Frijoles (beans) are an absolute staple in Hispanic kitchens. There are several kinds of beans and they can all be prepared in many different ways. My favorite Mexican beans are frijoles refritos, aka refried beans!
If you are a frequent consumer of Mexican cuisine, I’m sure you have had refried beans many times before. It is very commonly included in meals as a side, along with rice and some fresh lettuce.
Refried beans are traditionally cooked in lard in order to get that signature, delicious refried bean taste. Neutral oil or bacon grease are commonly used instead of lard, but I highly recommend using lard for the best results. If you can’t find it or prefer not to use it, my second suggestion would be neutral oil. I would stay away from bacon grease mainly because the taste is very strong and will overpower the refried beans. They will just taste like bacon, in my opinion.
Pinto beans- I highly recommend starting this recipe off with loose dry pinto beans instead of canned. You can definitely get canned to save some time, but fresh of course will taste better. I soak my beans over night to make the boiling process faster.
Spices & Herbs- Salt and cumin are absolutely necessary to get the right flavors. Epazote is an herb that is traditionally used in refried beans, but they can be difficult to find especially fresh. I used dried epazote but if you can’t find that, Mexican oregano is a good substitute.
Aromatics- Garlic, onion, and jalapeno. The jalapeno is optional- I think it adds good flavor but do not be worried about it being spicy.
Lard– No one likes to hear this an one of the ingredients in a dish but did you know that it is actually better for you than most other fat alternatives? If you want an authentic result, I highly recommend picking up some lard to make your frijoles. It makes such a difference.
Water- don’t throw out the water after draining the boiled beans! A lot of really good flavor is cooked into this water and we will be using almost all of it to refry the beans.
Ways to enjoy refried beans
I made these frijoles specifically for Tortas Ahogadas (Mexican sandwich), but there are SO many ways to enjoy them!
One of my favorite favorite ways to eat refried beans is in a burrito. My go-to breakfast is a bean and cheese burrito with avocados, sour cream, and my favorite hot sauce Tapatio.
An ALL TIME FAVORITE meal of mine is a chile relleno burrito with refried beans! This is something that I usually make if I have leftover chile rellenos from dinner the night before. I will have a recipe for that very soon. It is SO good!
Other common ways of eating refried beans is as a side to an entree, on a tostada with cheese, on nachos, or as a dip. The possibilities are endless!
Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos)
- 1 cup dry pinto beans
- 1/4 onion
- 3 garlic cloves smashed
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp epazote or Mexican oregano
- 1/4 cup lard or neutral oil
- 1/4 cup onion finely chopped
- 1 jalapeno finely chopped
- salt to taste
- cumin to taste
- Pick out the bad beans and throw them out. Rinse and soak your pinto beans over night for a faster cook (optional).
- Drain the beans and put them in a pot deep enough to boil. Add cumin, 1 tsp salt, epazote or Mexican oregano, 1/4 of an onion, 3 smashed garlic cloves, and enough water to cover the beans by at least 2 inches.
- Bring to a boil on medium heat uncovered for 1-2 hours. Add water as you go- it will evaporate over time.
- If you soaked your beans over night, you will only need to boil for about an hour and a half. If you didn't soak, expect the beans to take more than 2 hours to soften. The beans are ready when you can smash them easily with your fingers.
- Drain the beans but do not throw away the garlic, onion, or bean water. We will be using nearly all of this to add back into the refried beans for flavor and consistency.
- Heat some lard (or oil) in a skillet until melted.
- On medium low heat, add the chopped onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté until just turning a little brown.
- Add the chopped jalapenos and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium high, then add the drained pinto beans and begin smashing them. I'm using my potato masher, but you can use the back of your spatula or even a hand blender for a smoother consistency.
- Reduce the heat back to medium-low after a minute. Keep smashing until you reach your desired consistency, while simultaneously adding the bean water in increments as you smash. I added back all of my bean water in 3-4 batches.
- Try the refried beans and add salt and/or cumin to taste. I usually end up adding about 1/8 tsp each to get the perfect flavor.
- Once you've reached your desired consistency, remove from heat. I like my refried beans smooth but with little visible little chunks. Some people like it super smooth or chunky- there is no wrong way!
- Top with your favorite cheese and enjoy 🙂