How to Make Refried Beans

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How to make refried beans (aka frijoles refritos) using either dried or canned beans on the stovetop or within a pressure cooker! These naturally vegan refried beans (vegetarian options included) are the perfect accompaniment to tons of Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes!

Vegan refried beans in a bowl (frijoles refritos)

I’ve made no secret of my love for the humble legume. Having already shared the process for how to cook and store chickpeas and kidney beans, I also use beans extensively in the kitchen (especially for homemade British baked beans). However, somehow, this is one of the first times I’m sharing a recipe using pinto beans, this time, in the form of refried beans (aka ‘frijoles refritos’).

Pinto beans are tender, creamy, full of fiber, and the perfect pairing for simple aromatics like onion and garlic to serve up alongside (or as part of) all your favorite Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes like burritos and tacos.

What are refried beans?

Refried beans are a Mexican/Tex-Mex dish of cooked, mashed beans (usually pinto beans, though black beans and red kidney beans can also be used). Depending on where you’re based, there are several ways to prepare the dish, and it is popular in many Latin American countries.

Mashing vegan refried beans in a pan

Though they are called ‘refried’ beans in English, the beans aren’t actually ‘fried twice.’ The name comes from the Spanish name ‘frijoles refritos’ where ‘refritos’ means ‘well fried’ or ‘intensely fried.’

Instead, refried beans are made using beans that are soaked overnight and then cooked and mashed. The mashed beans are then added to a pan with sautéing onion and garlic and seasonings – traditionally with lard (bacon fat). However, this vegan refried beans recipe substitutes the lard for a meat-free, dairy-free healthy refried beans option!

In this post I’ll take you through how to make refried beans from scratch using dried beans or canned beans – so you never have to miss out on these creamy, flavorful Mexican refried beans!

The frijoles refritos ingredients

Ingredients for refried beans
  • Pinto beans: you can use dried or canned beans for this refried beans recipe. Both methods are included below.
  • Aromatics: I use a combination of onion, garlic, and jalapeño (optional, for extra spice).
  • Spices: chili powder and cumin are the classic additions to frijoles refritos. If you want a slightly smoky flavor, you can add a little chipotle chili powder.
  • Oil: use any neutral cooking oil like avocado oil or olive oil. Alternatively, you could use dairy-free butter (for vegetarian refried beans, I recommend using salted butter for extra flavor).

Optional add-ins

  • Vegetable stock: also, not traditional (usually just water is used) – I love the extra flavor from using homemade vegetable stock – especially as these vegan refried beans are made without lard, which means they don’t have the added salty, savory flavor from that fat.
  • Lime juice: just a squeeze of lime into the beans at the very end of the cooking process will brighten and provide depth to the dish’s flavor.
  • Bay leaf:  if you’re cooking the beans from scratch, I recommend adding a bay leaf to the pot while cooking, for extra flavor.

How to make refried beans

Step 1: Soak and cook the beans

If you plan on using canned beans, then you can skip to the bottom of this step.

I soak and cook all my beans using a similar method to red kidney beans– increasing/decreasing the time as needed.

First, soak the beans overnight (or for at least 8 hours). To do this, place the beans in a large bowl with plenty of water (at least 2-inched above the beans). During this time, they will expand in size, release phytonutrients (making them more digestible with less gas/bloating), and it also reduces their cooking time.

In the morning, drain and rinse the beans, and then it’s time to cook the beans.

To cook the pinto beans

On the stovetop: add the beans along with enough water to be 2 ½-3 inches above the beans to a large pot. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook the beans until tender. This will take around 2 hours. To test they’re ready, press a bean between two fingers; it should be tender and creamy. If not, then cook for a further 15 minutes and test again.

Pinto beans in a pot

In an Instant Pot: Add the beans and 3x the amount of water (i.e., 1 cup beans to 3 cups water) to your instant pot and cook them on high pressure for 40 minutes then use the quick release by turning the seal valve to the vent position, until the pin drops down.

Using Canned beans: If you’re using canned pinto, you can either skip this step entirely, or if you want creamier, softer beans (in a similar way to making creamy hummus), you can do a quick boil to further tenderize the beans for super creamy results. To do this, add the contents of your canned beans to a large pot (or drain and rinse them, then cook them in stock) along with 1/4tsp baking soda, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the beans begin to look very soft and just falling apart.

Step 2: Sauté the vegetables and beans

First, finely dice the onion and jalapeño (remove the stem and seeds, first) and mince the garlic (or use garlic paste).

To save time, you could roughly quarter the onion and then pulse it in a food processor to a fine consistency. You could, optionally, add the jalapeno too. As the beans are being mashed anyway, there’s no need to make them look ‘pretty.’

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the finely diced onions to sauté for around five minutes until they begin to turn translucent (they should not be browning).

