Our American friends can go to the store to buy a variety of canned refried beans, and the Rosarita brand even has vegetarian variant suitable for fasting that is pretty hard to distinguish from the regular, non-vegetarian kind. Here in Russia, however, there are no such easy solutions. It is easier to find the dried pinto beans from which frijoles refritos are made, however, as most supermarkets now carry them.
Traditional recipes use bacon fat or lard but substituting olive oil is quite simple and by increasing the amount of aromatic flavors like onion, garlic and cumin can achieve a very satisfying result. Cumin provides a smokey flavor to the beans as can adding chipotle powder or chipotle sauce. The latter might be too hot for the basic beans and can be added as desired after the beans have already been prepared.
This recipe has been scaled to provide enough food for 5-6 people as a main dish.
2 cups of dry pinto beans (about 450gm)
4 quarts of water
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 cup water
2-3 tsp cumin
Kosher salt to taste
For this recipe you will need a blender or a wooden pestle or potato masher.
Rinse the beans in water and remove any small stones, dirt, or bad beans and hulls.
Place the beans in the salted water in a large pot and bring to a boil. Make sure the water covers the beans by at least 8 cm. Allow to boil for a few minutes and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the beans, covered, for about 2 1/2 hours. The cooking time will vary depending on the batch of beans you have. The beans are done when they are soft and the skin is just beginning to break open. You can check by taking a single bean out with a spoon and blowing on it to cool it - if the skin peels off when you blow on it, its ready.
Drain the beans and discard the water. Keep the beans in another container and wash the pot to use it to cook the beans again if this is convenient. I usually use a large cast iron skillet. There is often a temptation to save the water to use when braising the beans but this will affect the color and taste of the beans especially if you are not using lard.
Chop the onion very fine and crush the garlic and saute gently in 2 Tbsp of the olive oil over medium heat in the same large pot or in a large frying pan. You can use regular cooking oil or margarine. Add the cumin to the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent and the cumin fragrant. Add the cooked beans and about a 1/4 cup of fresh water to the pan and bring to a simmer. Using a wooden potato masher, mash the beans in the pan while you are cooking them, until they are a rough purée. Cook the beans very slowly for about 20 to 30 minutes, adding more water to keep the fried beans from drying out. Add more salt to taste.
Alternatively, the drained beans and the sauteed onion and garlic can be put in a blender (in batches, if necessary)and reduced to a rough paste using the pulse function and adding fresh water to help the mixture blend. This liquefied bean paste should then be scraped back into the pot or pan where the onions were cooked and reduced for 20 - 30 with additional water as needed.
If you add too much water, this is ok, just increase the cooking time to reduce the mixture to a less watery consistency. Heat slowly and stir often to prevent burning.
The beans are ready to serve. They go well in flour tortillas with a fresh salsa made from chopped tomato, cilantro and green onion with a bit of olive oil and salt.
Rice and beans together make a complete protein.
I often refrigerate the cooked whole beans and make stove top refried beans in smaller amounts as needed. The beans are also good for making lobbio and fuol medames, recipes that are also on this blog.