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What are Refried Beans?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Refried beans, or frijoles refritos, are a traditional Mexican dish made with beans. Generally, the are created using pinto beans, but some cooks use pink or red kidney beans instead. The beans are boiled and mashed, then cooked a second time over low heat. The Spanish name is translated to mean “well fried beans” and is an apt description of how the dish is prepared.

To make basic refried beans, pinto or kidney beans are cooked thoroughly, and then any excess water or broth is drained from them. While still warm, the beans are mashed until there are no more than a few lumps remaining. Simple spices, such as salt and pepper, are sometimes added during the mashing process. Once the ingredients are thoroughly blended, the mixture is placed into a frying pan and cooked over a low heat. In order to enhance the flavor, lard is often melted into the frying pan just before the bean mixture is introduced, although shortening or vegetable oil can be used instead.

Traditionally, refried beans are served at breakfast as an accompaniment to eggs. They also work well as an afternoon snack or as a side dish at dinner. While these beans are usually served warm, it is possible to enjoy the dish served at room temperature or cold. In Mexican restaurants around the United States, they are often one of the staple accompaniments to the entree, along with seasoned rice. It is not unusual for a small amount of grated cheese to be placed on top just before serving, allowing it a chance to melt slightly before being served.

In consistency, these beans are not quite as thick as bean dip, but they are usually thick enough to be consumed with a fork. If desired, a small amount of hot sauce may also be used to enhance the flavor.

These mashed Mexican beans can also be used as an ingredient in a number of recipes. A tasty layered dish using lettuce, chopped tomatoes, onions, cooked ground hamburger, and cheese may rest on a bed of refried beans and scooped from the serving dish using tortilla chips. In other applications, Mexican casseroles often make extensive use of beans and Spanish rice in the basic recipe.

Consumers can purchase cans of beans that are already mashed and infused with some type of lard or oil at most grocery stores. The contents of the can are dumped into a skillet and allowed to slowly heat. Care should be taken to turn the bean mixture frequently, so that the beans are not scorched during preparation.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including DelightedCooking, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Mar 09, 2014

Even canned refried beans are pretty good. That was the first semi-solid thing I ate when I had oral surgery to have my wisdom teeth extracted. They're soft, flavorful and have lots of protein, so I'd definitely recommend them for someone who has had oral surgery.

Sometimes, kids will eat refried beans when they won't touch any other kinds, and this may be a good way to introduce them to beans in general.

I really like refried black beans and also bean dip. It combines the best of both worlds-- refried beans and cheese dip. Refried black beans are great with grilled chicken and pineapple.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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