Refried pinto beans

October 10, 2006 at 9:35 pm (B plus (3.5 stars, like a lot), Beans, Cook's Illustrated, Mexican & S. American, My brain, Quick weeknight recipe)

Back in college, when I lived in a housing co-op, one of my jobs was to make “fast food”–food to have in the fridge for lunches, or when someone wanted a quick snack. I made a lot of hummus, and tofu salad, and since this was Texas, massive quantities of salsa and refried beans. I’ve reduced my recipe down so it no longer makes a gallon!

  • 2 cups dry pinto beans (or 5 cups cooked, drained beans, juice reserved)
  • 7 cups filtered water (I need to double check this amount)
  • 1-1.5 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
  • 1 large jalepeno, partially or completely seeded, minced (optional)
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. cumin
  • 1.5 tsp. chili powder
  • 1.5 tsp. oregano
  • 1-2 cups of cooking water from the beans
  • 1 Tbs. tomato paste
  • 2-3 Tbs. of lime juice


  1. Cook 2 cups of dry pinto beans with 1 tsp. of salt and 7 cups of water in a crockpot on the low setting overnight. This should take about 8 hours, and the beans should be very soft, almost falling apart, when done.
  2. Saute the oil, onion, and jalepeno together until soft. I use a 9 inch cast iron skillet, but any heavy-bottom pan will do. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes, then add the cumin and chili powder and toast briefly.
  3. Add the drained beans, the oregano, the tomato paste, and 1 cup of the bean cooking liquid. Use a potato masher or a fork to break the beans down into a rough paste. If you prefer your refries chunky, reserve a cup of whole beans and add them at the end.
  4. Off heat, and add the lime juice. Taste and adjust the salt if needed, adding up to another 1/2 tsp. salt. Either serve immediately, or if you’re going to store it in the fridge add another 1 cup of the bean liquid. The beans get very thick and dried out after a night in the fridge, so they should be pretty soupy going in.

Yields 5 cups of refries, about 6-10 servings.

My notes

It’s funny, I went looking for a recipe for refried pinto beans in my cookbook collection and didn’t turn up much–not even in my bean book! AMA has one fat-free recipe where you add raw onions and garlic and the beans to a blender, but I’m scared to try it. Berley has a more normal looking recipe, but I think I tried it a while back and it was incredibly bland.

Regarding cooking the beans. It’s important to cook the beans with the salt for the best flavor. You could also throw in kombu, a bay leaf, or other seasonings at this stage if you want. I’d like to experiment with this and see if adding the cumin and other spices at this point improves the recipe. This recipe also works fine with canned beans, but you may have to reduce the salt.

Other ingredients I have added to my refries at one time or another include coriander, chipotle powder, garlic powder, salsa, tomato sauce, cilantro, pickled jalepenos, green bell peppers, poblano chiles, and lime zest. I still want to futz with this recipe a bit more to recall if any of these ingredients should make it into the final recipe, and maybe experiment with some other ingredients. There’s a very popular recipe on RecipeZaar that calls for black beans and a bottle of beer.  Sounds very sour. I’m open to other suggestions as well. Just post a comment!

In any case, I do think the essential ingredients are salt, cumin powder, something spicy, something tomato-y, and lime juice. Everything else is secondary.

10/22/06 I served these for brunch today and Derek said they were “delicious, wonderful, everyone loved them. Perfect.”

Rating: B+
Derek: A

Nutritional Stats

Serving Size: 1/2 cup

Amount Per Serving
Calories 154
Total Fat 2.1g
Saturated Fat 0.3g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 363mg
Carbohydrate 26.6g
Dietary Fiber 6.7g
Sugars 2.2g
Protein 8.7g
Vitamin A 4% Vitamin C 28%
Calcium 6% Iron 15%

Percent calories from: fat 12%, protein 22%, carbs 66%. I prefer to keep my beans low fat because I like to add cheese or avocados or olives to my burritos. If you’re not going to have any added fats, you might want to increase the amount of olive oil to 2-3 Tablespoons.

I recently tried the refried bean recipe in Cook’s Illustrated Best Light Recipe Cookbook:

Makes 4.5 cups. Serves 6-8.

1 cup water
3 (15.5 ounces each) cans pinto beans , drained and rinsed (about 4.5-5.25 cups?)
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 medium onion , chopped fine
1 jalapeno chile , seeds and ribs removed, chile minced
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 small cloves garlic, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro leaves (optional)

1. Process water and beans in food processor until smooth, about 15 seconds, scraping sides of bowl with rubber spatula if necessary.

2. Heat 1 tsp. olive oil in large saucepan over medium-low heat, add the onion and jalepeno, cover and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cumin; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and stir. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, until beans are thick and creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in final Tbs. of olive oil and cilantro is using, and serve.

