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Abuelita's Cooked, Fried and Refried Beans, New Mexico Style

Updated on December 20, 2011

Fried or Refried, What's the Difference?

My Abuelita (Grandmother) was a native New Mexican. I always felt that her cooking and recipes were different from what is more generally known and 'Mexican food'. I sat and watched her cook in both her kitchen at home and in the kitchen of the local church parish where she was the head cook. By watching her and asking questions, I learned her methods and techniques. She never used recipes nor wrote anything down. To the best of my knowledge this is the only time they have been written down or shared. They are commonly known recipes, but this is the way I learned them from her, and that's what makes them unique and different from any others..

Take her method of what is commonly know as 'refried beans'. First off, her beans were always cooked from scratch using dried pinto beans, not canned, and she made a big pot full. Here are the ingredients and the process:

Cooked Pinto Beans

1 to 2 lbs. dried pinto beans
8 cloves of garlic or more (or more to taste)
Large pot of water (Keep the kettle full of water and ready to boil, as the beans cook the water level will diminish and need to be replenished with boiling water. Adding cold water to the cooking beans will turn the water black and the beans dark.)
1 Smoked ham hock (if desired)
1 tsp. salt or to taste.

Carefully clean the beans removing rocks and soil, etc. Rinse the beans. Add them to the pot with the garlic cloves and salt. Bring to a boil. If adding ham hocks do it when the water is boiling.
Reduce heat to simmer and let the beans cook. Depending on how many pounds of beans you are cooking it can take several hours for them to cook. Be sure to add boiling water when and if needed as the water in the pot depletes. Beans are done when they are soft.

Fried Beans (Frijoles Fritos)
Now, you have your cooked pinto beans. Here's how to fry:
You'll need:
1/4 cup Oil, lard or bacon grease/drippings (left and saved after frying bacon. She always saved the grease/drippings when she cooked bacon and used it in many recipes. Though I don't condone eating fat, lard or grease, this is what my Abuelita used.)
Large skillet
Cooked pinto beans
1/4 cup longhorn cheese

Add your choice of oil, lard or bacon drippings to the skillet and heat to medium heat or till a bean dropped in begins to sizzle. Add about two cups of beans, drained, keeping the bean liquid in a cup for later. (If you have garlic bits or ham hock bits mixed in with the beans that even better, but you can remove these if you like. Up to you. Abuelita left them in.)
Let the beans fry until heated through. Then take a potato masher and mash the beans right there in the skillet. Add the bean liquid to the beans until they are smooth and easy to stir and spoon. How much liquid you add depends on how thick you like your beans. Beans for burritos need to be thicker, served on a plate are usually more moist. When beans are ready add the cheese and stir till cheese melts. Serve hot.

Refried Beans (Frijoles Refritos)

Fried Beans (Whatever you have left-over from your Fried Beans)
1/4 Longhorn cheese (if desired)
oil, lard or bacon drippings (to re-fry the beans in a skillet)

Heat the oil, lard or drippings on medium heat. Carefully put Fried Beans into the skillet. Watch out for oil spatters. I suggest using a large spoon to spoon the beans in rather than trying to pour or dump them in. Stir until the beans are heated through. Add cheese if desired. Note: when re-frying beans they will tend to get a 'crispy' appearance around the edges. This is good and makes the beans tastier. This is part of the re-frying process and gives the beans added flavor. Part of the charm of re-frying!

The difference between Cooked, Fried Beans and Refried Beans is this:
First off, cooked beans are dried beans that have been boiled until tender and soft, but you already know that. I just thought I'd throw that in for first time bean cooks! Fried beans are beans that have been fried once or cooked and then fried for the first time, one time.
Refried beans are Fried Beans that are left-over from the first fry and then fried again in more oil, lard or bacon drippings. If you want real Refried Beans you need to fry enough the first time to have left-over fried beans. Make sure you store the fried beans properly and also the subsequent refried beans to make sure they don't spoil. Abuelita's method was to make enough fried beans to have refried beans, once.

You can add green chiles, red chiles, or spices to give the beans your own personal touch.

I hope you enjoyed reading this recipe as much as I enjoyed writing it down!

Disclaimer: Regarding lard, grease and drippings: I do not promote or recommend using these. When I cook, what I use is my choice. What you use is your choice. I also do not use salt when I cook. Ever. Whether you use oil, lard, grease, drippings, fat, salt, smoked hocks, or any other items suggested, remember that you do so at your own risk. The ingredients listed in this recipe are only provided for information on the way these recipes were originally made in my grandmother's kitchen. Please adapt them for your own use.

©2011 T.Helton-all rights reserved


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    • Teri Helton profile image

      Teri Helton Ott 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Hi Sally Jo! Yes! She made her own flour tortillas and I loved them! My mom made them also and I do too. They are a treat. You can easily give it a try by using 'Flour Tortilla Mix' which comes in a bag. All you need to add is water. Look for it in the ethnic or mexican food section of you local market! Thanks for the comment!!

    • profile image

      Sally Jo Pyle 5 years ago

      Did your Abuelita use flour tortillas? My dear Mexican friend's mom used to make us these awesome thin flour tortillas with refried beans.

    • Teri Helton profile image

      Teri Helton Ott 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      You're welcome, SmartAndFun. Thanks for the comment! Enjoy!

    • SmartAndFun profile image

      SmartAndFun 5 years ago from Texas

      Yummmm! I learned a technique for making refried beans from a friend, but have always wanted an authentic one. It doesn't get much more authentic than someone's New Mexico Abuelita! Thanks for sharing your family recipe!

    • Teri Helton profile image

      Teri Helton Ott 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      You're welcome! I am happy that you enjoy them.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for sharing your grandmother's recipes!

    • Teri Helton profile image

      Teri Helton Ott 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

      Thanks for the welcome! I absolutely love green chile. The hotter the better. I use it in place of bell peppers in my recipes, when I can get it that is! I think it gives my recipes a southwestern flair. My Dad's family were chile farmers in southern New Mexico so I was raised around it and it was always on the menu!

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 5 years ago

      Welcome to hubpages. Wonderful hub about the difference between fried and refried beans. My Uncle Alex explained the difference to me when he was building a pot of green chili. I would like to know if you make green chili too and what your take is on it.