You are probably thinking how boring…cafeteria food. Well, yes succotash dumped out of a freezer bag and boiled to death has given it a bad rap, but the back story of succotash is a tale of Native American ingenuity that goes back 4000 years. Succotash or “misckquatash” in the native Narragansett language of Alonquin Indians in north America literally means broken corn kernels. Succotash in its simplest form is a dish of fresh corn and beans that is especially popular for Thanksgiving celebrations in New England, Pennsylvania, and the Deep South.
We North Americans all know the ingredients. A combination of seasonally fresh corn and broad beans, often mixed with peppers, squash, and tomatoes, all of which are native to North, Central, and South America.
Long ago, Native Central Americans devised a system of sustainable farming called Milpa, meaning growing a variety of crops in the same field that restrained insect infestations and diseases, and replenished the soil for future crops for generations that followed. Milpa translates as maize field in the Maya language and embodies a sacred bond between the farmer with his land and crops. Corn did not occur in the wild, but evolved through cross breading of native plants in Mexico’s Yucatan and became a staple food throughout the Americas long before the Europeans arrived.
Fortunately there is a renewed interest in the wisdom of ancestral native farming practices that are in direct contrast with the industrial agro farming practices that began in the ’50’s under the guise of modernity. Today’s industrial agro framing practices have left us with depleted soil that requires chemical fertilizers and pesticides to produce industrial sized harvests that denigrate our ecosystem in the process. What we are left with is damaged soil, toxic runoff, polluted air, and a deteriorating climate.
Sustainable farming is a noble endeavor that has lasting benefits far beyond putting wholesome nourishing food on the table. We are after all the sum of what we eat.
The following recipe is my own version of northeastern American succotash, with an inclusive nod to the American Southwest. By all means feel free to make your own regional substitutions. For a Mexican version of succotash called “calabacitas” (see here)
Succotash serves 6
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced
- 8oz/225g green beans or broad beans
- 4 ears of fresh corn on the cob
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
- several large shallots (or red onion) peeled and minced, about 1 cup
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoon butter
- 3 cups stock
- 2 tablespoon fresh marjoram leaves or 1 tablespoon dried
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon New Mexican red chile powder (or 1 teaspoon smoked paprika)
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
Cut each carrot in half lengthwise and then cut in half crosswise. Slice the pieces into small bite size dice and set aside.
Snap the stem end of the green beans and remove the strings. Divide the beans in half or thirds depending on the length of the beans and set aside.
Remove the husks and corn silk from the ears of corn. Using a sharp knife cut the kernels of the cob into a deep bowl. Then using the back edge of the knife scrap the cobs to extract the corn milk. Set the bowl aside to use later.
Slice the bell pepper into quarters lengthwise. Remove the seeds and white membrane. Slice the quarters lengthwise and then cut the slices into thirds and set aside
I prefer cooking the carrots, green beans, and corn individually so they retain their inherent textures.
Put the stock in a large sauce pan and add the carrots. When the stock begins to boil reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the carrots al dente; soft but retaining a bit of a bite. about 10 to 12 minutes. Using a mesh ladle remove the carrots and put them in a large bowl.
Using the same stock blanch the green beans in the simmering stock briefly until they turn a bright green, about 2 minutes. Using the mesh ladle remove the beans from the saucepan and put them in a separate bowl.
Again using the same stock cook the corn al dente, about 10 minutes. Using the mesh ladle transfer the corn to the bowl with the carrots.
Set the stock aside to use later.
Place a large skillet on the stove over medium low heat and add the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted add the shallots, or red onions, and saute until they are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and lightly season with salt and pepper and cook another minute or so.
Add the green beans and red bell peppers to the skillet and toss them with the shallots and cook a few minutes until just softened.
Add the carrots, corn, marjoram, sugar, nutmeg, and red chile powder (or smoked paprika) to the skillet and toss to evenly combine. Add 2/3 cup of the stock and cook until the stock is nearly evaporated.
Add a little more stock and cook for a minute or two. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Serving: Transfer the succotash to a serving bowl and serve at the table.