Refried Beans

Homemade refried beans taste delicious, fill you up, cost little money to make and contain only a handful of ingredients. The taste of canned refried beans pales in comparison and I prefer that my food not come into contact with plastic.

The epoxy that lines cans contains either BPA or a just-as-bad-if-not-worse replacement, such as BPS. According to the Environmental Working Group, BPA “is a synthetic estrogen that scientists have linked to breast cancer, reproductive damage, developmental problems, heart disease and other illnesses.”

You may have read an article in The Guardian last week entitled “Ditch the almond milk: why everything you know about sustainable eating is probably wrong.” It recommended that we all buy canned beans because industrially produced food consumes less energy than home-cooked food. The same can be said of Soylent (as in Soylent Green), a meal replacement available in either powdered or sludge form and which eliminates the need to waste time chewing the food and nutrients necessary to sustain life.

I agree with a lot of what this article said—and I love The Guardian—but the pressure cooker I cook my beans in is pretty darn efficient. After soaking beans for about six hours, they cook to perfection in a couple of minutes. I reserve the liquid and use it later to thin the refried beans or to thicken up soup and add flavor.

And in an ideal world, rather than relying on centralized food production in factories, small communities of neighbors or roommates or commune members would take turns cooking large batches of food and everyone would share. Let’s call this community-produced cooking. This does happen. My daughter C wants to eat in our community kitchen tomorrow night, where people take turns preparing vegetarian dinners four nights a week. Usually about 20 people show up. But community-produced versus industrially produced food is a topic for another blog post…

Sorry, you can’t actually swipe up here—I pulled this from my Instagram stories

Some notes on the ingredients

My daughter MK first made these for us and I’ve basically lifted her recipe from her blog, The Plastic-Free Chef, and made a few tweaks.

I added a poblano pepper for the beans featured in this post because I had one and wanted to use it up and also because poblano peppers taste delicious. MK turned me on to them. Similar in shape and size to bell peppers, they have a not-too-spicy kick. In winter, when fresh peppers have gone out of season, I’ll add fermented hot peppers to this or even just the liquid from the hot pepper jar. I almost always have fermented hot peppers on hand.

To bring out the flavor of my poblano, I charred it by placing it on the rack of a gas burner over a high flame and rotating it as it became more charred. It blackened and blistered after about five minutes. To remove the skin, place the still-hot pepper in a dish with a lid. The steam from the pepper will loosen the skin and you’ll be able to scrape it off easily. When not in use for something else, I use my small Le Creuset Dutch oven for this purpose—it retains heat so well. Seed and chop the pepper and set aside for the beans. You can prepare peppers this way days in advance and store them in the refrigerator until you need them.

Charred poblano peppers

I like to both buy as few ingredients as possible and buy small amounts of spices to ensure a high turnover and peak freshness. Because I always have the necessary spices on hand, I throw together my own chili powder. I use dried chillies, cumin, oregano, coriander, cloves and allspice. Other tasty additions include ancho chili powder, cayenne pepper and garlic powder if you have it. I put fresh garlic in my refried beans—and pretty much all savory dishes—so I don’t have garlic powder on hand generally. This spice mix also makes a good topping for stove-top popcorn, a zero-waste food group.

Last week, we ate these refried beans with rice, all stuffed into fresh pita bread that my younger daughter C had made that morning for breakfast—on a weekday! Not exactly traditional but so tasty! (MK has a recipe for pita bread on her blog also.) 

Various spices for a homemade chili blend

Bonus recipe: Chili powder

  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed dried chillies
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon allspice


1. Combine spices in a jar. Adjust amounts to taste.

Refried Beans


  • 2 cups dry pinto beans (about a pound)
  • 1/4 cup fat (coconut oil for vegan)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 poblano pepper or jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Black pepper to taste


1. Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and add enough water to cover by about two inches. Cover with a lid, plate or towel and soak for at least six hours or overnight.

2. Drain and rinse the beans. Cook in a pressure cooker according to your model’s instructions, in a slow cooker—with enough water to cover—for about eight hours, or in a pot on the stove—again, covered with water—for one to two hours, until the skins begin to fall off.

