Three Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping

CasseroleVegetarianBeanSquash

This hearty Three Sisters Casserole is made with corn, beans, and squash, and topped with cornbread biscuits. It makes a great meatless main dish or vegetarian side!

Photography Credit: Megan Gordon

I first heard of Three Sisters Casserole almost twenty years ago, back in the dining hall in my college dorm in Boulder, Colorado. This hearty casserole always made an appearance in the fall: a mélange of seemingly canned veggies with a cornbread topping.

It wasn’t always the most popular thing on the buffet table, but as a vegetarian it became my go-to, and I knew if it were made with better ingredients it could really be a home run.

This year, as I started to think about fall menu planning, the flavors from that Three Sisters Casserole kept coming to mind. I thought, “There has to be a way to make this vegetarian main dish stand out and truly shine . . . ” Translation: no canned veggies!

WHAT ARE THE “THREE SISTERS”?

If you’ve never heard of the “three sisters,” they were the three predominant crops planted by Native Americans: corn, beans, and squash.

They were called the three sisters because they were planted close to one another—each plant had traits that helped the others grow. The corn proved to be great structure for the beans, the beans provided nitrogen to the soil, and the squash helped prevent weeds by spreading itself along the ground.

Vegetarian three sisters casserole

THREE SISTERS CASSEROLE FROM SCRATCH

My version takes the Southwest classic further by amping up the spice profile, tossing in a few greens for extra color and nutrition, and adding a rustic cornbread biscuit topping. Fresh veggies makes for a more interesting, toothsome texture!

Also, there’s no shame in buying pre-diced and peeled winter squash if you’re so inclined. It’s usually a little more expensive but saves you time.

Want to make your beans from scratch, too? Here’s how to make them on the stovetop or in the pressure cooker!

How to Make-Ahead or Freeze

Feel free to make the filling in advance. It keeps, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When you’re ready to bake off the casserole, the topping takes no time to whisk together. You can get the whole thing in the oven and dinner is ready in 30 minutes.

The casserole itself will also keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator, and freezes beautifully, too. To reheat, I let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight and simply warm in a 300°F oven until heated through (or microwave if you’d like).

Vegan three sisters casserole

MORE VEGETARIAN SQUASH RECIPES:

Three Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping Recipe

  • Prep time: 35 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

For the cornbread topping:

  • 1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (or your favorite all-purpose gluten-free flour blend)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup water

For the filling: 

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound butternut or kabocha squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 cups chopped greens (such as spinach or kale)

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

2 Make the filling: In a large, high-sided skillet or Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over medium heat until it’s shimmering and add the onions. Cook until translucent, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional minute.

Add the squash, tomatoes, tomato paste, spices, and salt. Stir in the broth and bring mixture to a boil.

3 Simmer the filling: Cover the pot and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 15 to 18 minutes, or until squash is tender.

4 Make the cornbread topping while the filling simmers: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir in the butter, milk, and water; mix only until just combined. Set aside and let it sit for ten minutes or so, while the filling simmers.

5 Add the rest of the ingredients to the filling: Stir in the corn, beans, and greens into the filling, and continue cooking, covered, for 3 to 5 minutes, until mixture has thickened slightly and all the ingredients are incorporated.

5 Transfer to baking dish and bake: Scrape the filling into the prepared pan and top with generous biscuit-sized clumps of cornbread topping (this can be rustic and uneven).

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown.

6 Serve: Remove from the oven allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

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Megan Gordon

Megan Gordon is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Simply Recipes. She's the author of Whole Grain Mornings and her blog, A Sweet Spoonful, focuses on healthy seasonal cooking and baking.

More from Megan

16 Comments / Reviews

No ImageThree Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Susan Odiseos

    Looks GREAT, except for inclusion of milk, which isn’t vegan. Can I replace the milk with vegetable broth without harming this recipe?

    Show Replies (2)
  2. Angela McConnell

    Thank you Megan for a wonderful recipe. I saw it posted on in a vegan challenge page and it sounded so good. I adapted it for plant based lifestyle and it was delicious. With your permission I would like to share it with friends on my face book page? Thewholefoodway.

    Thank you,
    Angela

    Show Replies (1)
  3. Tina

    AMAZING!! I made it exactly as directed to take to a friends house a few weeks ago after they lost a loved one. I hadn’t tried it but it looked promising. They LOVED it! I finally made it myself tonight. I doubled it and didn’t have exact ingredients so had to make some adjustments: I used frozen squash that I had cubed up before and only had one can of kidney beans so used that and a can of pintos. Since I doubled it I went ahead and threw in a whole can of tomato paste. I also sauteed in veg stock instead of oil. I had only one can fire roasted tomatoes so did that and a can of diced tomatoes. I think I would definitely stick with fire roasted if you have them. I wasn’t sure if the 2 cups chopped spinach was measured before or after chopping so I measured after. I cant believe how delicious this was even with the changes. I omitted the corn bread because I am watching what I am eating and just baked without it. No issues. :) thank you so much for such a versatile, delicious recipe. The flavors were so amazing together I felt like I was indulging!!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. davidp

    Slamming Delicious!! Butternut squash…awesome surprise. This recipe is now permanently placed in my rotation.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  5. Rachel Knecht

    I love this recipe! It is so easy to put together (especially when I buy precut squash) and absolutely delicious. Can’t wait to make again!

    xxxxxyyyyy

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