Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Love Affair With Refried Beans

Growing up in the Midwest refried beans were typically only served as a side dish to tacos -- a can of Old El Paso, that mom would thin with some water.  An afterthought, really.  To me they always smelled (and looked) like canned dog food, but I enjoyed them anyway.

Fast forward to my college years in San Antonio.  A Taco Cabana was always nearby, and the cheapest thing on the menu was the bean and cheese taco.  Swaddled in foil and served steaming hot, it was peasant food, but hey, that was me!  Just a homemade tortilla, smoky, rich refried beans, and some shredded cheese.  It was heaven, and I lived on the things.

As toddlers, our kids lived on them too.  It was (and still is) the Scampwalker family equivalent to the peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  They are equally tasty morning, noon, or night.  Now our frijoles refritos are homemade, and I can happily report that they no longer smell like Alpo.

Scampwalker's Refried Beans

Roast 3-4 garic cloves, wrapped in foil, in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, sort a 16-ounce bag of pinto beans (black beans also work well) for any pebbles or other debris, put into a large pot with 8 cups of water, and add 3 bay leaves.  Do not add salt now -- your beans will never get fully tender if you do.

Cover and simmer for about 3 hours,  adding the peeled garlic when it's done roasting.  Check the beans occasionally, and if they're still tough, add water as needed.  You'll know they're done when they are tender and start sticking to the bottom of the pot and almost all the water is absorbed.  Remove from heat.

Add a fresh chopped tomato if in season, or a half can of tomato paste.  If you save bacon grease (and everyone should), add 2-3 tablespoons of it.  Otherwise add 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  You can also add salt at this time, although I typically don't if I'm using bacon grease.

Mash them with a potato masher.  I prefer mine still a bit chunky, but if you want them really creamy, you can finish them off with a hand mixer.

Serve them with homemade tortillas, shredded cheddar cheese, cilantro, and pico de gallo.  I suppose the beans will save for a week or more in the refrigerator, but they're never around long enough to know for sure.


  1. That just sounds damn good. Think I'll try it, what with -20 temps still hanging around. Cabin fever is settling in pretty good and I need a project. This sounds like just the ticket.

    Great food photo by the way. Food is a photographic shot that continues to be my nemesis.

  2. The world would be a better place if there were more Taco Cabanas

  3. Amen to that, Greg. That's fast food I actually enjoy eating.

    Gary, how'd your frijoles turn out?