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Vegan Three Sisters Chili

Sharon Palmer

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

Three Sisters: Beans, Corn, and Squash

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).

Watch me make this recipe in my Instagram Live Plant-Based Cooking Class here.


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Vegan Three Sisters Chili

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  • Author: The Plant-Powered Dietitian
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes (not including soaking time)
  • Yield: 10 servings 1x
  • Diet: Vegan


This vegan, gluten-free chili is inspired by the story of the “Three Sisters,” the Native American agricultural tradition of planting beans, squash, and corn together.



  • 1 pound red beans (i.e., kidney, small red, cranberry), dried
  • 7 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), ground using mortar and pestle
  • 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, mint or sage, as desired


  1. Soak beans overnight in water.
  2. Drain and place beans in a large pot. Add fresh water, 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. May add additional water lost to evaporation as needed—should make thick, stew-like consistency. Add fresh mint and stir well. Remove bay leaves. Season with salt, if desired. May serve with fresh tarragon, mint or sage, as desired.


Instant Pot Directions: Skip step 1. Follow steps 2-3, placing all ingredients, except garnish, in the container of the Instant Pot. Press “Bean/Chili” setting. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions. Garnish as desired with tarragon, mint, or sage. Serve immediately.

Slow Cooker Directions: Soak beans in water overnight as in step 1. Follow step 2-3; draining beans and placing them in slow cooker container, along with all ingredients (except for garnish). Cook on high for 4-6 hours or on low for 8-12 hours until tender. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions. Garnish as desired with tarragon, mint, or sage. Serve immediately.

  • Category: Soup
  • Cuisine: American


  • Serving Size: 1 serving
  • Calories: 216
  • Sugar: 9 G
  • Sodium: 233 mg
  • Fat: 1 g
  • Saturated Fat: 0 g
  • Carbohydrates: 43 g
  • Fiber: 9 g
  • Protein: 12 g

Keywords: soup, vegan chili, healthy vegan chili

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

Curried Leek Vegetable Soup
Quinoa Corn Bean Chowder
Classic Tomato Soup

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