For a long time, I had a single-minded view of refried beans: pinto or sometimes black beans, cooked in lard.
But there's no reason that the technique of "refrying" (cooking the beans with additional fat and liquid, then mashing them to your desired consistency) can't be applied to a whole range of beans, whether boiled from dry or dumped out of a can, and lentils, too. You can add another layer of flavor to the leftovers in the fridge (or the troop of cans in your pantry) while shifting the texture from chewy to satiny.
The method is simple:
- Heat some fat (this could be olive oil, butter, coconut oil, lard, bacon drippings, even schmaltz) in a pan.
- Sauté onion (and/or garlic, leek, scallion, shallot, carrot, celery—you get the gist) in that fat. I like to add spices at this point, too: cumin, oregano, smoked paprika, epazote, dried basil.
- When soft, add the cooked beans and stir to coat.
- Now add their cooking liquid, little by little, and bring to a simmer. As it cooks off, mash the beans with the back of a spoon or a potato masher, adding more liquid until you've reached the desired consistency. (At this point, you could also use an immersion blender or food processor if you want your beans super smooth.) Season to taste. Eat with a spoon.
If you're wondering what to do if you don't have bean cooking liquid (you're using leftovers, you're cooking from a can): Use warm broth instead (chicken, vegetable, beef, or mushroom).
You can also give canned beans a from-scratch feel rather quickly: Dump your canned beans in a pot, fill with water, then add the aromatics of your choosing (half an onion, a bay leaf, a nub of ginger, some lemongrass, a swath of lemon peel), and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. ( I learned this tip from Annada Rathi, who boils canned chickpeas before she uses them in chana masala.) Now use that liquid from the pot to achieve the creamy refried beans you're after.
Here, you'll see that simple method applied in two ways, to white beans and lentils. The refried white bean recipe is inspired by Nancy Silverton's in Mozza at Home and though my version skimps on time, complexity, and prosciutto, I've kept Nancy's dried chiles and generous glug of olive oil.
The refried lentils, which are slightly adapted from longtime Food52 friend and contributor Tom Hirschfeld's recipe, skew more Mexican-ish than Italian-ish. The method is also slightly different: The lentils gets whirred in the food processor before they're added to the oil and aromatics, which gives them a bit of a head start on the path towards mush (so that you're not chasing teeny lentils around with the back of the spoon).
On their own, the finished refried beans won't look like... much. But don't let that deter you! Cover them with roasted vegetables, cheese, and something sharp and acidic—like quick-pickled red onions, lime zest, or cabbage slaw—and eat them as a side dish. Tuck them in quesadillas and tacos, use them to top roasted nachos (or roasted broccoli), or—why the heck not—build into a Seven Layer Dip. Spread over a wrap, then top with roasted sweet potatoes and brown rice. Smear them over matzo (like our editor Lindsay-Jean Hard) or, for a not-at-all kosher option, channel Nancy Silverton herself and serve underneath a big old pork chop.
The base recipes:
Refried Lentils, Inspired by Tom Hirschfeld
- 1/2 cup brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
- 2 garlic cloves, one smashed, one minced
- 1 onion, one half left whole, one half roughly chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- Salt and pepper, for seasoning
- 1/2 lime
- Pickled red onions, for garnish
- Cilantro, for garnish
- Crumbly goat or feta cheese, for garnish
Refried White Beans
- One 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Salt, to season
- 1/2 onion
- 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 sprig rosemary
- 2 dried chiles de árbol
- 1/2 lemon
A few ideas for putting them to use:
If you could only have one type of legume for the rest of your life, which would you choose? Tell us in the comments below.