Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Never-Fried "Refried" Beans

Food is such a social thing, isn't it?  We love to share it.  We love to build memories around it.  Want to see a cook light up?  Ask them for an old family recipe, or a favorite meal they shared with a friend.  We've all got those stories.  These are Grandma's lemon bars, this is my old roommate's famous kielbasa pizza, that is the little cafe we all went to after the night shift ended.

Sometimes it's just a flicker.  For example, every time I see refried beans I remember standing on tiptoe  to peek over the kitchen counter one day as Gram told me how "refried" was a mistranslation.  For the rest of my childhood I wondered just how many times they were really fried since they're supposed to be so bad for you.

And then one day I decided to look it up, and wow was I surprised.  Technically refried beans never have to be fried at all, although they might as well be.  I must've looked at about two dozen different recipes, and the majority used either lard or bacon fat in terrifying quantities.  The prize-winner had 1/2 cup of lard for 2 cups of beans, meaning that 20% of the total recipe was lard.  Now, clearly I'm not a girl who shies away from experimenting with new and interesting fats, but YIKES.  Double yikes.  Doesn't that make you a bit nervous for your arteries?  Surely, I thought, I could improve upon that a little.

That, plus the unsettling way that canned refried beans slorp out in a single can-shaped mass into the frying pan, convinced me that I'd be making them from scratch from now on.  And as it turns out, it couldn't be easier.

If you want the quick, picture/commentary-free version of the recipe, scroll to the bottom.

Never-Fried Frijoles Refritos

When you get right down to the nitty-gritty, making refried beans is pretty much the same process as making hummus:  cook beans until they're soft, add some flavorings, blend until smooth.  Easy-peasy, right?

I started with 2 cups of pinto beans.  Pinto beans are the standard for making refried beans (let's just call them that for argument's sake), though if you have other beans on hand then I say go for it.  This was never going to be a purist's recipe anyhow.

I've also been known to add pumpkin or beets to my hummus, so clearly I have no regard for the rules.

I boiled up my own dried beans.  If you're using canned or frozen (watch out for added flavors/MSG/salt), then you can skip down to the blending bit.

I covered the beans with warm water -- about 3-4 inches over the top of the beans to give them room to grow -- and let them sit overnight.  As we mentioned with the Hoppin' John recipe, you can quick soak them in about an hour instead if you're in more of a hurry.

Twelve-ish hours later I rinsed and drained them, then put them in a pan.  These were covered with fresh water, again about 4ish inches over the top of the beans.  (Don't you just love how precise this all is?)

 When making refried beans the regular way, the beans are boiled up by themselves and then the flavorings are fried and added along with the lard after the beans are cooked.  Since I wanted to remove oil from the recipe altogether, I put my garlic, onion, and sweet red pepper in to boil.  I figured that'd get them all mushy enough to puree up.  If you wanted a little more fresh veg crunch in your refried beans then you could just add them raw, assuming whatever you're using to blend this all up can handle raw onion.  It's up to you.  More on this in a second.

I used about 5 cloves of garlic, 1/2 of the onion, and one red pepper.  The pepper I used was not spicy at all, but if you wanted to use a jalepeno or something with some kick, just please remember to use gloves when dicing/de-seeding.  I've given the agony spiel before, right?  Agony.

You don't have to be all that neat when chopping these up since they're going to be pureed later anyway.  Toss 'em in with the beans and put 'em on to boil.

Once the water's boiling, turn it down to a simmer and cover it.  How long it takes the beans to get mushy enough depends entirely on things you can't control, like how old and how dry the beans were when you started.  Check 'em at about an hour, and maybe every 15 thereafter.  They're done when you can smoosh them easily with the back of a spoon.

Mmmmm, squishy.

When you drain them, be mindful to save some of the liquid that you cooked the beans in.  This is going to be used in just a second.  You don't have to save it all.  In the ballpark of 1/2 cup of liquid per cup of beans should be way more than plenty.  So for this recipe that's about a cup of liquid.  Although we definitely won't use all that, better safe than sorry.

