Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: refried beans are only fried once. "Refried" is an Anglicization of the Spanish word refritos, which means "well-fried." For good frijoles refritos, mashing is actually much more important than frying. In fact, refried beans should probably be called "mashed beans."
The idea is pretty simple. You take cooked pinto beans, add flavor, fat, and liquid, then mash them to your desired consistency. The added flavor usually takes the form of onion and garlic, spices, herbs, and sometimes lime juice. The fat could be from lard, butter, or oil. If you skip the fat altogether, the beans won't be as creamy or quite as flavorful. If you want a thicker, fluffier texture, then use less liquid or none at all.
Refried beans are a versatile and healthful element of many Central and South American dishes. Serve them as a simple side dish or incorporate them into burritos, nachos, huaraches, layered dips, pupusas, and casseroles. Served with rice, since the combined nutrients form the complete proteins that are essential for a healthy diet—especially good news for vegetarians.
- 2 cups dried pinto beans (uncooked)
- 2 sprigs epazote (if available)
- 1/2 cup bacon drippings (or lard or vegetable oil)
- 1 small white onion (finely chopped)
- 3 large cloves garlic
- 1 serrano chile (seeded and halved, optional)
- Salt (to taste)
Gather the ingredients.
Rinse beans and check for debris. Place the beans in a large pot and fill with water (approximately 7 cups). Add epazote (if using). Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to a slow simmer. Cook for about 2 hours and leave the beans in their cooking liquid.
When beans are extremely soft, prepare a large skillet by heating the bacon drippings, lard, or oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and chile (if using). Sauté until the onion and garlic have softened. Remove the chile at this point for milder spice or leave them in if you want spicier beans.
Using a slotted spoon, add in about 1/2 cup of the cooked beans. Mash the beans with the back of the spoon, a fork, or a potato masher. If the mixture seems thick, add a tablespoon of the cooking liquid from the beans.
Continue to add the beans and mash them together, adding more of the cooking liquid as necessary. Season with salt to taste.
Serve immediately. Store leftover refried beans in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze in a sealed container for up to two months.
You can use other varieties of beans in your refritos. Black beans, red kidney beans, and Peruano beans are all good options. Lentils, black-eyed peas, navy beans, cannellini beans, and chickpeas are all fair game. Really any legume will do, so have fun and mix it up.