How to make healthy refried beans
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
Maria and Evelyn do a great trade thanks to the factory and passing trucks.
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
Meat or Beans?
Beans and meat are both excellent sources of protein. Which is your preference and why?
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: 20 min
- Cook time: 2 hours
- Ready in: 2 hours 20 min
- Yields: many
- 1 lb dried beans
- 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (the magic ingredient)
- salt (optional)
- a squirt of sour cream (optional)
- Put your beans in a large pot and cover with cold water.
- Add the balsamic vinegar but no salt.
- Bring the water to the boil, then put to simmer and cover the pot.
- Check the water level every 30 minutes or so. Add boiling water (cold water shock can make the beans tough) as necessary.
- 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.
- 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).
Now just grab a handful of carrots, celery, whatever you fancy and get dipping.
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.
Prep Time: less than 15 minutes
Total Time: less than 20 minutes
- 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)
- Warm a splash of olive oil in a large pan and add chopped onions and garlic - sautÃ© till onions are soft.
- Add tomatoes and any other ingredients you choose
- Mix in the beans and stir together for a few minutes until the whole dish is hot.
- Add salt/pepper to taste if needed.
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).
This amazing book, by the equally amazingly named Crescent Dragonwagon, is possibly the most highly recommended bean-book ever. The author grows and cooks her own beans on a farm in Vermont. A passionate vegetarian, she appreciates the need for variety and excitement in food. As a result her recipes cover everything from burgers to ice creams and explore bean recipes from around the world. It's great!
It's rare indeed to find an English-language guide to Salvadoran cuisine but this is one. These recipes have been passed down through generations and now form a comprehensive guide to the food of this lovely country. Pupusas are there (of course!) and so too are such exotics as torrejas in sugar and cinnamon syrup. Recipes are easy to follow and the photos are beautiful The book is also available in Spanish.
This book describes the bean as the "Kindest Protein in Town!" and the recipes are versatile yet simple. For those considering the vegan lifestyle this is an exceptionally helpful and well written guide. The photos are mouth-watering.
Cook beans fast with this good-sized pressure cooker. An important feature of this model is that it comes with a cover-lock indicator which prevents the cooker being opened until the pressure is reduced. It also features a 12 year limited warranty.