A quick how-to: Refried Beans

Sometimes life is busy.

Sometimes life is so busy that you don’t have time to do the things you said you would do for other people (let alone anything for you) and you forget to feed yourself for long periods of time. This, if you are anything like me, makes you do one of two things:

a) get cranky and stop doing ANYTHING and make some sort of ridiculous confection-y cake or tart or canned good, then don’t eat THAT, and become more cranky (about all the things you flaked on doing to tweak out on snobby French pastry technique, of course).

b) eat terrible, terrible processed/fast food that makes you feel nauseous (after a short burst of guilty pleasure, of course), resulting in complete body shut-down and avoidance-napping.

It shouldn’t take much to see that neither of these outcomes are anywhere near ideal (or even effective). I don’t have time to slip into these sort of patterns.

Sadly, though, I often don’t have time to make a decent meal for myself, either. What to do, then? How can I make sure I get the nutrition and calories I need to keep myself at my best when I hardly have time to EAT the food, let alone prepare it? How can I ever give up microwaveable snacks and boxed mac and cheese?

The answer was more simple than I thought: I learned to make refried beans. Now I can have chips/dip or a burrito or a taco at the drop of a hat, without sacrificing quality OR breaking the bank.

This recipe was sent to me by a friend (thank you, Natalee!). I pestered her repeatedly after reading her post on facebook that she was making a batch of refried beans from scratch. She says SHE got the recipe from The Student’s Vegetarian Cookbook (which I have not read…but Natalee speaks very highly of the range of recipes, as well as of their simplicity and quality).

I love that this recipe can be prepped overnight, and that the actual cooking time is very short. I love that it is adaptable to any number of flavor variations, and that it could easily be made lactose-free, vegan, or chock-full of meat and still be tasty. I love that when I have a batch of refried beans on hand, I do not feel the need to gorge myself on Kettle Chips (OK, well maybe *sometimes* I do, still. But that’s different). With a deep, complex mix of flavors and textures, these refried beans will make you wonder why you EVER bought that scary cat-food-lookin’ stuff from a can.

I know *I* will never go back.

Mostly, though, I love that making this recipe once a week affords me time to feed myself well without feeling guilty or like I am missing out on anything. My life might be busy, but it can still be delicious.

**a quick note: I have not yet reached a point where I am making my own cheese or tortillas. Rachel has posted recipes to make your own flour and corn tortillas, which I plan on making very soon. For now, I buy flour tortillas and cheese from my local Coop Market.**

Refried Beans
1 1/2 c dry pinto beans (I sometimes add black or kidney beans; whatever is around the house)
2-3 c water
1 tbsp olive oil (I actually use 1-2 Tbsp of bacon grease, which I always save when making BLTs).
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1 – 2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp chopped green chilies (optional depending on how much heat you want)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp plain yogurt or sour cream
2 tbsp shredded cheese (cheddar/pepperjack/swiss are all nice)
1 tsp mild
vinegar (apple cider or red wine)
Salt to taste

Before making this recipe, you’ll need to start the beans (picked through for rocks and debris) soaking in 2-3 c of water – enough to cover them by at least an inch. I tend to do this in a big mason jar, but you can also do it in the pan you’ll later use to cook them. Once they have soaked for at least 4 hours (during which time they will double in volume – I usually just leave them overnight), put them into a pan on the stove and bring them to a simmer.

Cook the beans until they are tender (usually mine start to split their skins, at which point I know they’re getting close to done), and then strain them out of the cooking water (reserve 1/2 c of the bean juice for later).

In a large skillet, heat the oil/grease on medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and hot peppers and cook for a few minutes until the onions begin to be translucent. Add the minced garlic, and dry spices, and stir to combine. Continue cooking for another minute or so.

Add the beans to the skillet and mash them with a potato masher (or mash them beforehand and then add them). Some people like their refried beans nearly pureed: no lumps at all. I tend to like them more rustic, and I cut the onions and peppers accordingly. Do it however you like it best!

If the beans are too dry to mash into a paste, which is likely, add some of the bean cooking liquid until the texture is thick and creamy. Let the mashed mixture cook for another few minutes over medium heat until warm (it’s good to keep the beans moving so they don’t burn. I use a rubber spatula or a bamboo/wooden spoon for this). Stir in the yogurt/sour cream, cheese, and vinegar. Remove from the heat and taste. Season with salt and pepper, and adjust any seasonings (I find I *always* want more cumin and salt than I originally put in).

These beans will keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator, or up to six months in the freezer.

My favorite thing to do with them? Quick and crunchy bean and cheese burritos:

Put some beans and shredded cheese into a flour tortilla and microwave it for a minute or two to get the beans warm and melt the cheese. Then roll it into a burrito, making sure to tuck the ends in so the cheese can’t run out.

Then fry them in a dry frying pan until they are toasty and browned on the outside.

Try it, and tell me it doesn’t beat out ANY other healthy snack you know of. Seriously. it doesn’t even taste like “I don’t have time to eat real food” food. And for me right now, that counts for a LOT. They are especially good with some guacamole, salsa, and sour cream on the side. You know, if you have the time.
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