinach, garlic and onions to make a complete meal-in-a-pot.
This recipe was first created for our Thanksgiving-based Time Warp Cooking class. Corn, beans and squash are considered by many native people to be female spirits and are often called "the Three Sisters." The three crops are traditionally planted together to help each other flourish.
3/4 cups dried Great Northern beans, rinsed and picked over
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth, salted
2 cups diced winter squash (about 3/4-inch to 1-inch cubes)
1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into large chunks
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt (or half as much if using table salt)
Ground black pepper
1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped or torn spinach leaves
2-3 Tablespoons thinly sliced chives or scallions
1. Combine the beans and broth in a large soup pot or Dutch oven on the stove. Discard any beans that float.
2. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. As the broth comes to a boil and you see steam escaping from underneath the lid, turn the heat to medium-low, give the beans a stir and cover with the lid askew. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. While the beans simmer, confirm the oven rack is in the middle position and preheat to 400 degrees. While the oven heats, combine the squash, onion, garlic cloves and olive oil in a bowl with the salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Mix everything together to evenly combine.
4. Spread the squash mixture onto a large baking sheet so that the mixture isn't crowded too close together. Giving it some extra space will help it brown and firm up, rather than just steaming and softening. (If the squash pieces are too soft, they'll fall apart in the soup.) Roast for about 30 minutes, until squash is carmelized and easily pierced with a fork but not too soft.
5. When the squash mixture is done, find the two garlic cloves and set them aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, squeeze the softened roasted garlic bulbs out of their skins and into a small bowl. Add a large spoonful of cooking liquid from the beans and mash the garlic with a fork into a slurry or loose paste. Add this to the soup pot with the beans.
6. When the beans have simmered for an hour, use a spoon to scoop a few out of the pot and test them to see if they're done. You can test by tasting the beans and/or blowing on them - when they're done, their skin will peel back when you blow on them. (Older beans may take a bit longer to cook.) When you've decided the beans are done, add the roasted squash mixture to the beans and stir gently to combine.
7. Add the corn, spinach and chives to the soup and stir to combine. Put the lid on askew and allow the soup to come to a gentle simmer for just a few minutes, while the flavors come together.
8. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed. If it seems too thick or too salty (unlikely), add a little water. When it tastes fantastic, you're done!
If you like to soak your beans, go for it, but I almost never do. Food science writer and chef J. Kenji Lopez-Alt has written about many beans not requiring soaking, and I find that it's an extra step I almost never think of and usually find unnecessary (whatever time it saves in cooking was spent the evening before in soaking, so...?). But again, if you feel like you want to do it, be my guest. Cooking time may be somewhat reduced, so you might want to check after about 40 minutes or so.
Be sure to enjoy this soup with some crusty French bread, and consider taking a moment to say a little thank you for all the wise women who have made your life a little more delicious.