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How to make healthy refried beans

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A Latin treasure

Refried beans are a popular Latin American dish that originated in Mexico and, despite the name, the beans are not fried twice. The mistake comes from a mistranslation. In Spanish these frijoles (beans) are refritos, meaning well fried not re fried. They are fried once only, or in my basic recipe, not at all. This photo shows pureed beans with a swirl of sour cream. You could add the jalapeno peppers for extra bite - I prefer them as decoration.

In some parts of Central America these beans turn up in every meal, as a side-dish, in enchiladas, and as a breakfast ingredient alongside eggs, tortillas, chorizos, platano and avocado. Here in El Salvador they are also a regular ingredient in the traditional dish called pupusas. These stuffed tortillas are super-cheap and filling but unfortunately the healthiness of the beans is overshadowed by lashings of gooey cheese and thick tortilla all fried in pork fat - enough to give any self-respecting cardiologist a few sleepless nights.

All photos in this lens by Sue Pogson

A Salvadoran tradition - My local pupusa sellers

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Maria and Evelyn do a great trade thanks to the factory and passing trucks.

Large picture:

Breakfast prepared on site

Smaller pictures top to bottom:

>Beans with lard - not very appetizing!

>Evelyn turning pupusas.

>The finished product - yummy but bad news in the cholesterol department.

A final word on pupusas

For a great discussion of Salvadoran pupusas check out this lens:

The healthy option - Why refried beans?

Beans are a great source of non-animal protein and, without all that extra fat, refried beans are actually very good for the heart too: Their fibre helps lower cholesterol and just look at all the other goodies they contain! This list gives the proportion of your recommended daily intake of vitamins and minerals to be found in one cup of refried beans. These nutrients are important in maintaining healthy heart muscles.

  • 30% of fibre
  • 23% of vitamin B
  • 17 % of potassium
  • 21 % of magnesium
  • 8 % of calcium

Fresh or packet beans

So - I have cut down on the pupusas but I still love refried beans and have been buying packets and tins off the supermarket shelves. The other day though I thought to check the ingredients. Not only do packet and tinned refried beans contain a fair amount of sugar and monosodium glutamate but also listed is the ominously scientific term: Tertiary Butylhydroquinone.

A little research told me that this chemical preservative is made from butane and can be found in all manner of foods, cosmetics, babycare products etc, Anything made from butane doesn't belong in my kitchen - never mind my stomach. I decided it was time to make my own 'refried' beans.

I chose red kidney beans simply because that's what my local pupusaria uses, but in Mexico pinto beans are most popular. Any dried beans will do - feel free to experiment with this most colourful vegetable.

Beautiful beans from Salvadoran growers

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Meat or Beans?

Beans and meat are both excellent sources of protein. Which is your preference and why?

Beans are best!

ArthurPrittNdub1 7 months ago

i would rather take beans,this because have less side effects compared to meat. i am not big fan of red meat because the healthy trauma it has brought me.

luggnutz13 lm 7 months ago

I am using beans (and rice) as a means to accomplish my goal of debt free living. They provide a very inexpensive (and helthy) means to do so. Love your lens and the recipes...thanx!

Valerie Bloom 7 months ago from Pennsylvania, USA

As a longtime vegan, I'm all about the beans!

MariaMontgomery 7 months ago from Central Florida, USA

I do enjoy meat, but have been trying to cut down my consumption of it. So I'm especially glad to see this recipe. Thank you.

KarenTBTEN 7 months ago

I'm vegetarian. And beans seem nearly perfect from a nutritional standpoint -- except for the sodium levels in many prepared ones. The key is to make them tasty without loads of salt.

captainj88 7 months ago from East Berlin, PA, USA

Before my health kick I would have said meat with great enthusiasm; while I still enjoy meat on special occasions, beans are my go-to protein and fiber source now.

anonymous 7 months ago

I like them both but beans just knock it out of the park sometimes. That photo makes me want to scoop them up with the jalapenos!

ecogranny 7 months ago from San Francisco

Beans. Even as a child, I did not like most meats and my parents forced me to eat them, when we were lucky enough to have them on the table. Today, home-cooked dried beans are a staple at our house.

evawrites1 7 months ago

Beans! I am a vegetarian :)

sadhana-singh-90663 7 months ago

I am vegetarian hence this is the best option for me.

Dressage Husband 7 months ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

Beans are definitely better for you as long as you can get them with no salt added and less the preservatives!

