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Creamy refried beans are more than just a side dish! Add to tacos, tostadas, or use as a base for a delicious dip. This recipe is ready in minutes using canned beans.
My kids love refried beans. When we go out for Mexican food, they tend to eat the refried beans before their tacos or enchiladas.
It’s easy to see why. Refried beans are supremely satisfying, with their creamy texture and mild flavor.
Plus, they are quite easy to cook, making them a simple and economical option for any meal.
My recipe for refried beans uses canned beans, which means it’s even easier! Though I love using dried beans to make borracho beans, sometimes I just don’t have the time to simmer beans, so this shortcut saves the day.
If you need a dish to round out your taco night, these refried beans are sure to be a hit.
What are refried beans?
Refried beans are a dish made out of pinto beans that are cooked, then sautéed/fried, and mashed in their cooking liquid.
A lot of people get confused by the “refried” in refried beans, thanks to the differences in English and Spanish.
Refried beans are not fried twice — the “re” prefix in Spanish is meant to intensify the meaning of the word, so it’s more like “very fried” rather than “fried again.”
This dish has become a staple in Tex-Mex restaurants, served as a side along with any entree platter.
Nearly everyone has their own favorite recipe for refried beans, with some using more spices or cheeses.
Ingredients for refried beans
Pinto beans – This recipe calls for 4 15-ounce cans of pinto beans, which is about the equivalent of a 1-pound bag of dried beans.
Cooking oil – I usually use vegetable shortening to make refried beans. You can also use olive oil or vegetable oil.
For a non-vegetarian version, use lard or bacon fat, which add a lot of flavor.
Onion – White or yellow onion is preferred here.
Garlic – I generally measure garlic with my heart, because I love garlic, and garlic cloves can vary a lot in size. Start with 3 and use more or less based on your own tastes.
Mexican oregano – This herb is not actually in the same plant family as Mediterranean oregano, but has a somewhat similar flavor, with more citrus notes. It’s a staple in Mexican cooking, and I add it to my homemade taco seasoning as well as many chili recipes.
If you don’t have Mexican oregano, the closest substitute is marjoram.
You can also use epazote, which is an earthy, fragrant herb that can help reduce the, well, after-effects of beans. I recommend using only 1/4 teaspoon dried epazote, as too much can upset the stomach, especially if you’re not used to it.
Salt – Season to taste! Canned beans usually have added salt as a preservative, so taste the beans before adding extra salt.
How to make this recipe
Drain the beans in a colander set over a bowl. Reserve the liquid and set aside.
Set a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the shortening (or other oil) and heat until melted and shimmering.
Add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Cook the onions until translucent.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, which will be just about 30 seconds.
Now add the beans and Mexican oregano and stir well. Cook for 5 minutes. You want them to be warmed through and a bit toasty.
Pour in 1 cup of the reserved liquid. If you need more liquid, use water or vegetable broth.
Mash the beans using the back of a spoon or a potato masher.
Add more liquid as needed to mash beans to desired consistency.
Season the beans to taste with salt, and garnish as desired.
For heat, add ground chile pepper or fresh chopped jalapeños on top.
You can garnish the beans with a melty cheese like oaxaca, chihuahua, or mozzarella. Or, use a crumbly cheese like queso fresco or cotija, which is our family’s favorite.
Chopped fresh cilantro or chopped white onion also make for good refried bean garnishes.
Can I use dried beans to make refried beans?
If you want to use dried beans, you absolutely can! You will need to simmer the beans in water for a few hours to fully cook them before you can proceed with the recipe as written.
I recommend simmering the beans with a quartered onion, a few bay leaves, and seasoning. You can also add bacon lardons or a ham hock if you don’t need your beans to be vegetarian.
Make sure you save the cooking liquid from the beans for mashing them!
Note that if your dried beans have been in the pantry a while, they will likely take longer to cook.
Plan ahead! You can cook the beans and store them in the refrigerator until ready to make refried beans.
Help, my beans are too thick and dry!
If your beans are thicker or drier than you’d like, add more liquid, a little at a time. Mix until you get the desired consistency.
It helps to have your liquid be warm, so if you are using broth from the refrigerator, I recommend simmering it in a saucepan while you prepare the recipe.
My beans are too watery
If your refried beans are too loose, continue to cook them over low until the excess water is evaporated. Make sure to stir them often to not scorch the beans on the bottom of the pan.
Can I freeze refried beans?
Refried beans can easily be frozen. If you make a big pot of beans, this is a great way to have a side dish on hand for another meal!
Let the beans cool and then portion into freezer-safe containers.
I recommend using either freezer bags, which can freeze flat, or shallow containers, rather than deep containers. Allowing for more surface area will help the beans thaw more quickly when you’re ready to use them.
Freeze the beans for up to 3 months.
When ready to use, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, or pop out of the container into a saucepan set over low heat.
Freezer bags can also be simmered in a pot of water until thawed.
When reheating, add water or broth as needed to thin to desired consistency.
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-star review below! It means so much when you enjoy my recipes, so let me know how it goes and leave a comment if you have any questions.
- 3 tablespoons shortening
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- Fine sea salt, to taste
- 60 ounces cooked pinto beans, (4 15-ounce cans), drained with liquid reserved
- 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- Cotija cheese and cilantro, for garnish, optional
- In a large pan, melt shortening over medium heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt and cook until soft and translucent, 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds, until fragrant.
- Add beans and Mexican oregano and stir. Let cook for 5 minutes.
- Pour in 1 cup of the reserved bean liquid and stir. Reduce heat to low while you use a potato masher or the back of a spoon to mash the beans. (You can also transfer to a blender or food processor to blend until smooth.)
- Add more liquid as needed to achieve desired consistency; you can make the beans smooth or leave some larger pieces.
- If desired, garnish with cheese and chopped fresh cilantro. Serve warm.
- Make sure to drain the beans over a bowl to collect the liquid. You will need at least 1 cup of bean broth, water, or vegetable stock to thin the beans for mashing.
- This makes a generous amount of beans. You can freeze the extra or reduce the recipe by half.
Nutrition information is provided as a courtesy and is an estimate based on online calculators. Any nutritional information found on Stetted should be used as a general guideline only.
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