Monday, February 28, 2011

Low-Fat Refried Beans

Here's another simple, wholesome-if-you-make-it food that cooks fast: refried beans.  The name comes from frijoles refrito, which actually means "well-fried beans" not "twice-fried beans" but there needn't be much frying at all to get a flavorful spread that's great for layering or dipping... friends back in Texas even include lean refried beans in their baby food rotation since it's a more substantial food than carrot puree.

I know plenty of people will think refried beans have limited Tex-Mex uses, but I learned better from my Grandpa Ed. Back in the day, he was a man who ate peanut butter like nobody's business; if my grandmother was away for a few days, he'd just eat peanut 'til she got back -- not because he couldn't cook but because it was all he really wanted to eat anyway.  [You may recall I made a stick-to-your-mouth peanut butter shortbread in his honor.]

Unfortunately, sometime in his late 60s or early 70s, the doctor told him his cholesterol was too high and the peanut butter had to go... forever.  It was a blow, but he soon discovered he could use canned low-fat refried beans as a substitute. It wasn't the same flavor, but somehow the texture was enough to satisfy him.  How he discovered this, I do not know, but as a result I've tried refried beans in and on many things you may not otherwise consider...  and, frankly, refried beans in a lunchmeat sandwich was a lot less weird than the peanut butter version.  Refried beans and celery sticks?  Delicious.

Think of it as "pinto bean hummus" if that makes it easier to diversify.  Despite its "refried" name, this recipe actually has less fat than hummus...

Recipe: Low-Fat Refried Beans
You can use this method with any type of canned bean you like, though pinto and black are my go-tos.  Yes, you could use the same method with bacon grease.

2 tsp olive oil [or canola]
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can of beans, including canning liquid
1 pickled jalapeno, chopped [optional, not pictured]

Heat oil over medium high in a small skillet.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant ~1 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to let the garlic brown. Add entire contents of canned beans and jalapeno (if using).  [After I dump it I usually add a little water to the can to loosen the stuff at the bottom and throw that in, too. It'll cook off.]  Use a hand ricer or masher [one that's safe for your chosen cookware] to mash the beans as they cook and become refried bean-consistency ~3-5 minutes. I like mine a little chunky, and you can just keep mashing until you like what you see, but turn off the heat once the masher (or a spatula) leaves a trail that doesn't fill in.

Store in an airtight container and refrigerate indefinitely.  I don't know how long you technically should keep it, but I've made some pretty big batches and never had the leftovers go bad.

this looks like more oil, but it's a very small pan
*You can certainly add more garlic, toasted cumin, chipotle en adobo, chili powder, diced bacon, etc.
If you want to make it more like Frito Bean Dip, add a little onion powder and garlic salt.


  1. Have you tried this with dried beans? Do they present any complications, aside from you having to soak the beans prior?

    Thanks for making these so much less scary, I've seen one recipe for them before that had about fifty ingredients and I burnt badly, and I've been scared forever after!

  2. You can make them a million different ways, so start basic and then see if there're a few ingredients from that list of fifty you want to add in to make the recipe your own... it's the cook's prerogative.

    You can certainly do this from dried beans, but they'll need to be soaked _and_ precooked for at least an hour until tender. You'll need to add at least a couple tablespoons of water when you start smashing to make them smooth and add a hearty pinch of salt to make them taste right.

    I recently discovered a pinch of baking soda in the bean's soaking water softens the skins very nicely, but you have to drain and rinse the beans before cooking in fresh water, so it's not very water-wise.

  3. Don't be afraid to double down on the garlic. If I remember right this recipe started as an attempt to replicate the beans at Austin's (now sadly shuttered) Las Manitas which had a LOT of garlic flavor. If you really want the muy-authentico Tex Mex experience you can 86 the olive oil and cook a piece of bacon in the pan before frying the garlic; pour out about 90% of the rendered grease you'll still have enough oil for the recipe to work perfectly and, as a bonus, you're half way to a bacon and egg taco.

  4. i love jg's shameless plug for garlic and bacon...two of the better things in life!

  5. I _did_ mention in the recipe header that you can sub bacon fat for oil. He's right about the garlic though, more is always better.