KAMAGATE 7 months ago

I will take beans because i don't really like meat as individual,

MJ Martin 7 months ago from Washington State

Always like the variety of beans, easier to eat. Except for the gas, LOL.

RinchenChodron 11 months ago

Beans - no hormones!

Diana Wenzel 12 months ago from Colorado

I've switched to beans and am trying to tell myself I don't miss the meat.

Mandy Stradley 13 months ago

I love bean and cheese burritos!

delia-delia 14 months ago

I'll choose beans...I love Pinto beans.. For some reason my desire for red meat has diminished, but I do like Pot Roast and stew occasionally.

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    Meat for me!

    Titia 7 months ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands

    I like both and I eat both. I hardly ever buy meat, because I raise sheep and eat them too. I gave them a good life and they give me something in return + I know what I'm eating. No hormones and antibiotics, that's for sure. Eating my own sheep is much better for them than being sold 4/5 times in 2 weeks by the traders to eventually end up in a slaughter house anyway. Ok back to beans, I just love them and I eat them on a regular base, but I've never heard of frying them.

    Susan Zutautas 7 months ago from Ontario, Canada

    Meat but I do love beans too!

    BunnyFabulous 7 months ago from Central Florida

    I'm right in the middle. Love both!

    JessicaLVine LM 7 months ago

    I like them both but I usually choose chicken. :-P

    Merrci 7 months ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

    Looks like ou really need a both option here! I love both too. I'll choose meat to balance the columns.

    esmonaco 7 months ago from Lakewood New York

    Hard Choice here, as I like both but I'll to go with meat for me

    beautyandbeast 7 months ago

    I must say, I'm in a dilemma between both.

    poutine 11 months ago

    Actually I like both, but I prefer meat.

    artbyrodriguez 14 months ago from Albany New York

    It's a hard choice. I'm going with meat, but I really do think beans are great, too.

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      I've split my recipe into two parts - the first doesn't require frying at all but produces a jolly good imitation of re-fried beans. The preparation time seems long but that's just because beans take forever to cook. As chef your job is to sit in a comfy chair with a good book (or whatever takes your fancy), just remembering to lift the lid off the pot every half-hour or so and chuck in more water as required. You should explain to your family that this is a very important job and that you are not to be disturbed. Simple!

      (Soaking beans overnight before cooking helps break down the complex sugars that produce gas - do it if you remember but don't worry if you forget!)

      • Prep time:
      • Cook time:
      • Ready in:
      • Yields: many


      • 1 lb dried beans
      • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (the magic ingredient)
      • water
      • salt (optional)
      • a squirt of sour cream (optional)


        1. Put your beans in a large pot and cover with cold water.
        2. Add the balsamic vinegar but no salt.
        3. Bring the water to the boil, then put to simmer and cover the pot.
        4. Check the water level every 30 minutes or so. Add boiling water (cold water shock can make the beans tough) as necessary.
        5. The beans are ready when they are soft when bitten. This can take a couple of hours depending on the size of bean While the beans are still warm you should add salt to taste. I actually find that they need little if any at all.
        6. Now you're ready to mash your beans and the texture you end up with is very much down to personal choice. You can use a masher or press the beans through a sieve if you want to be really authentic but I think that's too much like hard work and prefer to leave the heavy stuff to a food processor. For a rough texture mix 3 spoonfuls of beans with one spoonful of the cooking liquid. For a really smooth texture I added a tablespoon of sour cream, but this does mean it is no longer good for vegans. It's worth experimenting until you find the texture you like. Don't add too much liquid at a time unless you want bean soup (which is delicious).
        Cast your vote for Basic Bean Dip


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        Now just grab a handful of carrots, celery, whatever you fancy and get dipping.

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        Refried Beans - a more substantial meal

        Here's a main course recipe where the beans actually get fried along with the other ingredients (but only once!) The ingredients listed below make a beautiful vegan meal but you can add whatever takes your fancy - Experiment with extra ingredients such as carrots, chopped jalapeno pepper, cumin, parsley, grated cheese, bacon or sausage (for the non-veggies) - be adventurous! Amounts stated are very approximate - you like tomatoes? Add some more.... Prefer your onion mild? Use a white one. You get the picture.

