Frijoles refritos, also known as refried beans, are a traditional Mexican side dish made from pinto beans. They are a staple in Mexican cuisine and are often served as a side with tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and many other dishes.
Frijoles refritos are made from:
- Cooked pinto beans
- Vegetable oil or lard
- Spices like cumin, oregano, chili powder
The beans are mashed and fried with the aromatics and seasonings to create the rich, creamy texture and flavor that refried beans are known for.
The main ingredient in frijoles refritos is pinto beans. Pinto beans are a variety of Phaseolus vulgaris beans that are pinkish-brown in color with mottled skin. When cooked, the beans soften and turn a light brown or pink color. Some key facts about pinto beans:
- They originated in Mexico and are popular in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines.
- Pinto beans are high in protein, fiber, iron, and potassium.
- When dried, pinto bean pods contain the beans themselves as well as the broth used to cook them.
- Canned pinto beans are a convenient alternative to dried beans.
- One pound of dried pinto beans makes about 5-6 cups of cooked beans.
For frijoles refritos, dried pinto beans are preferred over canned. The dried beans are soaked overnight, drained, then cooked until very soft. This allows them to be mashed easily to the smooth, creamy texture typical of refried beans.
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic are two aromatics that are central to the flavor of frijoles refritos. Here’s a closer look at their roles:
- A white or yellow onion is diced and cooked with the beans.
- Onions provide layers of savory flavor.
- They also add texture before the beans are mashed.
- Using fresh onions is better than onion powder for the freshest flavor.
- Garlic cloves are minced and cooked with the onion.
- Garlic adds a punch of aroma and a subtle spicy undertone.
- Like onions, fresh garlic has better flavor than garlic powder.
- Letting the garlic brown slightly before adding the beans enhances its nutty taste.
The combination of sauteed onions and garlic gives refried beans incredible savory depth. They balance the earthiness from the beans with their bright, pungent notes.
Oil or Lard
Authentic frijoles refritos are fried in lard, which comes from rendered pork fat. Lard gives the beans a rich texture and full-bodied flavor. However, vegetable oil is also commonly used to make the dish more vegetarian-friendly.
- Lard is traditionally used in Mexican cooking for depth of flavor.
- It has a high smoke point, so it can get very hot before burning.
- Lard adds richness and makes the beans creamy and smooth.
- For vegetarian or vegan recipes, vegetable oil replaces the lard.
- Canola, avocado, and olive oil work well.
- The beans won’t be quite as unctuous, but still tasty.
Whether lard or vegetable oil is used, the fat helps the beans mash smoothly and prevents them from becoming dry and pasty when fried.
Salt, cumin, and other spices season frijoles refritos and give them their characteristic Mexican flavors. Here are some seasonings typically used:
- Salt – Adds necessary seasoning and enhances overall flavor
- Cumin – Earthy, warm aroma and taste
- Oregano – Herbal and slightly grassy notes
- Chili Powder – A touch of heat and smokiness
- Epazote – Unique pungent herb used in Mexican bean dishes
The seasonings are added to taste while frying the onions and garlic, allowing their flavors to infuse the oil or lard before the beans are added. Adjust to preference – more cumin and chili for bolder flavor or less for milder.
Making Frijoles Refritos
Now that we’ve looked at the main ingredients, let’s walk through the process of actually making frijoles refritos!
Step 1 – Soak the Beans
Rinse the dried pinto beans and pick out any debris. Place them in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak 8-12 hours or overnight.
Step 2 – Cook the Beans
Drain the soaked beans and transfer to a large pot. Cover with fresh water by a few inches. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer until very soft and tender, 1-2 hours. Add more water if needed to keep beans submerged.
Step 3 – Fry the Aromatics
In a skillet, heat the lard or oil over medium heat. Add the diced onion and minced garlic and cook for 5 minutes until softened and fragrant. Stir in desired seasonings like salt, cumin, and oregano.
Step 4 – Fry the Beans
Drain the cooked beans, reserving some of the liquid. Add the beans to the skillet and lightly mash them with a potato masher or fork. Continue mashing and stirring until a thick, creamy paste forms with some bean chunks remaining. Add reserved bean liquid as needed to prevent drying out.
Step 5 – Finish and Serve
Once the bean paste has reached the desired consistency, taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Cook for a few more minutes to meld flavors. Remove from heat and serve warm with desired taco fillings or as a dip.
Tips for Making Great Frijoles Refritos
With these tips, you’ll be a refried beans pro in no time!
- Cook the beans very well until totally soft.
- Use plenty of aromatics like onion and garlic for maximum flavor.
- Go light on the mashing for some texture or mash thoroughly for ultra creamy beans.
- Add reserved bean broth to maintain a spreadable consistency.
- Simmer for a few minutes after mashing to allow flavors to blend.
- Season generously with salt, cumin, oregano, and chili powder.
- Stir frequently to prevent sticking and burning.
- Garnish with cheese, cilantro, or crema.
