Refried Beans

Refried beans are not really fried at all but – after cooking in water – mashed in a pan with lard. This sounds odd-not to say distinctly unhealthy – to contemporary Western ears, but a small amount of good homemade lard delivers a wonderful flavour. In this recipe the typical Mexican amount of lard is halved, then used with an equal amount of olive oil.


  • 375 g/ 12 oz black or pinto beans
  • 2 Spanish onions
  • 3 whole hot red chillies
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • 60 g/ 2 oz lard
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • crumbled feta, to serve (optional)
  • corn chips, to serve (optional)


Soak the beans in cold water overnight or for at least 4 hours. Discard any beans that float to the top.

Bring the beans to the boil in fresh water and boil hard for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold running water and return to the pan.

Cover with cold water by 2.5 cm / 1 inch and bring back to the boil. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Add one of the onions, diced, the chillies and bay leaves. Cook for 1–2 hours until tender. The precise time will depend on how old and dry the beans were and exactly how long you soaked them.

Discard the bay leaves and chillies, then season to taste. Turn off the heat and leave in the cooking liquid for 20–30 minutes before refrying.

Over a moderate heat, melt the lard in a frying pan. Add the remaining onion, cut into thin strips, and fry, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Traditionally these are discarded, but don’t do so; when cooked more they will go crisp and make a terrific addition to the dish, so transfer them to another pan with a slotted spoon and continue frying over a low heat, stirring from time to time.

Add the olive oil to the lard remaining in the pan, then two 300 ml/ ½ pt cups of the beans with their liquid and mash with a potato masher. Gradually add another 2 cups of beans and more liquid, continuing to mash until you have a coarse moist purée. Stir over a moderate heat until this starts to dry, then transfer to a warmed serving dish.

Scatter over the crisped onions. If liked, crumble over some feta. Serve with corn chips as a dip or as a side dish.