Refried Beans


For many years after our family developed a taste for all things Mexican, I was still buying canned refried beans, thinking this is one of those things that would be just too hard to make at home.

What a mistake. These are among the easiest of all foods to make “from scratch,” especially if you cook dried beans for other dishes.

Traditionally, refried beans are made from either black or pinto beans, but other beans can be substituted. I often cook a two pound package of dried beans all at once, ready for a variety of recipes. While I often freeze part of the batch, I still find myself at times with another couple of cups of beans in the fridge needing to be used up…perfect for making into refried beans.

The nice thing about frijoles refritos is that you can make a couple of cups or a couple of quarts, depending on what you have available. They can be used as a side dish, just as Mexican restaurants serve them. Toast some corn tortillas in the microwave or oven or cut up some apple wedges or carrot sticks and the beans become a healthy after school snack. Roll them into a soft tortilla, corn or flour, with cheese, salsa and whatever add-ons you want for classic bean burritos or use them as a filling for bean enchiladas.

Today I had a supply of black, pinto, and kidney beans I had cooked for Saturday’s soup. Now there were four cups left, along with everything else needed for a good batch of refried beans. Some of these became the main dish for lunch, fresh salsa stirred in and crisped tortillas and apple wedges for dippers–a well-balanced meal with little preparation. The rest of the frijoles refritos are tucked in the freezer for a quick dip whenever drop in company arrives.

Following is the method for making refried beans. Just about every ingredient listed can be varied according to your own tastes and the amount of beans you will be cooking. Just a few things to keep in mind:

  • The best pan for making these is your favorite cast iron skillet, but any heavy pan that doesn’t stick easily will do.
  • Remember that the beans will thicken appreciably as they cool, so keep them a little soupier while preparing. If they do thicken too much, you can always add a little more water, bean liquid, or even some salsa.
  • Refried beans can be frozen, but some seasonings may intensify or weaken with freezing. Just taste again when you thaw and reheat them and adjust accordingly.

Refried Beans

Canola or olive oil
Cooked dried beans and liquid
For every 2 cups of beans, use approximately the following amounts:
2-3 T diced onion
2-4 cloves minced garlic
1 t cumin
1 T cider or wine vinegar
(optional) jalapeno, chile, or bell peppers–to taste
(optional) chili powder–to taste
salt to taste

1. Put enough oil in the bottom of a large heavy pan to barely cover the surface. Add the onions and cook on medium until just translucent.
2 Turn heat to medium high and stir in the beans and a tablespoon or so of the bean liquid for each cup of beans. Using a potato masher or heavy spatula, mash the beans well, stirring as you do so.
3. Add in the remaining ingredients and stir. Allow the beans to cook a few minutes and then stir. A slight crust will have begin to form and should be stirred into the beans.
4. Add more liquid as needed and continue to cook for several minutes, until flavors are well blended.

NOTE: Canned beans may be substituted in this recipe, but the liquid may be very salty, so you may want to use water as the liquid rather than the bean liquid.

Serving suggestions: Salsa, grated cheese, and/or yogurt (or sour cream) may be stirred into the beans for using as a dip or as a side dish with other Mexican foods.

Toasted Tortillas

These are a very simple and very healthy crunchy snack for dipping in refried beans, salsa, etc.
They work best with a microwave that has a revolving plate, to be sure they cook evenly.

Place six corn tortillas in the microwave, directly on the microwave tray. Cook on high for about three minutes. Turn the tortillas and continue cooking for another two to three minutes, until they are crisp and just starting to brown slightly. You may want to turn once or twice more. Be sure to watch so they do not burn.

If desired, these can be seasoned with seasoning salt, garlic salt, etc. after the first turning.

Ready to eat as soon as cool.

Experiment with your microwave and you will find the right time for two to seven or eight tortillas. You can also cut the tortillas in wedges and spread across the microwave tray, for “baked” tortilla chips. If you have good corn tortillas, these will be far better tasting than any “baked” chips you can buy–and a lot cheaper as well!

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