Learn how to make refried beans using either dried or canned products. I’ll show you the technique for sauteing these tender legumes with savory aromatics then mashing them into a creamy puree. It’s the perfect side to serve with your favorite Mexican dishes!
Table of Contents
Homemade refried beans are simple and easy to prepare. This recipe has two convenient and affordable methods where you can choose between using dried or canned beans. Each serving is packed with protein and fiber to add some unexpected nutrition to your meal.
To maximize the flavor, I use fresh aromatics, spicy peppers, and savory seasonings. Plus, a squeeze of acidic lime juice. One of the critical components in this recipe is using the beans’ starchy liquid to enhance the texture. Easily adjust the consistency to be as rustic or smooth as you like without using cream.
Dried: Pinto beans are traditionally used in refried bean recipes because they yield a tender and creamy consistency. Dried beans have a beige surface with mottled or “painted” brownish-red spots. Once cooked, they mysteriously transform into solid deep pink legumes. Make sure to pick out any cracked pieces or rocks and rinse them well.
Canned: For a quicker option, grab two 15-ounce cans but don’t drain the starchy liquid. You can use it later to adjust the dish’s consistency.
Soak dried beans
Dried beans are very hard, so you need to hydrate them with water to soften the rigid inner core. Salting the water helps to season the legumes throughout while making the skin softer, allowing more water to permeate through the surface.
You can soak them for at least 8 hours or overnight on the counter. Otherwise, I recommend using the quick soak method, as shown above, to cut down on wait time drastically. This process involves boiling the beans for a few minutes in seasoned water, then turning off the heat and covering the pot for an hour.
Cook the dried beans
After soaking, drain and add them to a freshwater solution consisting of salt, onion wedges, and bay leaf to infuse briny and herbaceous flavors. Simmer the pot gently for just over an hour until the beans easily burst when pinched. Don’t throw out that flavorful starchy cooking liquid!
For an even faster method that doesn’t require soaking, you can prepare the pinto beans in a pressure cooker, similar to my black bean Instant-Pot recipe.
Save the starchy liquid
No matter if you’re cooking pinto beans from scratch or popping open a can, make sure you reserve the liquid. Drain the beans in a strainer set over a bowl to make it easy to separate, and let gravity do its work. This solution contains starches that have been released from the legumes during the cooking process.
This slightly opaque liquid flavors the dish and creates a more velvety and creamy texture when added after mashing. I use ¾ cup of liquid for 3 ½ cups of cooked beans.
Saute the aromatics and spices
To build layers of flavor in the dish, saute chopped onions, minced garlic, and jalapenos in melted butter. This step mellows out the sulfurous notes of the alliums into savory aromatics with a hint of sweetness.
The peppers add a touch of heat, cooking it in fat allows the fat-soluble capsaicin release to be better distributed. Dried oregano and cumin cook in the butter to awaken their concentrated flavors and bloom the spices to intensify the taste.
Mash it down
Saute the cooked beans in the hot fat for a few minutes to dry the surface and coat it with flavorful aromatics. I find it most comfortable to use a potato masher to puree the beans into a rough mixture. Once you stir in the starchy liquid, it will loosen the consistency. Crush it further with the masher for a smoother texture.
If you don’t want small chunks of beans remaining, use a handheld immersion blender, food processor, or countertop blender to puree the mixture into a fine consistency. Stir in the lime zest and juice at the end of cooking to preserve their delicate flavors.
Extra seasoning and garnishes
For a spicier taste, try adding dried chile powder, cayenne pepper, or chipotle pepper. Note that a little goes a long way, so add about ¼ teaspoon at a time. For a smokier flavor, try adding chopped fire-roasted green chiles or smoked paprika.
To serve, I like to sprinkle grated Monterey Jack, Asadero, sharp cheddar, cotija, or even queso fresco cheese on top. Chopped cilantro or green onions also add a pop of color and freshness to the dish.
What to serve this with
Lime enhances the flavor
Freshly-squeezed lime juice and the zest brighten the dish so that it doesn’t feel so heavy. The acids in the lime, mainly composed of tart citric acid is a natural flavor enhancer. It makes the taste of the salt and cumin pop while balancing the savory notes. The zest contains essential oils that add soft and fragrant citrus notes.
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Refried Beans (2-Ways!)
Dried Beans (Soaking Method)
- 1 ½ cups dried pinto beans
- 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt
- 8 cups cold water
- 6 cups water
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 wedges yellow onion, 1-inch wide pieces
- 1 bay leaf, dried (optional)
- 30 ounces canned pinto beans, two 15-ounce cans
- 2 tablespoons butter, lard or vegetable oil
- ½ cup yellow onion, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno, stems and seeds removed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon lime zest
- 2 tablespoons lime juice, divided
Using Dried Beans
- Pick over and discard any broken dried beans. Add them to a colander and rinse with cold water for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Overnight Soaking: Add beans, salt, and water to a large bowl. Cover and allow to sit for 8 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse the beans before cooking.Quick Soaking (same day cooking): In a large saucepan or dutch oven, add beans, 1 ½ tablespoons salt, and 8 cups water, stir to dissolve. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and cover for 1 hour. Drain and rinse before cooking.
- In a large saucepan or dutch oven, add the soaked beans, 6 cups of water, 1 ½ teaspoon of salt, onion wedges, and bay leaf. Bring water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce heat to low. Stir occasionally to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot, about every 30 minutes. Gently cook beans over low heat until very tender and creamy, about 60 to 75 minutes.
- Discard the onions and bay leaf. Use a slotted spoon to transfer beans to a bowl and reserve the starchy liquid.
Using Canned Beans
- Set a colander over a bowl. Pour canned beans into the colander, allow to drain for 5 minutes. There should be about 3 ½ cups of beans. Reserve the starchy liquid to use later. There should be about ¾ cups.
Making the Refried Beans
- In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the onions, garlic, and jalapenos. Saute until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.
- Add the cumin and oregano, saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add about 3 ½ cups of beans and saute for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and use a potato masher to crush them until the desired consistency is reached.
- Turn the heat to low. Add ¾ cups of the reserved starchy liquid, stir to combine. Stir in the lime zest and 1 tablespoon lime juice. Season to taste, adding more as needed.
- For a smoother consistency, continue to crush using the potato masher, or use a handheld immersion blender to puree the beans. Alternatively, add to a food processor or blender and pulse until desired consistency is reached.
- Recipe Yield: 3 cups
- Serving Size: ½ cup
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