The Three Sisters
The three sisters crops—corn (or maize), squash, and beans came to be cultivated by Native Americans in Mexico as long as 7,500 years ago. While Native Americans originally relied on wild foraged food for sustenance, overpopulation and other societal changes led to a transition to agriculture over a period of about 5,000 years.
The relationship between people and their cultivated crops was less cultivator/cultivated and more “a symbiotic relationship, where both the plants and the humans depend on one another.” According to anthropologist Amanda J. Landon. Both humans and plants selected for certain genetic traits that would serve one another over the course of time.
Maize, or corn (a plant native to the Americas), squash, and beans were grown together to maximize growing environments for each species. The corn provided a solid stalk for the bean vine to climb, and the beans provided nitrogen fixing qualities that enriched the soil for all three. Low-growing squash provides shade that minimizes weed growth. Corn and beans, when processed and eaten together, also provide a complete protein.
Cultivation, over time, leads to plants that have “changed drastically in terms of physiology, morphology, and genetics from wild populations (Landon 120).” All three plants developed genetic qualities in response to human attention that made them unable to exist outside of the “human niche.” While this symbiotic relationship has benefitted humans for millenia, we have reached a tipping point where our government subsidized agricultural practices are wiping out genetic diversity and turning corn into a monster crop used to produce some of our most harmful and ubiquitous substances (high fructose corn syrup, anyone?)
THREE SISTERS TACOS (RECIPE)
Makes 15-20 tacos
2 cups masa harina
1/2 teaspoon salt
1.5 cups hot water
Combine masa harina and salt. Add hot water and stir to combine. Knead until smooth and no longer sticky. The dough should feel springy. Let rest for 15 mins, if time permits.
Break off a small nugget of dough, roll into a ball then press between 2 sheets of plastic with a tortilla press or roll out thinly with a rolling pin.
Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Cook tortillas for 1-2 mins per side.
BEAN AND CORN SALSA:
1 can (14 oz.) black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups frozen corn kernels
1 small red bell pepper, seeded & chopped
2 scallions, chopped
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt & pepper to taste
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
Combine all ingredients and let rest for 10-15 minutes at least for flavors to meld.
ROASTED SQUASH CUBES:
1 medium-large butternut or other hard squash, peeled, or 2 medium zucchini or summer squash
2 tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 425℉. Seed and cube squash of choice. Coat with oil, salt, and pepper and roast until lightly browned and soft enough to pierce through.
SPICY CILANTRO SAUCE:
1 or 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cup cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
optional: ½ medium jalapeno, seeded or not
Combine garlic, salt, cilantro, jalapeno if using, and cayenne in a blender or food processor. Process until just broken down and combined. While processing, drizzle in olive oil and lemon juice and process until smooth.
Fill tortillas with a few roasted squash cubes, a spoonful of salsa, a drizzle of cilantro sauce, and some sliced avocado.