Food Services Makes Headlines

Food Services Makes Headlines
Posted on 08/23/2021
This is the image for the news article titled Food Services Makes HeadlinesAs a Community member and Food Services Manager for Salt River Schools, Shannon Reina strives to incorporate traditional cultural foods with the meals she and her team serve to students and staff during the school year. Check out some of the traditional recipes she has shared with us over the years: Poshol & Brownies, and Salad & Vinaigrette

Recently, Shannon was featured in an AZCentral (Arizona Republic) article, "How to make the desert protein bowl that's helping Arizona students connect with heritage." If the link doesn't work, we've added the text and images below. 

Shannon was also featured on "Chef in the Garden."

AZCentral text and images

How to make the desert protein bowl that's helping Arizona students connect with heritage
Welcome to Homemade, a monthly series from The Republic featuring family recipes and the stories behind them.

By Priscilla Totiyapungprasert
Arizona Republic

Shannon Reina stirs the brown tepary beans simmering in a slow cooker she brought from home to Salt River High School. For her, the nutty smell brings back memories of holiday gatherings — of aunts and cousins playing volleyball outside her grandparents' house, of circling around a fire pit making bread.

On this particular day, Reina is making a bean bowl she and her sister Melissa Rave, a librarian at Salt River Tribal Library, came up with to feed a group of visiting triathletes competing in the Arizona Ironman. The athletes had come to Salt River High School to talk to students, and wanted to eat on campus.
Food Services Manager Shannon Reina in the SRHS kitchen.

The dish, a protein power bowl that makes use of indigenous tepary beans, has since become an occasional menu item at Salt River Schools, and may soon be added to the recipe book for all Arizona public school districts.

What are tepary beans?
Tepary beans, or bavi, are a drought-tolerant legume native to the Sonoran desert. Indigenous people, including the O'odham and Piipaash, have cultivated the bean for more than a thousand years.

Reina and Rave are members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, one of the 22 federally recognized Tribes in Arizona. They order their tepary beans from Ramona Farms, located on the Gila River Reservation. Led by Ramona Button, an Akimel O'odham farmer, the family-run business grows and sells other traditional foods, such as wheat berries, corn and pinole, a type of roasted ground maize.
Cooked brown tepary beans.

Ramona Farms's website describes white tepary beans, or stotoah bavi, as having a sweet yet savory flavor and creamy texture. Brown tepary beans, or s-oam bavi, have a slightly nutty flavor and can retain their shape and firmness. Black tepary beans, or s-chuuk bavi, are a rarer variety with a firm texture and meaty flavor.

Reina said she and her family grew up on beans, primarily pinto and lima. Tepary beans only came out for special occasions and big family gatherings, like Thanksgiving, because they were such a rare crop.

Thanksgivings usually meant 65 or more people gathered at their grandparents' one-story, off-white brick house. Children got dirty playing outside and family members spilled from the kitchen to the dining room to the living room and out the door. Much of the day revolved around cooking — making tortillas outside over a fire or preparing frybread inside on a stove.

The family typically served creamy white tepary beans in a hearty broth with oxtail and some beef bones. The sturdy brown tepary beans were boiled overnight with Pima wheat berries and roasted corn to make poṣol (pronounced poshol).

Later, when a team of triathletes visited the school where Reina worked and asked for a meal, the sisters came up with a way to bring this ingredient from their childhoods to both the athletes and the students en masse.

How an Ironman athlete helped bring tepary beans to schools
Rave remembered sitting in front of the television as a child and watching with awe as athletes competed in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaiʻi. After a 2.4 mile swim in the sea, the competitors hopped on their bikes for a 112-mile ride across a lava desert — impossible, she thought.
SRPMIC Tribal Librarian Melissa Rave (left) makes a tepary bean bowl with her sister, Shannon Reina (Salt River Schools Food Services Manager).

But another thought followed: "I wanna try that some day. People do it. I can do it."

In 2005, Tempe and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community hosted the inaugural Arizona Ironman. The annual race kicks off with the swimming leg in Tempe Town Lake, followed by a three-loop bike ride through the reservation before finishing with a 26.2-mile run around Tempe Town Lake and Papago Park.

Rave, who became embedded in a group of triathletes on the reservation, competed in her first relay in 2014, taking the swim portion for her team. She's participated in Ironman Arizona's relay several times, and competed solo in other triathalons in Arizona and California.

During the 2018-2019 school year, when Reina volunteered to feed triathletes visiting Salt River High School, she turned to her sister for help. Together they came up with a brown tepary bean bowl — like a Chipotle burrito bowl, Reina said — with brown rice, seasoned chicken and toppings of choice, such as bell peppers, fresh pico de gallo and lettuce, from the school's salad bar.

"The athletes were impressed and asked 'What is that?'" Rave recalled. "And we told them, 'It’s tepary bean and it’s part of our culture. We’re sharing with you, a guest in our community.'"

Reina has since added the dish to the lunch menu at Salt River Schools, where it's become a hit with students, too. While the brown rice and bean base provides protein and carbohydrates, the salad bar gives students the option to customize.
Tepary Bean Bowl

After receiving a federal grant, the Arizona Department of Education is now working on adapting the recipe for statewide use.

"For me it’s a big deal," Reina said. "I feel bad because there’s so many students that don’t know what (a tepary bean) is. They’re missing that experience Melissa and I had growing up with that."

"I hear a lot of people say you can't grow food out here," Rave added. "This bean adapted so it can sustain itself here, and then it sustained us. In O'odham culture, so much of our community revolves around food. We created a culture that thrives off quality time together."

Recipe: How to make a soam bav protein bowl
Serves: 4


  • 1 lb of brown tepary beans (soam bavi, also spelled s-oam bavi)*
  • 7 ½ cups of water
  • 4 cups of cooked brown rice
  • cooked chicken or other protein, cut into bite sized pieces
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • salsa or pico de gallo
  • shredded lettuce
  • diced bell peppers

*Note: Beans need to simmer for 4-6 hours and may be cooked a day ahead.


Sort beans, removing any debris or small pebbles. Rinse thoroughly to remove any dirt. Place beans in a large pot or steam kettle, cover with water by about two inches and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let simmer for 4-6 hours, stirring occasionally to avoid scorching the bottom of the pot. Beans will swell as they boil, so add more water as needed a little at a time (you do not want them too watery). Cook until the beans are tender and the broth is thick and creamy.

Serve cooked tepary beans over brown rice with your choice of protein and toppings like lettuce, cheese, bell pepper and salsa.
Tepary bean bowl ingredients.

Reach the reporter at [email protected]. Follow @priscillatotiya on Twitter and Instagram.

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