Chef Column: Invite the ‘three sisters’ for a happy 4th

Day by day did Hiawatha go to wait and watch …

Then he called to old Nokomis and Iagoo, the great boaster,
showed them where the maize was growing, told them of
his wondrous vision … of his wrestling and his triumph,
of his new gift to the nations, which should be their food forever.

And still later, when the Autumn changed the long, green leaves
to yellow, and the soft and juicy kernels grew like wampum hard
and yellow, the ripened ears he gathered, stripped the withered
husks from off them, as he once had stripped the wrestler,
gave the first feast of Mondamin and made known unto the people
this new gift of the Great Spirit.
from “The Song of Hiawatha”
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The “three sisters” refers to beans, corn and squash, which were ingeniously planted together by native American tribes. The beans needed poles on which to grow and the corn stalks provided the answer when the two were planted in the same row. The squash was planted between the rows of corn and beans and acted as an edible ground cover, keeping down the weeds and providing shade for the corn’s roots. Now, many years later, we realize just how ingenious this system was as we search for ways to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers. We also realize how healthy these “three sisters” are, as they are full of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Add to this the lean meat of venison and rabbit and you can see how the ancient American diet was pretty good. As we celebrate our nation’s birthday, here are some recipes that are based on the three sisters.

Char-grilled Succotash
Purchase 6 ears of corn, 1 zucchini, 1 summer squash, 1/2 pound of green beans, 1 red pepper and a package of frozen lima beans. Shuck the corn, trim the ends off the zucchini and squash and slice lengthwise into half-inch-thick pieces, cut the red pepper in half and clean out the seeds, trim the green beans into 1-inch pieces and thaw out the lima beans. Light a char-grill (or start a gas grill) and wait until the coals are white.
Brush the corn and squash with canola oil and toss the remaining vegetables with a little oil. Grill the corn, zucchini, squash and pepper until just cooked, about 5 minutes, and remove. Place the green beans and the lima beans in a perforated grill bowl and place over the coals. Cover and stir occasionally until cooked, about 5 minutes.
Cut the corn off the cobs and place into a large bowl. Dice the zucchini, pepper and squash and add to the bowl along with the cooked green beans and lima beans. Toss all the vegetables together and add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/2 cup chopped red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Season with 1 tablespoon cumin, 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper and a few drops of Tabasco sauce. Taste for seasoning and serve warm as is, or refrigerate and serve cold.
Serves 4-6.

Black Bean Burito
(The Un-Hot Dog)
This healthy mixture of the three sisters, cooked on a char-grill and wrapped in a flour tortilla, can be a great substitute for the traditional hot dog at the Fourth of July barbecue.
Shuck 6 ears of corn, brush with canola oil and char-grill for 5 minutes. Slice the kernels of corn off the cob and place in a bowl. Cut 1 red pepper in half, clean out the seeds, and char-grill until just cooked. Dice and set aside. Trim the ends off 3 zucchini and shred them on the large holes of a hand grater. Wrap the shredded zucchini in a cook’s towel and squeeze out as much moisture as possible.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons canola oil. When hot, add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper and the shredded zucchini. Cook for 3 minutes and add 1 can of black beans (rinsed), the reserved red pepper and the reserved corn. Season with 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 teaspoon cumin, 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.
To finish the burrito, place a 10-inch flour tortilla on the grill and cook until grill marks appear, about 2 minutes per side. Put the tortilla on a large piece of foil and spoon about 1 cup of filling in the center. Shred 1/4 cup cheddar cheese on top of this along with 2 tablespoons tomato salsa and 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro. Fold in the ends of the tortilla and roll into a cylinder resembling a hot dog.
Makes 6 tortillas.

Corn Dog
Skewer 8 hot dogs on wooden skewers. Combine 3/4 cup cornmeal, 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon baking powder in a bowl. Whisk these dry ingredients together and add 1 beaten egg and 1/2 cup milk. If batter is very thick, add a little more milk. Transfer the batter to a shallow pan.
Heat 3 cups vegetable oil in a wide, shallow saucepan to about 350 degrees. Dip the skewered hot dogs in the batter and place them in the hot oil. Cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve with roasted corn.

Roasted Corn
Peel back the husks of 8 ears of very fresh corn, leaving them attached. Remove the silk and put the husks back in place. Soak the ears in water for about 20 minutes. While they are soaking, prepare an herb butter by softening 1/4 pound unsweetened butter. Stir in 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced shallot, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Chill slightly while roasting the corn.
Place the soaked corn on the char-grill and close the lid. The corn will steam inside the husks. When the husks dry out and begin to brown, remove the corn from the fire and peel back some of the husk. Spoon some of the herb butter on the hot corn and fold the husks back in place before serving. Serve with corn dogs and cold beer.
Serves 4-8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected].