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Old-Fashioned Refried Beans

Refried beans are one of my favorite comfort foods. They’re also cheap — dang cheap. And, they’re a tasty way to get lots of nourishing fats into you and your loved ones. The way I grew up, refried beans were one of life’s many mysteries. I ordered them at Mexican food restaurants, or my mom bought them in a large can at the supermarket. That’s what refried beans were to me — something not-too-healthy that I paid too much money for.

Only as an adventurous adult did I foray into the world of making my own refried beans and discover how easy and cheap they are to make — and how ridiculously rich and flavorful I could make them when I had free-reign.

All beans are high in anti-nutrients like phytic acid. So, as with grains, you’ll want to soak them first. This has the added benefit of eliminating one of the unnecessary side-effects of eating modern beans: bad gas.

Furthermore, as with any starchy food, the more fat you add, the better. Refried beans are already high in resistant starches — the kinds of starches that resist digestion and can help balance blood sugar levels and burn fat stores. Add tasty fat to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for satiety as well as nutrient-density. In the interest of being “traditional”, I used to make these with lard from foraged hogs, but that’s gotten harder to come by. Turns out, substituting pastured butter or grass-fed ghee added a remarkable depth of flavor I’d only previously found when using rendered fat from cooking fajitas.

So, without any further ado, here’s my recipe for old-fashioned refried beans.

Old-Fashioned Refried Beans

Refried Beans: The Players

Refried Beans: The How-To

Begin by placing pinto beans in a large bowl with enough water to cover and a dash of salt. Cover with a lid (I use a plate) and soak for 24 hours.

Drain remaining liquid from your soaked beans. Transfer beans to a stock pot and again add enough water to cover and a dash of salt. Bring beans to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2-4 hours until beans are falling apart and tender.

Drain liquid from cooked beans. Now comes the fun part. Add diced tomatoes and 1/2 C. of melted butter or ghee. Using a stick blender, blend the cooked beans until they turn into a relatively smooth mush.

In the meantime, melt remaining butter or ghee in a large, 12-inch, deep skillet on the stove over medium heat. (This is my skillet. Looks like they call it a “saute pan”.) Transfer mashed, cooked beans into the skillet. Add seasonings and stir with a flat-bottomed spatula (to prevent burning) until the beans start to boil and the seasonings and fat are evenly distributed.

Remove from heat and serve. You can refrigerate the leftovers for up to a week, or transfer to your freezer to keep for later use.

(photo by gatorbek)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.
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37 Responses to Old-Fashioned Refried Beans
  1. David Donnell via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 4:17 pm


  2. Kristi Wolfe via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 5:00 pm

    Wonderful I got beans!

  3. Sue Smith via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 5:41 pm

    Yours sound delish! I’ve always carmelized onions in butter for refried beans, and everyone wants my recipe…love your site!

  4. Gayle Trepanier via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 6:07 pm

    I want to try this!! One thing I miss from Texas ‘cuisine’ is refried beans. The other if real fajitas, and real BBQ. I want to try making my own tortillas someday. :)

  5. Chelsey Mark via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 6:20 pm

    one of the things I miss most since begining GAPS :(

  6. Kate Dailey Monreal via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 6:32 pm

    We have refried beans with fried eggs on top. If we have some green salsa on hand, that goes on too. Eggs have to be nice and runny. Sooooo yummy!

  7. Ranee Mueller via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 6:59 pm

    I love refried beans! I make them with oil or lard or bacon grease, lots of onions and black beans. It’s a great, tasty, cheap dinner.

  8. Pavil, the Uber Noob
    July 27, 2011 | 8:06 pm

    You might enjoy negro frijoles as fermented bean paste.

    Ciao, Pavil

  9. Dana Thomas Micek via Facebook
    July 27, 2011 | 8:43 pm

    Yes, really.

  10. The Table of Promise
    July 28, 2011 | 10:28 am

    I love this. I recently made a great batch of refried beans and they were the hit of my dinner party. The only difference, I used lard which I think adds a meatier flavor than plain old butter.

  11. Connie Mirfakhraie
    July 28, 2011 | 12:03 pm

    Should all beans be soaked for 24 hours?

    • KristenM
      July 28, 2011 | 12:14 pm

      Good question. I may just take this as a cue to prepare an everything-you-need-to-know-about-beans post.

      No, not all beans need to be soaked for so long. Some beans, like lentils, for example, would fall apart if soaked that long! Also, some beans (like black beans and fava beans) need to be soaked in a mildly acidic medium and not just salt water.

      • JenniferF
        July 28, 2011 | 2:24 pm

        An “everything-you-need-to-know-about-beans post” would be awesome!

        • KristenM
          July 28, 2011 | 2:27 pm

          I’ll put it on my list, then. I’m always surprised when readers ask me these sorts of basic questions and I realize that I haven’t ever answered them on the blog!

