Three Sisters Chili (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

Sharon Palmer

Here’s a history and sustainability lesson all wrapped up with your next meal. This delicious, healthy chili is inspired by the story of the “Three Sisters”, a Native American agricultural tradition of planting beans, squash, and maize (corn) together. 

The Three Sisters growing in my garden at home in California.
I used these heritage kidney beans in my Three Sisters Chili.

This planting style was practiced by the indigenous peoples of the Americas dating back to 1000 A.D. The corn was planted in a mound, a bean was planted at the base, using the corn as a pole, and the squash created a canopy, controlling sun exposure and soil moisture levels. This system also helped achieve biological interactions among pests and weeds, and contributed nitrogen to the soil through the cultivation of legumes. The Native Americans really knew something about sustainability! There was also enormous nutritional value for the pairing of these nutrient-rich foods: legumes, grains, and vegetables.

The Native Americans also had a bounty of indigenous herbs and spices at their fingertips, which they used in cooking, including bay leaves, juniper berries, tarragon, mint, and chilies. I included all of these spices in my Three Sisters Chili, along with tomatoes and bell peppers (both originating in the Americas).


Three Sisters Chili (Vegan, Gluten-Free)

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  • Author: The Plant-Powered Dietitian
  • Yield: 10 servings 1x


  • 1 pound red beans (i.e., kidney, small red, cranberry), dried
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube (gluten-free)
  • 1 small acorn squash, peeled, cubed (about 2 ¼ cups)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries (available at spice shops or online)
  • 2 teaspoons ground, dried sage
  • ½1 teaspoon crushed red chili pepper (according to taste preference)
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
  • Sea salt (optional)
  • Fresh tarragon and sage, if desired


  1. Soak beans overnight in water.
  2. Drain and place beans in a large pot. Add fresh water (4 cups), vegetable bouillon cube, squash, onion, garlic, celery, pepper, bay leaves, juniper berries, sage, chili pepper, tarragon, and corn. Stir well, cover, and bring to a heat. Simmer over medium-low for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. May need to replace water lost to evaporation.
  3. Add tomato sauce and tomato paste. Cook for an additional 15-30 minutes, until thick and beans are tender. Add fresh mint and stir well. Remove bay leaves. Season with salt, if desired. May serve with fresh tarragon and sage, if desired.


Instant Pot Directions: Place all ingredients in the container of the Instant Pot. Press “Bean/Chili” setting. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve immediately.

Slow Cooker Directions. Place all ingredients in the container of the Slow Cooker. Cook on low for 4-6 hours or on high for 8-12 hours. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions. Serve immediately.


  • Serving Size: 1 serving
  • Calories: 124
  • Sugar: 5 g
  • Sodium: 42 mg
  • Fat: 1 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrates: 26 g
  • Fiber: 6 g
  • Protein: 6 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 mg

For other plant-based soup recipes, try the following:

Curried Leek Vegetable Soup
Quinoa Corn Bean Chowder
Classic Tomato Soup

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