Weeknight Cooking

The Splendid Table's Refried Beans with Cinnamon and Clove

October 23, 2013

Every week -- often with your help -- Food52's Senior Editor Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that are nothing short of genius.

Today: A cheater's method for lighter, faster refried beans -- plus an unexpectedly sexy spice combo you haven't tried (on beans) yet.

Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

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If you're thinking tonight should be taco night, or burrito night, or quesadilla night -- and we should all be thinking that more often -- the beans are probably pretty low on your list. 

You think you'll have to make compromises in the service of dinner before bedtime, and you'll pick up a can of refried beans.

Don't. You put that can back. You can have homemade refried beans -- tonight! Good ones. In 30 minutes. In one pot. Without frying once, or twice. 

The Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

You probably even have everything you need already. All you have to do is be totally inauthentic.

When Food52er SoupLady tipped me off to this recipe from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper, the first thing that hooked me was the cinnamon and clove in the title -- I didn't even realize all this other genius. But it's a technique you can apply any time the hankering for taco night hits, with any bean in your arsenal, any spicing that suits you.

Let's get started: Sauté onion in olive oil.

Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

Next come garlic and chiles, and those ground spices. You know you have them in your spice drawer from the last time you made ginger snaps.

If you think cinnamon and clove are an odd match for refried beans, they sort of are. As SoupLady said, "Who knew that you successfully make refried beans reminiscent of pastitsio? They are amazing." Just think about the complex spicing in mole, and give in to it. (Or don't -- you can also go with something more expected like cumin, or skip it entirely.)

Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

The Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52  Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

Next add in canned tomatoes, and mash them up aggressively. 

Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52  Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

Then pile in your beans -- we like that The Splendid Table calls for lowly kidney, but this could work with any canned beans you've got: pinto, black, cranberry, whatever. You're not that into the texture of canned beans? Well good, because you're about to eviscerate them. Dump in a bunch of water -- yep, water. Not lard.

Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52  Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

Boil it vigorously, and mash like you have something to prove. The final product will get its creaminess (mostly) from crushed beans agitated with a lot of water. But as we've seen, there's enough seasoning in here to balance those more austere ingredients.

Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

At the very end, when you're starting to recognize it, you'll slip in a tiny bit of butter, to soften everything up.

Now, it's definitely taco night, right?

Splendid Table's Refried Beans on Food52

The Splendid Table's Refried Beans with Cinnamon and Clove

Adapted slightly from The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper (Clarkson Potter, 2008)

Serves 4 to 6

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 fresh jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained
Two 15-ounce cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Cristin P. January 25, 2015
I made these—they're delicious! Wondering about using the same method, but with pinto beans, cumin and ?? Thoughts?
SoupLady January 25, 2015
Glad to hear you like this recipe! I must admit that the only improvising I've done with this recipe is subbing pintos for kidney beans & they are delicious. We sometimes just mash canned pintos in some of the bean liquid and add cumin for everyday refried beans. I'm sure you could get creative with it though!
Chinar April 15, 2014
I cooked this today for a packed work lunch (halved the recipe and used fresh tomato and cherry tomatoes, and added 1/2 finely chopped red pepper). I made a few amendments to the original and thought I'd share as it was delicious! To enhance the flavour - add 1/2 tsp of dried coriander, 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper, dash of balsamic vinegar, 2 tsp of red pepper paste, juice of 1/2 lime and 1/2 tsp of cocoa powder. For dairy free (or those with lactose intolerance) omit and use substitute (such as goats butter)
ElizabethS October 31, 2013
this recipe looks great, but more importantly, where is that masher from? i've been looking for something like that for forever.
Kristen M. October 31, 2013
I think Amanda picked this up at a flea market. It worked great for mashing the beans, but for general purpose smashing, I actually prefer this wavy shape (also pretty easy to find at antique stores and flea markets): http://www.webstaurantstore.com/18-square-face-potato-masher/407PMSQ18.html
Joan -. October 27, 2013
I'm not sure I can think of this recipe as a substitute for the beans prepared with lard or bacon grease along side my taco or quesadilla, but it is definitely something will try with a portion of my next pot of boiled-with-garlic-and-pepper pinto beans. It looks terrific and certainly calls out to meet fried eggs on fresh tortillas at brunch.
Beth October 24, 2013
I've actually tried this recipe and I concur that it is delicious. The butter and the spices make all the difference.
SoupLady October 23, 2013
Thank you, Kristen! This is one of my favorite recipes. You highlighted 'genius' aspects of it that hadn't even occurred to me because I make it so much. I know Kasper & Swift mention not to skip the butter - it's true! The butter somehow brings out the warmth of the spices and adds the necessary refried bean creaminess. I'm glad you enjoyed these beans (by the way, with eggs and rice and cheese and a wheat tortilla they make the best breakfast burrito).
I just have to say that your column is my *favorite* part of Food52, it's something I look forward to every week. And what a surprise this week!
Kristen M. October 23, 2013
Thanks SoupLady -- I'm so glad you shared this! It's such a great technique, I'm not surprised you make them often. (Making a note of that breakfast burrito.)