      • Anna H.
        November 9, 2011 | 5:54 pm

        YES! This would be amazing! Now that I know about phytic acid, I have so many questions about beans!

  12. Lynn Blazyk via Facebook
    July 28, 2011 | 12:09 pm

    I use virgin cold pressed coconut oil in mine. You don’t taste the coconut flavor and the oil is more heart healthy than butter.

  13. Lee
    July 28, 2011 | 2:19 pm

    My daughter LOVES refried beans, we’ve been buying La Preferida brand in the can because they are made with lard (and no preservatives!) but they aren’t soaked so they are only a sometimes-treat. She will be so excited to know about this recipe! I suppose this would work with black beans too? She likes refried black beans just as much.

    • KristenM
      July 28, 2011 | 2:21 pm

      Yes, but to the black beans I would add something acidic when soaking like some lemon juice or vinegar.

    • KristenM
      July 28, 2011 | 2:22 pm

      Also, is that lard hydrogenated or not? I’d be scared that it’s hydrogenated because most industrially produced lard is. Lard is mostly a monounsaturated fat, so tends to be a liquid unless it’s cool or hydrogenated.

  14. Irene
    July 31, 2011 | 12:49 am

    Yum! Does it freeze well?

  15. Morning
    July 31, 2011 | 2:01 pm

    We love beans, I’ve been doing our refrieds a little different but I’m going to give your recipe a try.

  16. Naomi
    August 1, 2011 | 11:17 am

    Funny, I just had decided to make refried beans for a Mexican food feast, opened my new email from you and there was the recipe. I used it and it was great! I soaked and sprouted my beans for extra nutrition. There were no leftovers! Thanks for your timely post.

    • Audrey
      October 16, 2012 | 7:11 am

      I’m now to sprouting, but want to try this recipe (hubby would love it) . Is there any difference in cook time if they’re sprouted ( with pretty long tails, I wanted to make sure they were all sprouted). Thanks!

      • Jayne
        March 28, 2013 | 4:10 pm

        Are you sprouting your pinto beans here?

  17. Peggy Judd
    February 4, 2012 | 7:38 pm

    Does this freeze well?

    • KristenM
      February 4, 2012 | 9:43 pm

      I don’t know! I usually keep it in the fridge and finish it off over the next week.

    • Laura
      May 25, 2013 | 10:59 pm

      I freeze them all the time. I put 1/2 cup blobs on parchment on a cookie tray. Once they are frozen, into a freezer bag.

  18. Joshua
    April 20, 2012 | 1:10 pm

    I’ve been adding the spices BEFORE I transfer to the pan to fry up–when I’m mixing in the first half cup of butter and tomatoes.

    (Makin’ some now)

  19. Victoria
    March 28, 2013 | 2:55 pm

    I thought adding salt to beans before they are cooked, makes the beans tough and makes them take longer to cook. Is that a myth?

  20. Jayne
    March 28, 2013 | 4:09 pm

    Wondering if you have any tips for beans that are probably old….they never soften, besides tossing out?

  21. Jeannette
    November 17, 2013 | 7:16 pm

    I make these all the time. I add minced onion and garlic and use the immersion blender to make them smooth. Then they get topped with Monterey Jack cheese and it’s melted under the broiler for bean dip.
    You could leave them chunky too though.

  22. Stephanie
    January 8, 2014 | 5:30 pm

    Per my husband: “These are the real deal.” Thanks for sharing all of these great recipes!

  23. Piper Lindeen via Facebook
    February 7, 2014 | 12:03 pm

    Acidic foods including tomatoes make bean skins tough. Make sure not to add them too soon! The softening of the beans csn be hastened quite a bit by adding baking soda to the soak.

  24. Alma Rocha Gomez via Facebook
    February 7, 2014 | 1:23 pm

    I’m going to try your recipe, I always have beans at home, but my recipe is very different from yours. I LOVE frying them with BACON and jalapenos or serranos.

  25. Victoria CedeƱo via Facebook
    February 7, 2014 | 2:26 pm

    Throw this recipe away. Boil your beans in just water then add salt at the end or they will be tough. Once your done heat up a skillet with oil and add onion and Jalopeno. Throw in your beans and done. Don’t add all that crap like Taco seasoning to a perfectly healthy side.

  26. Joshua Allen Donini via Facebook
    February 7, 2014 | 7:23 pm

    Hey! Did my comment yesterday (combined with you just having had this dish) prompt you to post it today?

    But seriously, here’s a real question: Is there any reason NOT to save the liquid drained off? Maybe use as a broth or something? It’s quite thick and deliciously bean-y.
    One time I had cooked the beans so long, the “liquid” I drained off was almost as thick as the beans left in the pot – added some salt and cumin and it was like a dip.

  27. Food Renegade via Facebook
    February 7, 2014 | 8:02 pm

    Joshua Allen Donini, your comment did inspire me to post this and the fact that I had made it recently myself! I don’t see any any reason not to enjoy the leftover liquid.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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