Then add the garlic, jalapeno, and spices. Stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Steps for cooking refried beans (frijoles refritos)

Step 3: Mash the refried beans

Add the beans and ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Cover with a lid and cook for 4-5 minutes covered.

Remove the lid, lower the heat to low and then mash the beans to your desired consistency using a hand-masher or hand-held blender (or transfer them to a food processor)

For canned beans, I recommend using stock or water rather than the can liquid.

Steps for making refried beans (frijoles refritos)

Continue to cook the mashed beans for a further 3-5 minutes, adding a few spoonfuls more of the cooking liquid if needed to achieve your preferred texture.

Then taste the mixture, adjust any of the seasonings if needed, and serve. If you want to add lime juice, add it now, stirring it into the refried pinto beans before transferring the frijoles refritos to a serving dish.

Vegan refried beans in a pan (frijoles refritos)

How to serve refried beans

To garnish the refried beans: Feel free to garnish with cilantro and lime wedges and even sliced avocado. For vegetarian refried beans, you could garnish with some crumbled cotija cheese.

There are tons of ways that you can enjoy refried beans – whether it’s as a side or as part of a main meal, for example:

How to store

Fridge: any leftover vegan refried beans can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for around 5 days.

Freezer: allow it to cool completely before transferring to freezer-safe container/s and freezing for up to 3 months. Thaw the refried beans overnight in the fridge before reheating.

Reheat: you can reheat the frijoles refritos either on the stovetop of medium-low heat or in the microwave. You will likely need to add an additional spoonful of water or stock to bring them back to the same creamy consistency.

Vegan refried beans (frijoles refritos) in a bowl topped with parsley leaves

FAQs

What can I make refried beans with black beans?

You sure can! They’re not quite as tender as pinto beans, though, so they won’t mash quite as smooth, and the cooking time may vary. However, refried black beans are also super delicious. You could also use red kidney beans or even a combination (i.e., half black beans and half pinto).

How much liquid do you need for refried beans?

This really depends on your personal preference. I recommend starting by adding ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. If they seem a little dry to you, then increase the amount.

Recipe notes

  • Adding the aromatics while cooking: There are three methods when making refried beans. The first cooks the beans, then add them to a pan with the cooked aromatics. Alternatively, you can add all the aromatics to the pan while the beans boil (this will mellow the flavors – especially the garlic while flavoring the beans further). Lastly, you could add the onion and all seasonings (and optionally a bay leaf) to the beans while cooking them, then add them to a pan with the sauteed garlic and jalapeno (more potent garlic and spice flavor but still elevated bean flavor). Feel free to experiment with which version you prefer in terms of flavor.
  • Mashing the beans: How much you mash the beans is up to you! Instead of hand mashing the beans, you could use an immersion blender or food processor for an even creamier, smoother puree.
  • The age of the beans affects the cooking time: Older pinto beans will take longer to cook, so be aware of this if you’ve dragged out an old, forgotten bag of beans from the back of your pantry.
  • Don’t be afraid of seasoning: These beans can be very bland if not seasoned properly, so don’t be shy with the salt and pepper.
  • Add baking soda to the cooking beans: This helps decrease up to ¼ of the cooking time while softening the beans. However, it is best when you don’t plan to use the cooking water – so you’ll need separate water/stock to add back into the beans when frying them.
  • Double the batch of beans: I love to make large batches of beans in advance and store them in the freezer, ready for use. That way, you can cut down the prep time of this refried beans recipe to around 15-20 minutes.

Other Mexican and Tex-Mex recipes

If you try this vegan refried beans recipe, I’d love to hear your thoughts/questions below. Also, I’d really appreciate a recipe card rating below, and feel free to tag me in your recipe recreations on Instagram @Alphafoodie!

How to Make Refried Beans (Vegan Refried Beans)

5 from 2 votes
By: Samira
How to make refried beans (aka frijoles refritos) using either dried or canned beans on the stovetop or within a pressure cooker! These naturally vegan refried beans (vegetarian options included) are the perfect accompaniment to tons of Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes!
Cook Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients 
 

  • 15 oz cooked pinto beans or around 1/2 cup dried beans
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp oil olive or avocado
  • 1 jalapeño optional

Instructions 

Step 1: Soak and cook the beans

  • If you plan on using canned beans, then you can skip to the bottom of this step.
  • Soak the beans overnight (or for at least 8 hours). To do this, place the beans in a large bowl with plenty of water (at least 2-inched above the beans). During this time, they will expand in size, release phytonutrients (making them more digestible with less gas/bloating), and it also reduces their cooking time.
  • In the morning, drain and rinse the beans, and then it’s time to cook the beans.