My Notes:

It’s weird, I looked up the original (non-light) recipe on C.I. and it called for salt pork, chicken broth instead of water, a poblano chili, and 1 Tbs. fresh lime juice. I can understand nixing the salt pork and chicken broth, but why do away with the poblano and lime juice? Also it called for kidney beans rather than pintos?? I had some home cooked lightly salted pintos in the fridge, so used those, and substituted the bean juice for the water, but used slightly less than called for since I hadn’t drained the beans perfectly. I also withheld some of the beans from the food processor (as is suggested in the original but not the light recipe) since I didn’t want a total puree. I think I actually should have withheld about 1/3-1/2 of the beans, since I like quite a chunky puree. I didn’t add the cilantro but I did add a Tbs. of lime juice, which I think is essential. I also increased the cumin to 1.5 tsp., and upped the garlic a bit. I didn’t stir in the final Tbs. of olive oil since I actually thought they tasted quite good, and I was planning on eating them with guacamole anyhow.

Overall I thought these refries turned out pretty well (given my modifications)–better than other recipes I’ve tried. Althought they were tasty, they were still missing something. I think they would be improved by adding a bit of some tomato product for acidity and roundness, and some type of chili powder for more darkness/depth.

Okay, I just went back and compared it to my recipe above. The difference is that it calls for a bit less liquid (1 cup vs. 1-2 cups), less salt (although canned beans are salted so that might be why), less garlic (about 2 tsp. vs 2 Tbs.), less cumin (1 tsp. vs. 1 Tbs.) and less lime juice (1 Tbs. vs 2 Tbs.) Plus I use oregano, tomato paste, and chili powder. After comparing them I can see why I like this recipe. It’s basically a toned down version of my recipe. Maybe the ideal recipe is somewhere in between? Mine is probably a bit overspiced, and theirs is a bit underspiced.

Update Feb 2010:  I was eyeing some very soft, lightly salted pinto beans I had cooked up the day before, and decided to turn them into refries.  I used a middle ground between the above two recipes.  I measured out about 5.5-6 cups of very soup beans.  (I didn’t drain them, but I did use a ladle with big holes to scoop them into the measuring cup.)  I sauteed 1.5 cups red onion and a very little big of green bell pepper with 1.5 Tbs. of olive oil, in my cast iron skillet.  Then I added the garlic, 1.5 tsp. whole cumin which I ground in my coffee grinder, 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder, and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt.  I then added about 2.5-3 cups of the soupy beans, then used my stick blender to puree what remained in the measuring cup.  I added the pureed beans as well.  At this point the beans tasted pretty good but were way too thin.  I let them simmer for about 30 minutes until they’d thickened up.  Derek liked them–had two servings.  I thought they needed a little lime, but they were pretty good.

Update March 2010:  I measured out just over 1 pound (maybe 2.5 -3 cups) dry pintos, and cooked them with salt and water until very soft.  I used all the pintos plus about 1.5 cups of the cooking liquid (the thick stuff from the bottom), 1 Tbs. garlic, 1.5 tsp. whole cumin ground, 1/2 tsp. chipotle powder, 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 9 ounces (about 2 cups chopped) onion, 1.5 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. butter, 4 ounces long green peppers, and 1 tsp. tomato paste.  After cooking the beans I got about 5.5 cups of drained, cooked beans.  The refries still don’t taste quite right too me.  Derek likes them, but maybe they need more salt?  I’m not sure.  I sauteed the onion and peppers together, then added them, (all but 2 cups of) the cooked beans and the bean juice to a container, and pureed with my stick blender.  Then I added the remaining beans in for texture.  I ended up with about 7 cups of refries.

Update May 2010:  I had about 3-5 cups of mixed cooked pinto/black beans, lightly salted.  For refries I used

  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large jalepeno, with seeds
  • 3 regular cloves garlic, minced
  • 1.5 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • sprinkle of chipotle powder
  • a little liquid from the bean cooking liquid
  • about 1 Tbs. pace-style picante sauce

I used my stick blender to roughly puree the beans in my casserole pan.  The texture turned out a little gritty and a little chunky.  I liked it, and it was easier than mashing by hand.  The beans were seasoned well–not to intense but not mild either.  Altogether it took me about 25 minutes to make the refries, cut up raw veggies for my burritos (peppers, cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and lettuce), and do various dishes  / cleanup.

Update September 2015: My mom came to visit this week and made me refries. Her beans were much better than I remember mine being. Here’s a link to her recipe.


  1. cindy said,

    I made half of this recipe…no jalepeno and cayenne pepper instead of chili powder (accidentally used too much). I don\’t have a potato masher so I blended it with the extra bean liquid. Delicious! I like spiced food, but I can see how some might like it better with less cumin. Now I just have to make something to go along with them…
    Cindy, A-

  2. austingardener said,

    I wanted to make refried beans and came across your recipe on Google on the third page. I wanted a recipe without chili powder so this one will work for me. I also want it very blended so after I fry the onions and garlic(no jalapeno, no heat) I will blend them up too. I will put in the lime juice, something I had not thought of and will report back the results.

  3. austingardener said,

    They are very good. I used one onion, one large clove of garlic, 1 tsp of cumin , 1 TBSP of lime juice.and 1/2 tsp of salt and blended them all up together. John said it was a little too blended but oh so smooth,. Cilantro would have been nice, but I try to cook from my garden and in Austin cilantro grows in the winter and spring not the summer.

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