Serving and Storing
Frijoles refritos are extremely versatile. Here are some ways to serve and store any leftovers:
- Serve as a side dish with tacos, burritos, tamales, etc.
- Use as a filling in quesadillas, burritos, chilaquiles.
- Top with shredded cheese, diced onions, cilantro.
- Spread on tostadas or tortilla chips as an appetizer.
- Fold into an omelet along with shredded cheese.
- Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container up to 4-5 days.
- Freeze for longer storage, up to 2-3 months.
The Importance of Frijoles Refritos in Mexican Cuisine
It’s impossible to overstate how integral frijoles refritos are to Mexican food traditions. Here are some reasons refried beans have such a venerated place:
- They provide an inexpensive but highly nutritious protein source.
- The creamy texture and savoriness complement many other Mexican dishes.
- They are incredibly versatile – can be served as a side, dip, filling, topping, and more.
- Refried beans stretch more expensive ingredients like meat in tacos and burritos.
- They are easy to make in bulk and store for later use.
- Beans grow well in Mexico’s climate so pinto beans are abundant.
In many poorer or rural regions of Mexico, frijoles refritos are relied upon as a staple food and primary protein source. But their appeal extends across all of Mexican society for their deliciousness as well as convenience.
While the basic ingredients of frijoles refritos are consistent, there are some regional variations across Mexico. Here are a few to try:
- Use more lard and fry the beans longer for creamier texture.
- Add Mexican-style chorizo or bacon for a meaty twist.
- Garnish with fresh cheese like queso fresco.
- Add avocado leaves when cooking beans for earthy flavor.
- Use a mix of pinto and black beans.
- Flavor with jalapeño, green peppers, and onions.
- Beans are less fried and have some whole beans remaining.
- Include shredded chicken or pork.
- Season with achiote paste and diced tomatoes.
Feel free to mix and match techniques from different regions to come up with your own perfect version!
Frijoles refritos go by several other common names throughout Mexico and Latin America:
- Frijoles refritos
- Frijoles fritos
- Frijoles entomatados
- Frijoles colados
- Porotos refritos (Chile)
But no matter what they are called, these fried smashed beans are a cornerstone of regional cuisine!
Frijoles refritos are highly nutritious, which contributes to their staple status in Mexican diets. Here is the nutritional profile of a 1 cup serving of refried pinto beans:
As you can see, frijoles refritos provide a substantial amount of protein and fiber. They are also high in iron, potassium, magnesium, and antioxidants. The combination of pinto beans, oil or lard, and seasonings significantly boosts the nutrient density.
Vegan and Vegetarian Versions
Frijoles refritos are easy to adapt for vegan or vegetarian diets by following these simple substitutions:
- Omit lard – Use vegetable oil instead.
- Use vegetable broth – Instead of water when cooking beans.
- Add mushrooms – Saute chopped mushrooms with the aromatics.
- Try pumpkin or sunflower seeds – In place of chorizo for added texture.
- Use spices generously – Smoked paprika, cumin, chili powder, etc.
- Garnish with avocado – For creamy richness.
With these tweaks, you can enjoy tasty plant-based frijoles refritos that don’t compromise on flavor or texture!
Do you drain the beans before refrying?
Yes, it’s important to thoroughly drain cooked beans before adding them to the hot oil or lard to refry. Excess moisture will cause splattering. Reserve a bit of the bean cooking liquid to add as needed while mashing.
Is it better to use canned or dried beans?
Dried beans that are soaked and cooked from scratch make the best, creamiest frijoles refritos. Canned beans are mushier and won’t mash up as nicely. However, canned pinto beans work in a pinch.
How long do frijoles refritos keep?
Freshly made refried beans will keep 4-5 days refrigerated in an airtight container. They can also be frozen for 2-3 months without losing quality. Simply reheat gently before serving if frozen.
Can you refry already refried beans?
It’s best to start with plain cooked pinto beans, but in a pinch you can use store-bought canned refried beans. Add some fresh diced onion, cumin, and salt and heat through gently to perk up the flavor.
Why are they called refried beans if they are only fried once?
“Refried” refers to the process of mashing and then frying the already cooked beans. It does not mean beans that have been fried twice. The verb “refritar” means “to fry again” in Spanish, even though the beans aren’t actually fried twice.
With their rich, creamy texture and savory, satisfying flavor, it’s easy to see why frijoles refritos are a cherished staple in Mexican cuisine. Made from humble ingredients like pinto beans, onion, garlic, lard or oil, and basic seasonings, they are an inexpensive source of protein that perfectly complements the bolder spices and flavors of many Mexican dishes. Mastering homemade frijoles refritos does take some practice – properly cooking the beans, frying them to the ideal creaminess without drying them out, and balancing seasonings. But once you have the technique down, they are simple to make in bulk. Served as a side, a stuffing, or eaten by the spoonful with tortilla chips, refried beans are endlessly nourishing, comforting, and craveable.