Every time I’m waiting for my food in a Mexican Restaurant I always wonder if they are re-frying my beans? Just what are refried beans and why do they call them that? I had to know.
It is confusing to us English speakers because they are using a prefix that means “again”. Fried again, or fried twice. But in Spanish “re-” can mean renew, remake, and can even denote a sense of place like back or behind.
Technically they are cooked twice but only fried once. Frijoles refritos means “well fried beans”. To make them you soak the beans for about 8 hours and then cook them in water until soft. They are then mashed and fried with lard until almost dry.
Refried beans are really just beans with some seasoning, mushed up. It’s like hummus, actually. In the northern part of Mexico, pink pintos (pinto beans) are the preferred beans while in southern Mexico it is the black bean.
In other parts of Mexico, you’ll find them using Peruano (commonly known as bush beans, dwarf beans, pole beans, climbing beans), or red kidney beans. They are fried with onion and garlic, sometimes bacon drippings or butter, and seasoned to taste with salt and spices.
Epazote is a common herb used to add flavor to refried beans. The herb is also known as Jesuit’s tea, Mexican-tea, payqu (paico), epazote, mastruz, or herba sanctæ Mariæ. it is native to native to Central America, South America, and southern Mexico.
Raw, it has a resinous, medicinal pungency, similar to oregano, anise, fennel, or even tarragon, but stronger. Used in soups, chile peppers, and refried beans it is also antiflatulent (used for the alleviation or prevention of excessive intestinal gas).