My mom grew up in Arizona and has fond memories of a neighbor who made tortillas and refried beans. It has become a quest of mine, I want to know how these things should taste, not like Taco Bell tells me they ought to. Remember the pinto beans from last week? The leftovers became this week’s refried beans and the process was simpler than I could have hoped. This was my third attempt, in the past I had fiddled with vegetarian versions and they just didn’t do it, for me. If you are vegetarian, you can substitute olive oil for the drippings (and make sure you used vegetable oil when preparing the pinto beans). I would add at least another pepper, too for more flavor.
Don’t worry about the peppers adding a lot of heat. Most of the heat in a pepper is in the ribs and seeds, cooking it whole keeps those cells intact adding very little heat, but a lot of flavor. Experiment to see whether you like serranos or jalepenos more. I just happened to have an extra jalepeno lurking in my kitchen.
As a final note, I’d to mention that these are quite frugal, averaging roughly half the cost of a can of beans with more flavor.
- 2 TBSP bacon drippings (yes, bacon fat, trust me, you were just going to throw it out anyhow)
- 1 whole pepper either jalepeno or serrano (whichever you have on hand)
- 1/2 small onion diced finely
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups of cooked pintos (or 2 cans) drained, but don’t throw out the juice, keep it just in case
- 1.5 tsp salt
Set a heavy skillet on your stove over medium heat. Add the bacon drippings, when the bacon grease is hot add the pepper and turn it occasionally. You want the skin to get nice and dark, but not black.
While the jalepeno is cooking, finely dice your onion. The finer the dice the more mellow the onion flavor. A small dice increases the surface area in contact with the pan, they soften more quickly and the heat mellows out the sharp onion flavor. If you prefer a sharper flavor, a larger dice is fine, unless you have kids that will object to onion bits in your beans. Mince the garlic while you are chopping.
Cook until the onions are soft. Remove the pepper and toss in the garlic. Cook for another 1 – 2 minutes, you don’t want to burn the garlic. Now, add the drained beans. This part is kind of boring. Stir occcasionally and wait for the beans to get good and hot.
Once the beans are heated begin mashing them with your spoon, or if you are well equipped a potato masher. (Yeah, I don’t have one either). Stir.
Add the salt.
Turn the heat to low.
Stir some more.
Mash some more.
Fuss at the kids (oh, that’s my job, you may not have any underfoot).
Continue stirring and mashing until the beans are as thick as you want. You don’t have to stir and mash constantly, just now and then over a ten minute window or so, I promise it’s not rocket science and nothing will happen if you have to answer the phone or door. Humble beans are forgiving like that.
If the beans are too thick, thin them with the juice you saved earlier. Stir a little more and serve.
These are excellent on flour tortillas with a bit of cheese or as a side dish to many Tex-Mex meals.