        Cook Time

        Prep Time: less than 15 minutes

        Total Time: less than 20 minutes

        Serves: 4


        • 2 cups cooked and mashed beans - a fairly coarse mash is best
        • 1 large onion - chopped (red looks pretty but whatever you have in the kitchen will do)
        • 2 -3 garlic cloves (finally chopped)
        • 2 -3 tomatoes (chopped)
        • tablespoon vegetable oil (my favourite is light virgin olive oil)
        • salt/pepper to taste (optional)
        • parsley/coriander (for garnish)


          1. Warm a splash of olive oil in a large pan and add chopped onions and garlic - sauté till onions are soft.
          2. Add tomatoes and any other ingredients you choose
          3. Mix in the beans and stir together for a few minutes until the whole dish is hot.
          4. Add salt/pepper to taste if needed.

          Bean feast!

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          The combination of flavours here is quite exquisite - hard to believe something so tasty can be so simple!

          Some Beanie Books

          Beans are nutritious and tasty as well as being very pretty. Here are some great ideas for using them (and a pressure cooker to speed up the process).

           Last updated on August 4, 2013

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          Thank you for visiting. Please drop me a line so I know you've 'bean' by. 46 comments

          BarbaraCasey profile image

          BarbaraCasey 14 months ago from St. Petersburg, Florida Level 3 Commenter

          Now that we're not eating meat, beans are on the menu more often. Printing your page and will try my hand at making beans from scratch. Thanks!

          Elsie Hagley profile image

          Elsie Hagley 14 months ago from New Zealand Level 7 Commenter

          Very nice article, looks simple and easy to do, must try it.

          Thanks for the tip about soaking the beans, that could be very helpful.

          I like the dish you have the beans on, very smart, i haven't seen one like that.

          artbyrodriguez profile image

          artbyrodriguez 14 months ago from Albany New York

          Very nice article and great subject. Love the photos, too.

          changrcoacher 14 months ago

          What a wonderful lens! I am such a health nut and beans are a staple in my diet, especially organic black beans. Thanks for the explanation about "re-fried"..mystery cleared. I will pin this to my "For The Inside" board.

          delia-delia profile image

          delia-delia 14 months ago Level 5 Commenter

          Great lens! I make Puerto Rican beans for my hubby and me, I love these tasty pinto beans. Occasionally I'll add chorizo or a bit of lean hamburger.

          LauraHofman profile image

          LauraHofman 13 months ago from Naperville, IL

          These look so good...I look forward to trying your recipes! Thanks for sharing.

          takkhisa profile image

          takkhisa 13 months ago Level 6 Commenter

          It sounds very delicious! I would share this one with my mom, thanks :)

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 13 months ago Hub Author

          @changrcoacher: Thanks CHANGECOACHER. Glad you stopped by.

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 13 months ago Hub Author

          @BarbaraCasey: Thanks to you for your comment. I hope you tried and enjoyed.

          Diana Wenzel profile image

          Diana Wenzel 12 months ago from Colorado Level 6 Commenter

          I'm glad I stopped by. Since I'm eating more beans these days, I need to learn as much as possible about them. Very helpful. Thank you!

          RinchenChodron 11 months ago

          I came by at 7 a.m. so now I'm eating refried beans for breakfast! Thanks.

          beautyandbeast 7 months ago

          Awesome recipes! Thank you for sharing. :)

          MJ Martin profile image

          MJ Martin 7 months ago from Washington State Level 4 Commenter

          That bean feast looks so delicious. I will be making it quite soon. What a terrific lens. Black beans are my favorite, though I like them all. Congrats on LotD!

          chrisilouwho profile image

          chrisilouwho 7 months ago Level 2 Commenter

          Thanks, I've never thought to make this on my own, I love that it can be super healthy.

          halvmarathonJes profile image

          halvmarathonJes 7 months ago

          I'm am deffently going to try the Refried Beans recipe. It sounds delicious. Thank you for sharing.

          Dressage Husband profile image

          Dressage Husband 7 months ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada Level 5 Commenter

          In order to understand why beans are best people should look out for the books of Dr Joel Fuhrman. He studied the foods of the healthiest people in the World and his cookbooks are based on the foods that maximise the strength of our immune systems. It works and will both help to prevent and cure nearly all of today's killer diseases!

          Expat Mamasita profile image

          Expat Mamasita 7 months ago from El Salvador

          Felicidades on Lens of the Day. Well done and much deserved. :-)

          tonyleather 7 months ago

          This sounds very tasty, but I suspect that using so many pulses would be a carb overdose, so I will not be trying it!

          esmonaco profile image

          esmonaco 7 months ago from Lakewood New York Level 7 Commenter

          Great infomation, thanks for putting this together, I'm going to pin it for these wonderful recipes! Congratulations on LOTD!!

