What We’re Cooking This Week: “Refried” Beans

First step is cooking a fresh pot of beans.

Refried beans, photo courtesy of Jim Dixon.

Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.

It may be shocking to learn that what we call refried beans have actually never been fried even once. Frijoles refritos translates from Spanish to something like rehashed beans, a reference to the process of mashing already cooked beans with plenty of fat and other ingredients like onion and garlic. But while we’re stuck with a misleading translation, don’t let a fear of frying get in the way of making tasty refried beans.

Good refritos start with good beans, and good beans don’t come out of a can. They may be convenient, but canned beans have been bred to be easy to get into the can; flavor is an afterthought. Heirloom varieties taste much better, and even dry commodity beans cooked at home have more flavor. So start by cooking a pot of beans. Most refritos are made from pintos, but I seem to use black beans more often, and I’ve “refried” garbanzos and white beans as well.

Once you’ve got good cooked beans, the refrying (or rehashing) part is simple. Chopped onion and garlic get cooked in a flavorful fat until soft, then the beans are added and mashed to a coarse paste. Mexicans make refritos with the freshly rendered pork fat you see in plastic bags at the markets there, and you can often find it at Mexican markets here. It makes delicious beans, but I use olive oil since I’ve always got some on hand.

The classic Mexican mashing tool is a cylindrical wooden club called a machacadora, but a potato masher does a great job. You could, theoretically, mash your beans with a fork or big wooden spoon, but be prepared for a workout. A large skillet makes mashing the beans easier.

Note that the recipe is really more of an approach to making refritos. Use more or less onion, skip the garlic, try other spices, or substitute a different fat (but don’t leave it out; beans love fat and it’s what makes refritos especially tasty).


1 small onion, chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 cups cooked beans

1 teaspoon kosher-style sea salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

Cook the onion in the olive oil with the salt over medium heat in a large skillet until it’s soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for another minute, then add the beans and spices. Use a potato masher to break up the beans, stirring and mashing until they become a creamy mix with some whole beans still evident. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook until the refritos have thickened.

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