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4 Recipes With Corn, Beans, and Squash—The ‘Three Sisters’ Ingredients That Blue Zone Centenarians in Costa Rica Eat Every Day

Photo: Stocksy/Jeremy Pawlowski
In Costa Rica, “pura vida” has become much more than just a slogan; it’s a way of life. The popular expression, which translates to “pure life,” has been used by locals for decades as a casual way of saying “everything’s good” or as a way to describe Costa Rican lifestyle and culture.

As the saying pura vida indicates, Costa Ricans certainly know a thing or two about living life to the fullest, as it’s the home to some of the longest-living people in the world. Nicoya, an 80-mile peninsula in Costa Rica just south of the Nicaraguan border, has been identified by longevity expert, bestselling author, and National Geographic researcher Dan Buettner as one of the five Blue Zones regions—aka the parts of the planet that are home to the oldest-living people—due to its abundance of centenarians.

So, what’s the key to healthy aging for many folks residing in the Nicoya Peninsula? Aside from maintaining a strong sense of purpose, feeling connected to their community, and moving throughout the day (as well as a number of other longevity-boosting lifestyle habits), Costa Ricans tend to consume a healthy diet comprised of a trifecta of super nutritious ingredients dubbed the “three sisters,” aka corn, beans, and squash. We’ve gathered a few delicious, nutrient-rich three sisters recipes made with these ingredients that will bring a bit of pura vida to wherever you reside.

Health benefits of the “three sisters” ingredients

The three sister ingredients—corn, beans, and squash—stem from the traditional Mesoamerican diet that many Nicoyan centenarians follow. People in this region tend to eat light dinners early in the evening, comprised of these simple, nutritious foods. Most meals in the Nicoya Peninsula incorporate plant-based, nutrient-dense, and protein-rich ingredients like legumes and vegetables (which make up about 21 percent of their diet), three sisters included.

According to Blue Zones research, squash, beans, and corn are grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together, as they provide a symbiotic growing relationship, as well as a complete nutritional profile. When growing, the corn provides a trellis for the beans, beans add nitrogen to the soil, and the squash shades out the weeds. Nature is incredible, right?

What's more, just like they complement and support one another as they grow in a field, the three sisters pair even more perfectly together when cooking delicious, nutrient-dense meals. Corn provides gut-healthy fiber plus tons of vitamins and phytochemicals that help combat inflammation in the body. Meanwhile, beans are rich in protein and fiber, and squash yields antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin A, calcium, magnesium, and a host of carotenoids. Plus, when consumed together, these plant-based foods form what's known as a complete protein, meaning they provide your body with all nine essential amino acids. And then there's the incredible versatile flavor profile of these foods; you'd be hard-pressed to find an ingredient that corn, beans, and squash don't pair with.

Ready to incorporate corn, beans, and squash—the perfect fall foods—into your every dish? Read on for some delicious, easy to make three sisters recipes.

4 longevity-boosting three sisters recipes

three sisters recipes
Photo: Veg Kitchen

1. Three Sisters Stew

While you certainly don’t have to eat the “three sisters” ingredients together every single time, it may be one of the best ways to get the most amount of nutrients in one serving. If productivity is the name of the game, this easy three sisters stew recipe by Veg Kitchen might catch your attention. It’s made with (you guessed it!) tender squash, protein-packed beans, and fresh corn and comes together in less than an hour. Aside from being a perfect hearty weeknight meal, it can also be the perfect veggie-forward side dish for Thanksgiving dinner, too.

Get the recipe: “Three Sisters” Stew

three sisters recipes
Photo: Simply Recipes

2. Three Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping

Just like the three sisters have the perfect symbiotic relationship when planted close to one another (as they have traits that nurture and help the others grow), this vegetarian three sisters casserole with cornbread topping recipe by Simply Recipes is a match made in heaven. It’s packed with anti-inflammatory spices like chili powder and nutrient-dense greens like spinach or kale. Plus, the casserole gets finished with a delicious crunchy cornbread biscuit topping that’s simply irresistible.

Get the recipe: Three Sisters Casserole with Cornbread Topping

three sisters recipes
Photo: Brand New Vegan

3. Three Sisters Stew

Fall is officially here, and that means cozy and comforting soups all season long. This simple three sisters stew recipe by Brand New Vegan can be made in just about half an hour and is just as nutrient-dense as it is delicious to eat. Aside from our favorite three sisters, this recipe also has other nutritious staple ingredients like lycopene-rich tomatoes and fiber-rich potatoes. So, the next time you’re struggling with what to make for dinner (yet again), consider this dish your problem solved.

Get the recipe: Three Sisters Stew

three sisters recipes
Photo: Suwannee Rose

4. Sisters Harvest Bowl

If your favorite cowboy caviar recipe got a major gut-healthy and protein-packed glow-up, it would definitely become this sisters harvest bowl recipe by Suwannee Rose. This delicious dish has our favorite longevity-boosting ingredients plus a healthy serving of grains (in this case, quinoa), which happens to be another one of the must-have foods Nicoyans eat on a daily basis. After all, on average, 26 percent of the Nicoyan diet is based on whole grains like quinoa. Plus, quinoa is also a great source of calcium and folate, and it’s full of fiber, with five grams per serving.

Get the recipe: Sisters Harvest Bowls

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