To cook the pinto beans

  • On the stovetop: Add the beans along with enough water to be 2 ½-3 inches above the beans to a large pot. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook the beans until tender. This will take around 2 hours. To test they're ready, press a bean between two fingers; it should be tender and creamy. If not, then cook for a further 15 minutes and test again.
    In an Instant Pot: Add the beans and 3x the amount of water (i.e., 1 cup beans to 3 cups water) to your instant pot and cook them on high pressure for 40 minutes then use the quick release by turning the seal valve to the vent position, until the pin drops down.
    Using Canned beans: If you're using canned pinto, you can either skip this step entirely or if you want creamier, softer beans (in a similar way to making creamy hummus), you can do a quick boil to further tenderize the beans for super creamy results. To do this, add the contents of your canned beans to a large pot (or drain and rinse them, then cook them in stock) along with 1/4tsp baking soda, bring to a boil, and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the beans begin to look very soft and just falling apart.

Step 2: Sauté the vegetables and beans

  • Finely dice the onion and jalapeño (remove the stem and seeds, first) and mince the garlic (or use garlic paste).
    To save time, you could roughly quarter the onion and then pulse it in a food processor to a fine consistency. You could, optionally, add the jalapeno too. As the beans are being mashed anyway, there's no need to make them look 'pretty.'
  • Heat the oil in a large pan and add the finely diced onions to sauté for around five minutes until they begin to turn translucent (they should not be browning).
  • Then add the garlic, jalapeno, and spices. Stir well and cook for 1-2 minutes.

Step 3: Mash the refried beans

  • Add the beans and ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Cover with a lid and cook for 4-5 minutes covered.
  • Remove the lid, lower the heat to low and then mash the beans to your desired consistency using a hand-masher or hand-held blender (or transfer them to a food processor)
    For canned beans, I recommend using stock or water rather than the can liquid.
  • Continue to cook the mashed beans for a further 3-5 minutes, adding a few spoonfuls more of the cooking liquid if needed to achieve your preferred texture.
  • Then taste the mixture, adjust any of the seasonings if needed, and serve. If you want to add lime juice, add it now, stirring it into the refried pinto beans before transferring the frijoles refritos to a serving dish.

How To Store

  • Fridge: Any leftover vegan refried beans can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for around5 days.
    Freezer: Allow it to cool completely before transferring to freezer-safe container/s and freezing for up to 3 months. Thaw the refried beans overnight in the fridge before reheating.
    Reheat: You can reheat the frijoles refritos either on the stovetop of medium-low heat or in the microwave. You will likely need to add an additional spoonful of water or stock to bring them back to the same creamy consistency.

Notes

  • Adding the aromatics while cooking: There are three methods when making refried beans. The first cooks the beans, then add them to a pan with the cooked aromatics. Alternatively, you can add all the aromatics to the pan while the beans boil (this will mellow the flavors – especially the garlic while flavoring the beans further). Lastly, you could add the onion and all seasonings (and optionally a bay leaf) to the beans while cooking them, then add them to a pan with the sauteed garlic and jalapeno (more potent garlic and spice flavor but still elevated bean flavor). Feel free to experiment with which version you prefer in terms of flavor.
  • Mashing the beans: Instead of hand mashing the beans, you could also use an immersion blender for an even creamier, smoother puree. How much you mash the beans is up to you!
  • The age of the beans affects the cooking time: Older pinto beans will take longer to cook, so be aware of this if you’ve dragged out an old, forgotten bag of beans from the back of your pantry.
  • Don’t be afraid of seasoning: These beans can be very bland if not seasoned properly, so don’t be shy with the salt and pepper.
  • Add baking soda to the cooking beans: This helps decrease up to ¼ of the cooking time while softening the beans. However, it is best when you don’t plan to use the cooking water – so you’ll need separate water/stock to add back into the beans when frying them.
  • Double the batch of beans: I love to make large batches of beans in advance and store them in the freezer, ready for use. That way, you can cut down the prep time of this refried beans recipe to around 15-20 minutes.

Optional Ingredients:
  • Vegetable stock: Also, not traditional (usually just water is used) – I love the extra flavor from using homemade vegetable stock– especially as these vegan refried beans are made without lard, which means they don’t have the added salty, savory flavor from that fat.
  • Lime Juice: Just a squeeze of lime into the beans at the very end of the cooking process will brighten and provide depth to the dish’s flavor.
  • Bay leaf:  If you’re cooking the beans from scratch, I recommend adding a bay leaf to the pot while cooking- for extra flavor.

Read the blog post for the answer to more FAQs and more ingredient notes!
 
Course: Appetizer, Side
Cuisine: Mexican, Tex Mex
Freezer friendly: 3 Months
Shelf life: 4-5 Days

Nutrition

Calories: 132kcal, Carbohydrates: 19g, Protein: 5g, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Trans Fat: 1g, Sodium: 434mg, Potassium: 350mg, Fiber: 6g, Sugar: 2g, Vitamin A: 77IU, Vitamin C: 7mg, Calcium: 60mg, Iron: 2mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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