tips & tricks


Cooking and connecting with heirloom selections.


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Steve Smith, founder of Chili Smith Family Foods

Beans: They’re good for the planet and our health, yet, around the world, people eat only a fraction of the amount of beans that our ancestors enjoyed in centuries past. Beans lose out to convenience, even though they remain an affordable alternative to meat. Admittedly, cooking dry beans can seem daunting when recipes often call for soaking as long as 12 hours prior to cooking for another hour or two.

For readers with the good fortune of living in the Sacramento area, Chili Smith Family Foods is on hand to help make cooking and eating beans both easy and delicious. The Carmichael storefront location offers three monthly classes. Dozens of heirloom varieties stock the shelves, and the freezer is full of wholly cooked dishes, with a focus on chili. Knowledgeable staff members field questions on topics ranging from the regenerative farming practices employed by Thornton-based Mohr-Fry Ranches, where the beans are grown, to how to reduce bean-induced gas and bloating. Beyond sharing knowledge, the Chili Smith team is committed to bringing people together around healthy, delicious food.

Pressure cookers are the historic timesaving alternative to long cooking times. The Instant Pot further reduces cooking times, so that soaking is optional and what used to take as long as 12 hours now can be accomplished in as little as 30 minutes. Choosing not to soak may lead to more gas, however. The starches responsible for bean-induced flatulence are water soluble, so discarding soak water makes the end product easier on the digestive tract.

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Spilling the beans

Like other heirloom varietals, beans sold at Chili Smith have been selected by generations of farmers and cooks for factors such as flavor and cooking properties. This differentiates them from many of the beans on supermarket shelves that offer farmers bigger yields and whose uniformity makes processing easier. The Christmas Lima is on the Slow Food USA Ark of Taste, a status reserved for high-quality, regional, heritage foods that are not widely produced. These mottled maroon and white beans are each the size of a quarter and so meaty that committed carnivores enjoy them as an entrée. This spring, Chili Smith’s Christmas Limas were delivered to schools around the country as part of Slow Food’s Plant a Seed kit.

Chili Smith’s founder, Steve Smith, was introduced to what he first pronounced as “hair”-loom beans by an article in Bon Appétit magazine. Smith substituted heirloom varietals for kidney beans in the chili that was once a mainstay at the Smith family’s Northern California restaurant chain, Mandy’s Pancake House. Smith was awestruck by how high-quality beans improved his already-great chili.

Some Chili Smith customers are committed to plant-based diets, while others pair their beans with meat and dairy products. All agree on the importance of selecting the best heirloom ingredients. The humble bean can be a powerful tool for connection and learning.

A transplant from Vermont, writer Edye Kuyper is rooted in Sacramento, where year-round gardening bolsters her mental health. She spends her workdays at University of California, Davis, supporting small-scale farmers around the world in their efforts to produce more food.


East Side Salsa
(adapted from The Engine 2 Cookbook by Rip and Jane Esselstyn. Courtesy of Twyla Teitzel, cooking instructor, Chili Smith Family Foods in Carmichael. Makes about 6, ½-cup servings)

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East Side Salsa

2 avocados, cubed
1 red onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh, organic cilantro, chopped
2 cups Chili Smith Hidatsa Red Beans, cooked*
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Zest from 2 limes

In bowl, combine all ingredients and gently toss together so that nothing gets smooshed too much. Serve over baked potatoes, rice, cucumber boats — anything and everything!

*To prepare Hidatsa Red Beans on the stovetop, soak overnight (8 to 10 hours), discard soaking water, and rinse beans, then cook in fresh water for about 1 hour or until soft. If using an Instant Pot, add 1 part beans to 3 parts water, press the “beans” button, and let the pressure naturally release for fully cooked beans in 40 minutes.

Chili Smith Family Foods

5907 Fair Oaks Blvd., Carmichael • 800-434-2929 •