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What are Frijoles?

By Grayson Millar
Updated May 16, 2024
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Frijoles is the Spanish word for beans. The term frijoles is often used loosely to refer to frijoles refritos, or refried beans, which is a traditional variety of cooked beans common to Mexican cuisine, especially Northern Mexican and American Tex-Mex. There are many regional variations in the preparation of refried beans throughout Mexico, Texas, and other southwestern areas of the United States.

The name refried beans is largely a mistranslation of the Mexican Spanish frijoles refritos, since the Mexican Spanish prefix re- does not suggest the repetition inherent in the English language re-. This mistranslation is presumably a result of a lack of familiarity with the Mexican variety of the Spanish language since, as in English, the old world Spanish re- also indicates repetition. As a result of this mistranslation, many English speakers assume that refried beans are fried twice instead of simply well-fried.

Preparing refried beans may involve soaking the beans in water overnight, which is optional, and then stewing the raw beans — either soaked or not. The cooked beans are then drained and mashed into a paste with a masher, fork, or spoon, or pressed through a sieve. Vegetable or chicken stock, or simply a small amount of the water drained from cooking the beans, is often added to the mashed beans to prevent over-drying. Next, the mashed beans are fried in either vegetable oil or lard and seasoned during the frying process. Salt and other spices are commonly used to season the bean paste during frying.

In general, the main variant in different types of regional frijoles refritos is the type of beans used. Pinto beans are most commonly used in Tex-Mex and Northern Mexican refried beans, as well as Southwestern American Mexican cuisine. In different regions of Mexico, both black and red beans are often the base of frijoles refritos. Some varieties of refried beans also combine two or more types of beans for a more complex flavor.

Frijoles are a common meal in Mexican homes due to ease of preparation and flexibility in terms of serving. They can function as the main portion of a meal, fill a burrito, or serve as a flavorful side dish for other entrees. In Tex-Mex or Southwest American Mexican cuisine, refried beans are often served alongside rice as side dishes for a wide variety of entrees. They also work well as a dip for chips or paired with seasoned meats, such as ground or shredded beef, chicken, or pork, in burritos.

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Discussion Comments

By candyquilt — On Sep 07, 2011

@simrin-- Don't worry, you've actually done everything right so far. Do you have a sieve at home? You can put the bean paste through a thin sieve and it will separate the skins for you.

Some people don't even put it through a sieve. Are the skins very visible? You could also put it in a blender to smooth it all out.

I usually use some of the water the beans boiled in to thin out the consistency. You can also use some vegetable stock to do that. If you have nothing, just add some boiled water until it gets to the consistency you want.

I'm sure it will come out just fine, good luck!

By SteamLouis — On Sep 06, 2011

I've been too lazy about making refried beans and usually get the ready-made refried beans in cans at the store. I have been missing out big time! I had some homemade refried beans at a friend's house the other day and it was outright amazing.

I've decided to make it at home, bought pinto beans, boiled them and everything. I've also mashed them with my potato masher but there's two problems. I forgot about the skins and I'm pretty sure they're not supposed to be in there and I've already mashed them with the skins. The other thing is that the consistency is way too thick. Was I suppose to keep some of the water that the beans boiled in or something?

Please help! I'm just so disappointed with myself right now and even more disappointed that I won't get to have some good refried beans tonight.

By ddljohn — On Sep 06, 2011

I just love frijoles. I grew up eating it almost daily since my dad is from Mexico. I think I've tried every kind of frijoles out there from the very basic Frijoles Pinto, Frijoles de la Olla to Frijoles Negros which is a Cuban version with black beans. I love them all!

In my house, no one would go hungry if there was frijoles in the house. The least you would have to eat was frijoles refritos, fresh spicy salsa and homemade tortillas. My favorite family dinner is Frijoles de Loya and rice which is just frijoles cooked in stock with garlic and onions and topped with bacon pieces.

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