          Merrci profile image

          Merrci 7 months ago from Oregon's Southern Coast Level 8 Commenter

          Congrats on LotD! What a great recipe to have--thanks! Ingredients are going on my shopping list for this week. Nice to have a healthier version.

          JessicaLVine LM profile image

          JessicaLVine LM 7 months ago Level 2 Commenter

          Hey there! I really thought they were fried two times. lol Goodness me.

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @JessicaLVine LM: so did I at first! Thanks for visiting

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @Merrci: Thank you - I took a screen shot of the honmepage! LotD feels good. Enjoy your beans.

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @esmonaco: Thank you.

          delia-delia profile image

          delia-delia 7 months ago Level 5 Commenter

          Congratulations on LOTD!

          Faye Rutledge profile image

          Faye Rutledge 7 months ago from Concord VA Level 5 Commenter

          I love refried beans, but never made my own. Now I can! Congratulations on LotD!

          Michelllle profile image

          Michelllle 7 months ago

          Just in time for the Super Bowl Party!

          BunnyFabulous profile image

          BunnyFabulous 7 months ago from Central Florida Level 1 Commenter

          I'm a huge fan of beans. I do a similar recipe with black beans, because those are my family's favorites. I puree them in the food processor and add some cheese. Delicious! I'll have to try your refried recipe too. Thanks for all the bean background info as well.

          Susan Zutautas profile image

          Susan Zutautas 7 months ago from Ontario, Canada Level 6 Commenter

          Your refried beans look and sound very good. Congrats on your lens as being chosen for LOTD!

          ecogranny profile image

          ecogranny 7 months ago from San Francisco Level 7 Commenter

          I thoroughly enjoyed reading this page. You are a wonderfully engaging writer, and your photographs are elegant in their simplicity and absolutely appetizing. I've been cooking dried beans for forty years, but I never once thought to add balsamic to the water. What a terrific idea! My mouth is watering at the thought. Thank you for all the information. I always wondered why they were called "refried" since I have never seen a single recipe requiring frying the beans twice and few that required it even once. Now I know.

          captainj88 profile image

          captainj88 7 months ago from East Berlin, PA, USA Level 4 Commenter

          I love beans. The spicier, the better.

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @ecogranny: What lovely comments! Thank you so much.

          Zeross4 profile image

          Zeross4 7 months ago Level 6 Commenter

          What a well deserving LOTD! I will have to try this, its a new one for me! Thanks :)

          Titia profile image

          Titia 7 months ago from Waterlandkerkje - The Netherlands Level 2 Commenter

          Enjoyed the read and I'm gonna try some of your recipes for sure. Never smashed the beans either. Most of the time I use 4 or 5 different kind of beans and make a one pot meal with veggies.

          anonymous 7 months ago

          Very groovy lens. Myself, I like beans and find your recipe worth exploring. Congratulations on getting LotD!

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @anonymous: thank you. Groovy is good.

          MariaMontgomery profile image

          MariaMontgomery 7 months ago from Central Florida, USA Level 5 Commenter

          Congrats on the LOTD. Isn't it a wonderful feeling?

          Diana Wenzel profile image

          Diana Wenzel 7 months ago from Colorado Level 6 Commenter

          Stopping back by to congratulate you on Lens of the Day. :-)

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @Diana Wenzel: Thank you!

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @MariaMontgomery: It certainly is! (I took a screen shot!)

          DebMartin profile image

          DebMartin 7 months ago Level 3 Commenter

          This is a great Lens of the Day. And I love refried beans. Thanks for sharing your expertise.

          Valerie Bloom profile image

          Valerie Bloom 7 months ago from Pennsylvania, USA

          I never knew about the vinegar trick! I will be giving this recipe a try soon!

          suepogson profile image

          suepogson 7 months ago Hub Author

          @DebMartin: And thank you for commenting.

          paulavijitp 7 months ago

          Awesome recipes! Thank you for sharing. :)

          ArthurPrittNdub1 profile image

          ArthurPrittNdub1 7 months ago

          i highly appreciate your recipe it is something that is worthy trying out.

          WarnerRobinsRealtor 7 months ago

          Thanks so much for the recipes and congrats on achieving LOTD!

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