How to Make Refried Beans From Scratch

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Leftover cooked beans make excellent refried beans.
Leftover cooked beans make excellent refried beans. (Image: zkruger/iStock/Getty Images)

Start to Finish: 2 to 4 hours depending on bean cooking time; 20 minutes from cooked beans to finish Servings: 8 (4 cups) Difficulty Level: Beginner

Although they take time to prepare, the best restaurant-style refried beans are easily made at home from scratch. The method is simple and straightforward; the result is a marked improvement over the canned variety in both flavor and texture. the term refried beans is a mistranslation of the Mexican frijoles refritos, which really means well-fried or well-cooked beans.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dry beans -- pinto, black, kidney or similar variety
  • Water
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion, chopped, divided
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 to 2 tablepoons lard, bacon drippings, vegetable shortening or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

A Pot of Cooked Beans

Use a deep, heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven.

Add a tablespoon of lard or other cooking fat and heat over medium heat until melted. Add half a chopped onion and a clove of chopped garlic, and saute until softened.

Add the dried beans to the pot plus 4 cups or more of water to cover. Bring the water to a boil; reduce it to a simmer and cook it until the beans are tender. This may take several hours. Add water as needed so that the beans are always covered.

When the beans are tender, remove them from the heat. Drain and reserve the broth.

A Panful of Mashed Beans

In a large, heavy skillet -- cast-iron is best -- heat the other tablespoon of lard. Add the other half of chopped onion and the second clove of minced garlic, and saute them until they're softened.

Add the cooked beans and heat them through. While they're heating, stir the beans and mash them with a potato masher. Add the bean cooking liquid as needed to achieve the moistness and consistency you desire. Season them with salt and pepper and serve.

Uses for Refried Beans

Once you have prepared a batch of refried beans, use them to fill tacos, tortas and burritos. If you use olive oil or vegetable shortening to cook the beans, they are an excellent vegetarian option for these and other Mexican dishes. Refried beans are also essential for a five-layer or seven-layer party dip, or just use them on their own as a base for bean dip. A scoop of refried beans is a traditional side dish for any Mexican meal, from breakfast to dinner.

Tips

Cook the beans ahead of time, up to 5 days. You can also freeze the cooked beans and thaw them before proceeding with the rest of a recipe.

It is traditional in Mexican cooking to add a sprig or two of fresh epazote to the pot of cooking beans.

Don't worry too much about overcooking the pot of beans or if you encounter split beans while you're cleaning and sorting them, since you will just be mashing them later.

If you don't have a potato masher, you can use an immersion blender to puree the beans. This produces a smoother-textured final product.

Although a pot of refried beans need no more seasoning than salt and pepper, some recipes add a teaspoon of cumin and/or a teaspoon of chili powder to the skillet to enhance the flavors. Be cautious with both, lest the flavors overwhelm the dish. You can also add lime juice to taste at the end of cooking.

Restaurant-style refried beans are often garnished with grated cheddar cheese and/or a small amount of minced onion on top.

Warnings

Do not let the water in the bean pot boil away; your beans will burn, and you will not have any cooking liquid left for the second phase.

Keep the heat under the skillet at medium or lower to avoid scorching the beans. Adding the bean cooking liquid as needed will also help prevent scorching.

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