Now why on earth would anyone make their own refried beans when they're so readily available in tidy cans on supermarket shelves? Even I wondered that, though I thought of canned refried beans as a bland but necessary side for Mexican food. Little flavor, extra calories.
Then I came across these Colorado-grown beans in ten-pound burlap bags at the supermarket. Just couldn't pass them up.
One bag contains black beans, also known as turtle beans. Anasazi beans fill the other. I love their colors and texture. They look a lot more like a pinto horse than do actual pinto beans.
So: twenty pounds of beans and two people. What to do? Well, no more canned bean purchases for a while. All winter these two types of beans have populated chili con carne, baked beans, black bean soup ... and refried beans.
Even though I'm a huge proponent of cooking from scratch, I was utterly unprepared for the huge difference between the canned version and the homemade version. I've eaten these for a whole meal. And mixed with a little melted cheddar and heated through they made the best bean dip -- guest devour it faster than guacamole.
Having said all that, these refries can still be made with canned beans. It's the process that makes them delectable.
If you want to cook the beans yourself, soak a few cups overnight or longer in water that starts out lukewarm. In the morning pour off the water and put the beans in a slow cooker. Add plenty of water to cover and cook on low 8-10 hours.
Soaking the beans reduces the phytic acid content. Phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that chelates the minerals in the beans, decreasing digestion and making it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. The beans also cook faster if they're soaked.
Cooked beans can be stored in the freezer for easy access whenever you want to put together a batch of refries. You can also cook dried beans very quickly in a pressure cooker (add oil to avoid foaming). They'll look and taste the same, but won't be quite as nutritious.
Chop an onion. Melt a tablespoon of bacon grease in a non-stick skillet. Yes, bacon grease -- preferably nitrate free. I'm far more concerned about using a non-stick pack than cooking with bacon fat. Or lard is good -- but NOT the stuff in the blue box that sits on the grocery shelf. That's just a big pile of trans fats. In a pinch, a combination of butter and olive oil works, too.
Add the onion and cook on medium heat. You're going more for browning than caramelizing, and it will still sweeten the beans.
Add about a cup and a half or one can of beans with liquid. Once warm, mash with a potato masher in the pan until they are the consistency you want. Let the liquid cook off, stirring often. Season to taste with kosher salt.
You can eat them right away. Or, you can add half a cup of liquid and allow it to cook off. I'll do this if I have left over chicken stock in the fridge, sometime over and over until it's gone, for extra flavor and nutrition. Or add water and a few chopped green chilies -- canned or fresh -- maybe some cilantro or epazote (Mexican oregano), and let the mixture cook back down to the consistency you want.
And yes, this is a very high ratio of onion to beans, and you'll want to adjust to your own taste.
That's it. Try it once. You might never buy refried beans in a can again.