The ‘Three Sisters’ in Oaxacan food
The Three Sisters – maize (corn), beans and squash are three food crops that have been planted together all over the Americas since the advent of agriculture. These three plants work symbiotically – the corn gives the beans something to climb, the beans fix nitrogen to fertilize the soil and the squash grows low to the ground which stops the growth of too many weeds and their spiky leaves and stems deter some pests.
Many of my favourite Oaxacan dishes come from these three staple plants, grown together in milpas all over Mexico. Today we will explore two of them – frijoles negros and my favourite soup – sopa de guías.
Black beans are a staple in Oaxacan food, and when combined with corn they make for a healthy vegetarian meal with complete proteins. Beans are eaten in caldo (broth) – boiled with onions, garlic, salt and epazote (an herb that decreases their gas-creating effect), blended and cooked with hoja de aguacate (avocado leaf) to make pasta de frijol (bean paste) to use in tortas, memelas, tlayudas and tamales. Other common ways to eat beans are sopa de frijol (bean soup) or blended and poured over folded tortillas to make enfrijoladas.
My mother-in-law’s enfrijoladas (served with cheese, cream and tasajo) is my wife’s favourite dish. My favourite meal at our home in Oaxaca is guías.
Sopa de Guías
I know that my wife’s mom truly cares about me because when we come to visit she makes food that I can eat. When I first tried this soup I felt as though I had been missing out on this amazing, healthy and sustainable meal for way too long.
This soup uses every piece of the squash plant – the vines (guías), the blossoms (flor de calabaza) and the fruit (calabacitas). My mother-in-law always puts squash seeds (pepitas or semillas) on the table as a snack to go with it. It also includes pieces of corn on the cob, as well as ground corn to thicken it and the coolest thing of all – little corn balls called chochoyotes made of salty corn masa. It is seasoned with chepil (another Oaxacan herb) and we generally eat it with tlayudas and salsa. I’ve included a video below (in Spanish) so you can see how sopsa de guías is made and enjoyed in Oaxaca.