Build a better layer dip with these authentic homemade refried beans.
I love the Superbowl for one simple reason: it’s become a national day of snacking. And I can get behind that even if I don’t watch a single football play.
Granted, this is not a celebration built on health concerns, but the food still can be high quality and well made.
Take the ever-popular bean layer dip, for example. It sure is easy to open a can of refried beans for the foundation layer. But what if those beans were homemade instead? I bet you can already taste the difference.Refried beans the Mexican way
Refried beans are the mashed potatoes of Mexico. I learned to make them from a restaurant owner named Gonzalo many years ago near Guanajuato. I still have my notes from the 10 days I spent in his restaurant learning to cook with nothing more than a few propane burners and a blender.
The recipe details I recorded then for cooking refried beans takes up an entire page.
Homemade refried beans are very simple, but they take some time to cook until they’re well mashed and the moisture is cooked out so that they become starchy and fluffy. I remember standing over the cast-iron pan of mashed pinto beans, stirring and watching the mass of beans bubble up and change texture.
“Listos?” I asked Gonzalo, hoping they were done. “Un pocito mas,” he replied with a smile. I smashed and stirred some more as serious arm fatigue set in.
Simple and slow was a lesson I learned repeatedly, whether making masa for tamales or mole. I remembered this as I stirred up this pan of refried black beans just yesterday.
Instead of rushing, I focused on this single task. It was a refreshing change.
Essential homemade refried beans
In my kitchen, I rely on building block recipes–those items that I can take in any direction to make a quick meal. And refried beans are at the top of the list for these weeknight tostadas or this weekend bean layer dip.
Homemade refried beans start with a well-seasoned pot of boiled beans. There are only three additional ingredients: vegetable oil or lard plus finely diced white onion and jalapeno pepper. (There’s more fat in this recipe than you may think, but again consider the comparison to mashed potatoes and how you need enough butter to enrich them.)
Once the onion and jalapeno is tender and fragrant, in go the beans. At this stage, you need two hands: one firmly grasped on a masher and the other on the skillet handle.
In Mexico, refried beans are generally very smooth so, unless you want them to be chunky, it’s important to be thorough in the mashing step. I mash for several minutes longer than I want to.
Then comes the real test of patience: cooking the beans over medium-low heat until the texture changes from wet and heavy to dry and relatively light. This involves stirring the beans toward the center for the pan and scraping the bottom of the pan and stirring some more.
Watch the beans closely for the change in texture and they begin to form a cohesive mass. Relax and keep stirring–just like Gonzalo taught me.
Then, you can create this fresh-tasting bean layer dip.
How I made this bean layer dip
After cooking the refried beans, I spread them in an even layer around the skillet, then sprinkled on a layer of grated Monterey jack cheese and melted it under the broiler. I topped the cheese with thinly sliced avocado, homemade pico de gallo and dollops of sour cream and hot sauce. Then, I serve it right out of the pan.
Of course, there are a dozens of ways to make this easy and fun dip for chips, so let me know how you end up using your homemade refried beans.
Homemade Refried Beans
This is how I learned to make refried beans from restaurateurs in central Mexico. You can use pinto or black beans. Also, choose between vegetable oil for vegetarian refried beans, or lard (if, like me, you buy local pork and have it on hand) for rich and very tasty beans. The key is cooking the mashed beans long enough evaporate the water to make them starchy and light. Plan for 15 or so minutes of stirring and the rewards of exceptional refried beans for tacos, tostadas, bean dip, enchiladas, quesadillas... or as a side dish. You can prepare this recipe up to 3 days in advance.
- 5 tablespoons vegetable oil or lard divided
- 1 small white onion, minced
- 1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
- 2 cups cooked pinto or black beans
Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat and add 4 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook until the onion is translucent and the jalapeno is tender, about 3 minutes.
Add the beans and mash very well until they become like a puree. Reduce the heat to medium low.
Switch to a large spoon and stir the beans from the edges of the pan toward the center. When the beans begin to dry, add the remaining oil 1 tablespoon oil and continue stirring and scraping the pan while the beans steam and simmer.
After about 15 minutes, the beans will begin to turn into a single, smooth mass. Shake the pan and when the beans look like a giant bean pancake, they're done.
Taste for seasoning. If the beans were well seasoned, you may not need any additional salt. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator or freezer as desired.
Make a batch of homemade refried beans and store in 1/2 cup portions in the freezer for quick and easy dinners.