Monday, October 11, 2010

Three Sisters Soup

For this soup, I followed rather closely the recipe for "Three Sisters Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings" from the blog Strawberry Pepper.  It made a lot, but it's really hearty and delicious.  The flavors confused me a little bit: the predominant impression I got was of Cajun cooking (onion, bell pepper, thyme, chili seasoning, cornmeal), but then there's also squash, and there's cilantro and lime juice,  Leila, the author, explains that the soup uses "the three sister crops that were the Native American harvest staples: corn, squash, and beans"; I just did some googling and learned more about the history of the relationship between these three for some Native American groups (see wikipedia, for example).  The lime juice gave the soup a nice sour kick, but I wasn't sure that cilantro did much after having been simmered for twenty minutes.  Which reminds me, as much as I liked this soup, the greens and squash were really soft; I would have liked them a little less cooked.

I made only a few changes: first, instead of chili powder, I used paprika, cumin, and cayenne pepper.  Secondly, I only made a half batch of the dumplings, which filled the surface of the soup.  But, then I picked out all the dumplings and ate them, so I had to make more later to add back in.

Finally, I like how in her post on this recipe, Leila writes about the mindfulness that cooking can help cultivate--thinking about where your ingredients, skills, recipes, traditions come from.  The two tomatoes in this soup were a gift to me from my friend Alex's garden--at the time, they were the only two tomatoes to have come from said garden.

Three Sisters Soup with Cornmeal Dumplings

1 TB canola oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 small or 1 large sweet pepper (e.g. bell pepper, banana, or cubanelle)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 c beer
4-5 c water or vegetable stock (use at least mostly broth)
1-3 tsp salt (to taste, will depend on the broth you use–but don’t skimp!)
4 c butternut squash, peeled & chopped to 1/2 inch cubes
1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch swiss chard, washed and chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
1/4 c cilantro, chopped
2 TB lime juice (or to taste)
1 1/3 c all purpose flour
2/3 c cornmeal
4 tsp packed brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 TB margarine
1 c soy milk

1. In the widest stock pot you have, heat the oil on medium-low heat. Soften the onions, garlic, and peppers for 15 minutes.
2. Add the oregano, thyme, paprika, cumin, and cayenne, and fry for 30 seconds. Add the beer to deglaze the pan.
3. Add the broth/water, salt, and the squash. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, mix together the dumplings: Add all of the dry ingredients to a large bowl. Use your fingers or a pastry cutter to blend in the margarine until there are no large chunks. Stir in the soy milk, and set the dumplings aside for 5-10 minutes.
5. Add the chopped swiss chard, beans, tomatoes, cilantro, and lime to the stew. Return the pot to a steady simmer over medium-low heat.
6. With wet hands, form the dumplings into ping-pong sized balls (or smaller), and drop each ball on top of the simmering stew. Cover the pot and let it cook undisturbed for 20 minutes, or until the dumplings are puffed up and cooked through. Ladle stew and dumplings into bowls and serve it hot.

Note: If your stock pot is not very wide, you may want to cut the dumpling recipe in half so that they do not crowd the pot. They puff up quite a bit as they steam. I really like the dumplings, so this makes a lot of dumpling as written.

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