Refried beans are one of my favorite foods. I’ve often made a meal out of a pan of refried beans and a bowl of tortilla chips, but they also are the best side for anything Mexican or for combining with cheese and other ingredients to fill burritos, quesadillas or tostadas.
The dilemma is this: Refried beans are cheap. You can buy a can for anywhere from $.79 to $1.49 apiece. One can is more than enough for one person as a meal by itself, or even for two or three people if served as an accompaniment to something else. So why go to the trouble of making your own refried beans?
Because we can make it better and cheaper, of course!
Despite it’s reputation, there’s not actually a lot of work to make refried beans from scratch. It just takes a long time, what with all the soaking and simmering and smashing. But the superior taste difference between homemade and canned makes it worth the wait.
Refried beans are actually mis-named. They should be called “fried beans” because you only cook them in fat once.
I love to eat them right from the pan with a little melted cheese over the top and a bowl of tortilla chips nearby. During my bachelor days, refried beans and frozen pizzas were my go-to staples (I was kind of a health food nut back then, as you can tell). I love the way the gooey cheese sticks to the beans and chips. To me, it’s the perfect food to eat in front of the television and with football season just getting underway, now’s the perfect time to try it.
Here’s my recipe for perfect refried beans. This recipe only costs about $1.00 to make and it serves about four people, so that’s $.25/serving. Whatever you don’t eat right away can be refrigerated for a couple or days, or even frozen for weeks. Just rehydrate it with a few sprinkles of water or hot sauce before serving.
You can substitute canned pinto beans for dried if you want, but obviously then you would start with step 4.
1 lb dried pinto beans
¼ lb salt pork, cut into large chunks
Half an onion
¼ cup diced onion
1 large garlic clove, crushed
TSP hot sauce
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1. Rinse beans and remove anything that does not belong there. Soak overnight or quick soak by bringing to a boil, then turning off heat and letting sit for an hour
2. Drain beans, return to pot with the half onion and cover with water until there’s about two inches of water above the beans. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook covered for about an hour. Check doneness by biting into a bean, cooking longer if necessary.
3. Drain beans, but save about ½ cup of the bean broth. In the same pot, render salt pork (you can also use bacon fat, fatback or even shortening). Add chopped onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook another minute. Remove salt pork chunks, then return beans to pot.
4. Using a potato masher, smash the beans and add reserved bean broth until it becomes a smooth paste. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it becomes a nice brown color. Right before service, stir in hot sauce and season with S&P to taste. Garnish with a little shredded cheese (Mexican cheese, mozzarella or whatever is laying around) and serve with bread slices, tortilla chips or both.
What sort of recipes have you been cooking lately? Do you have any cost-saving tips to share? Feel free to contribute in the comments section!