I usually just set a bowl under the strainer.

How you blend up your beans depends on what you have to work with.  I used my food processor.  You might use an immersion blender or even a potato masher if that's what you've got.   Whatever you use, just be sure to move the beans to a regular bowl first -- don't puree them in the sieve.  Sounds obvious, but I've done some pretty ditzy things in my life.

If you didn't already add the garlic, pepper, and onion, go ahead and do that now.  Or you could even use garlic paste, if you want.  If you're blending with a potato masher or immersion blender you'll definitely want to boil the veggies first or they'll never blend in with the beans.  The other thing you could do is to stir-fry them on the stovetop until soft.  I'd recommend olive oil if going that route.  With a food processor it doesn't matter so much whether you toss raw veggies in, which is probably what I'll do next time.

To help things along, add a teaspoon or two of the reserved cooking liquid (bean juice?).  A little goes a long way.  The less you use, the thicker your refried beans will be.  If you like a thick paste, then err on the side of very little water.  You can even start with none and see if that works for you.

A little splash'll do ya.  You can always add more later.  I probably added too much, to be honest.

Puree that bad boy up.  Next we add spices.  Since I used a sweet pepper I loaded up on the chili powder.  I went with 1 tsp chili powder (optional, adjust to taste), 1/2 tsp cumin powder, and 1 tsp coriander powder.  If I'd though of it sooner I might've tried throwing in fresh cilantro rather than the coriander.  Whatever, it all came together just fine.

Give it another pulse to work in the spices and you're good to go!

I got to use my cute little salsa bowl set.  Yay!

What I loved about this is that it tasted so... not full of lard.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love bacon as much as the next gal and there's a time and a place for using fats of all kinds in cooking.  I won't claim that this tastes truly authentic.  Doc noticed right away that this was missing a kind of savory, fatty something that he was used to.  That said, he also ate just about the whole bowl himself, particularly after I explained why it was different from what we'd get at a restaurant.  I've wondered if maybe next time adding corn might not give it the extra something.  If any brave souls out there try it, be sure to let me know if it worked.

I loved that this dish is so much more than a side. So far I've used it on nachos (blended with some jalepenos and tomatoes), as a hummus-style dip for raw veggies, and tomorrow I'll use up the rest in beef & bean enchiladas.  It's super filling, too (protein + fiber = happy tummy).  As long as you've blended out all the lumps it'd even been an option for people who eat purees.

I hope this will hold you for healthy recipes for a week or so, 'cause this weekend I'm going to be making scones and white chocolate popcorn.  But then we'll get back to the good stuff, I promise.

Never-Fried Frijoles Refritos


  • 2 cups dried pinto beans, rinsed and soaked overnight
    • Can sub: 1 can of pinto beans, rinsed & soaked.  If using canned, skip the steps for boiling the beans.
  • 4-5 whole cloves of garlic (optional, to taste)
  • 1/2 onion, cut into large chunks
  • 1 red pepper, cut into large chunks
    • Can sub: 1-2 jalepeno peppers, to taste
  • 1 tsp chili powder (optional, to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
    • Can sub: 1 small handful chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt to taste


  1. Soak dry beans overnight in water that covers beans by 3-4 inches.
  2. Drain & rinse beans well.
  3. Place beans in stock pot with enough fresh water to cover the beans by 3-4 inches.  Add onion, garlic, and pepper and bring to a boil.
  4. When water reaches a boil, turn down to a simmer, cover, and let cook until beans can be easily mashed with the back of a spoon.
  5. Drain beans, reserving about a cup of the cooking liquid.
  6. Place beans in a separate bowl (if using immersion blender or potato masher) or in a food processor.  Mash until smooth, adding small amounts (max around 1 tbsp) of the cooking liquid if needed.
  7. Add spices and stir until blended.  
  8. Salt to taste.

No comments:

Post a Comment