3. If desired, char the poblano pepper. Do this either while the beans soak or while they cook. Place the pepper on the rack of a gas burner over a high flame and rotate it regularly. It will blacken and blister after about five minutes. While still hot, place in a dish with a tightly fitting lid. This will create steam, which loosens the skin. After the pepper has cooled, scrape off the skin with the edge of a sharp knife. The skin will fall right off. Remove seeds and mince. Set aside. You can prepare the peppers a few days in advance and store in the refrigerator until you need them.

4. Drain cooked beans. Reserve cooking liquid to thin these out if necessary and to use in another recipe such as soup. Return cooked beans to the pot. Add the remaining ingredients and mash beans and tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon over medium heat. Add some of the reserved bean liquid for a thinner consistency if desired.

5. Continue to heat, stir and mash until the beans begin to bubble and have heated through.

6. Enjoy with rice, tortillas, salsa, avocado or guacamole or all of the above.

9 Replies to “Refried Beans”

  1. Madeleine Lawrence says: Reply

    Anne Marie, as usual reading your posts makes me surprised your kids ever wanted to leave home!

    A couple of questions, as an Aussie I have never eaten refried beans so was surprised to learn that they are not fried at all. I wonder do you know the origin of the name?

    My next question is a bit delicate and relates to ahem….gas….when using the cooking liquid of beans in other recipes. I had always thought this liquid was a no-no and supposed to contain digestion inhibiting substances. For this reason I had shied away from recipes calling for aquafaba even though they sounded delicious. Your thoughts?


    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thanks Madeleine 🙂 Well, I have one on her way out and one coming back.

      The beans are sort of fried but not exactly. You stir them up in quite a bit of fat. Maybe “Fat-infused beans” is more accurate :p I wouldn’t use the soaking liquid in other recipes but I haven’t had a problem using the cooking liquid in anything. Also, I use fresh water for cooking the beans after soaking them. Adding a strip of kombu (seaweed) really helps reduce gas and discomfort. My older daughter won’t eat beans or lentils unless I have soaked and cooked them with a strip of kombu. It really works. Please let me know if you decide to try the aquafaba and have any success. I’ve experimented with it only a couple of times.

      ~ Anne Marie

      1. Madeleine Lawrence says:

        Hi Anne Marie,

        thanks for your explanation, that makes sense 🙂

        I cooked my beans with kombu for many years but it hasn’t been available in Australia since Fukoshima. Other sea veg have started becoming easier to source but I’m mainly now eating Tasmanian wakame as it seems to be the cleanest. I don’t find beans problematic in general, and I’ve noticed that some beans are much easier to digest than others. Great Northern beans, chick peas and lentils are probably the easiest to digest. Beans like kidney beans or any beans that come in a tin are not so good! I also find felafel mixes containing chick pea flour really upset my stomach so when my broad beans are ready I will be experimenting with fresh broad bean felafel. I had a fresh pea felafel at a cafe the other day and wow it was good!

        I heard an wholistic doctor discussing beans and the huge health benefits of eating them and his recommendation to anyone who says they can’t digest them well is to just eat 1 to 2 tablespoons to start with and gradually build up. The stomach will then produce the necessary enzymes to break them down well.


        PS I am sorry I didn’t answer your email asking about the Komo grain mill. There is only one distributor in Australia and I have tried contacting her over many months with no luck, so now considering getting a mill from New Zealand or the US. I have decided on the Fidifloc so will let you know how it goes when I have it.

    2. “Refried beans” is our “calque” of the Spanish “frijoles refritos”. Frijoles means beans, refritos means rehashed or reheated.

  2. Yeah… The Guardian didn’t cite any sources for their bean claim, and I’m always skeptical of blanket statements about energy usage anyway (they don’t know the energy portfolio of my utility company, or of the manufacturers I would be buying from!). I think they’re just trying to put together a clickable listicle and this ended up on the list.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Andrea, I also disagreed with the recommendation to use clingfilm instead of beeswax wraps to prevent food waste. Buying less food prevents food waste. We can have our plastic-free cake and eat it too. ~ Anne Marie

  3. What can you use to substitute for the coconut oil? I can’t tolerate coconut oil…any suggestions would really be appreciated. Great recipe!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! Are you vegan? I would use olive oil. Enjoy! ~ Anne Marie

      1. Thank you – I’m close enough to vegan….

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