Refried Beans

Hands up everyone who knew that “refried beans” is a misnomer: frijoles refritos actually translates as “well-fried beans” (hat-tip to Elise at Simply Recipes for that handy piece of trivia).  I certainly didn’t know (although the whole “re-fried” concept never made much sense to me, and frying twice, well, ew).  I don’t even like refried beans, but then again, given the lame flavor and unpleasant, mealy texture of the dish that I think of as “refried beans” I doubt that I’ve ever had any authentic, Mexican frijoles refritos.

So why did I set out to make a dish that I don’t even like (aside from the obvious fact that I do it all the time)? It went something like this:

Me:  Honey, could you to go to Trader Joe’s and pick up tortilla chips for the Superbowl party?

Tai: Sure, no problem. (Tai exits, stage left.)


Me: Um, honey? Why the bleep did you buy UNSALTED tortilla chips??

Tai:  Uhhh….. oops.

Being the saltaholic that I am, unsalted tortilla chips (well, unsalted anything, really) are anathema to me.  Also being the food Nazi that I am, I certainly couldn’t just throw away a whole bag of tortilla chips.  And I couldn’t in good conscience foist unsalted <shudder> tortilla chips off on an unsuspecting Superbowl party. So what’s a girl to do?

Nachos.  Nachos were the answer; tortilla chips covered in salty cheese, pickled jalapenos and can-be-as-salty-as-I-want homemade refried beans. (And oh, they were good. Oh so good. Stay tuned for the nachos recipe. But first things first.)

Adapted from Refried Beans in Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando


Refried Beans


  • 1/2 lb dried Good Mother Stallard* beans
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion, divided
  • 2 – 3 tbsp lard, bacon grease, or olive oil
  • salt to taste

*Pinto beans are the classic frijoles refritos bean. I used Good Mother Stallard because I had them on hand. They made delicious refried beans; any red, cranberry, or brown bean would work here.


  1. Rinse and pick through dried beans. Soak the beans in cool, filtered water, to cover by 2 inches, at least 6 hours and up to overnight.  Transfer the beans, with their soaking liquid, to a medium saucepan or bean pot. Quarter the onion, and add two quarters to the pot, along with the garlic. Mince the remaining half onion and reserve.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to a bare simmer.  Simmer until beans are very soft and just beginning to break down, about 2 hours.  Add salt to taste (I added 1 tsp) after about 1 hour of cooking. 
  2. Drain the beans.  Reserve the bean broth.
  3. Heat the lard, grease or oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the minced onion, reduce the heat to medium-low, and saute the onion until translucent, about 5 – 10 minutes.  Add the beans, with about 1/2 cup of the bean broth and stir to coat with grease. Use a potato masher to mash the beans, stirring and mashing over medium heat until the beans achieve a dense and smooth texture, about 15 minutes.  (I left my beans somewhat chunky, as that’s how I roll; mash as much as your taste dictates, but try to cook for at least 10 – 15 minutes to allow flavor and texture to develop).  Add more bean broth if the beans begin to dry out and stick to the pan.  When the beans are dense enough, you can drag a spoon through them, revealing a visible stripe of pan beneath, that will not fill back in. Salt to taste (add extra if you plan to serve with evil, unsalted tortilla chips).
  4. Serve hot. Add grated cheddar cheese, a few dashes of Tabasco, or chopped scallions or cilantro as garnish.

Yields about 3 cups.


  1. Yes, you could make this with canned beans.  But why bother? You can also buy canned refried beans.  But I’m here to tell you that there is no relationship between the frijoles refritos that I made today and the brown, sludgy glop that comes in the can.  Maybe you like the canned stuff (if so, I apologize for calling it glop; I have a strong affection for Cheetos, so who I am to judge?).  But still – most things can stand a little improvement.  Try this with homemade, home-cooked beans; you may just open up a whole new world of possibility.
  2. You can make local refried beans with pinto beans from Cayuga Pure Organics.  (Or you can have Christina come visit you and bring you Rancho Gordo beans for Christmas. But you’ll have to stand in line behind me.)


Refried beans will last for several days refrigerated. Reheat in a frying pan with a little oil, or in a 350 degree F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.


Year round.

One comment

  1. Me, me! I was really surprised to learn about the name of the beans, but yup, I guess that’s what it is. I’ve done the beans with black beans and red beans, both delicious too. I’ve used them as the base in a veg wrap (corn tortilla) as well as a dip kind of like one would use hummus for things like carrots and other veg. Addictive.

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