Spicy Pinto Beans (aka Healthier Unfried Refried Beans)
Spicy Pinto Beans (aka Healthier Unfried Refried Beans)

Today I present what you may or may not consider an interesting little factoid:  there is no way (at least with someone possessing my less than stellar photography skills) to take a really appetizing picture of a bowl of beans. I've taken about 45 pictures using different bowls, angles, lighting etc and what you're seeing is the best. But don't hold it against the beans, because as far as taste goes, these are a 10, maybe even a 10+ and so ridiculously easy to make that they should immediately go on your MUST MAKE list. Just don't try to take pictures of them and all will be well!!

I have to admit that the thought of canned refried beans has always kinda grossed me out and I always assumed that the homemade versions were very labor intensive to make, so I never even gave them a chance. But when we were out in LA a couple of months ago and went to this little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place after our hiking torture, I mean fun-day-in-the-woods, my husband's platter came with a side of them, from which I kept taking "little tastes" (actually I probably only left him with a mouthful or two, but that's the sacrifice you make for love) and I resolved to learn how to make them myself when we got our kitchen back. Flash forward about 2 months and here they are, but with no frying involved which not only makes them easier but so much healthier! A win-win all around!

Basically all you do is sauté some onion, garlic and sliced jalapeño in a pot, add the dried beans and some water and simmer for a few hours. And in that time, magic happens and the beans get tender, almost mushy (but in a good way) and thickened with a whole lot of flavor and zing--spicy but not overly so. I promise you won't miss the fact that they're not fried! They're great on their own as a side dish or as a filling for a vegetarian taco. These were on the menu at our recent taco party and because I left them on the stove they got a bit overlooked which meant lots of leftovers for us. Hooray!! Makes for some very easy throw-together lunches and dinners!

And if you like them more saucy, just cook them a little less so that there's more liquid.

So put up a pot of beans today and keep the camera away! That's my tag line and I'm stickin' to it!!

Spicy Pinto Beans (aka Healthier Unfried Refried Beans)

Makes 6-8 servings and doubles really well if you're making for a crowd
Prep Time:  15 minutes, plus at least 3 hours cooking time, but all of this is hands-free


  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 white onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed, cut into thin slices
  • 1 pound dried pinto beans
  • Water
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

The Recipe

1.  Place the oil in a large pot that has a tight-fitting lid. Heat over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion for 6-7 minutes or until soft and golden brown and then add the garlic and jalapeño, stirring for 1 minutes. Add the beans and enough cold water to cover the beans by at least 2 inches and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat, cover and let simmer for about 2 1/2-3 hours, checking the beans every so often to make sure they are covered by enough water. If necessary, add more water and give them a good stir.

2.  When the beans are tender and you can mash them a bit, uncover the pot and season with plenty of salt and pepper. Let cook for at least 20 minutes to allow the liquid to thicken and the seasoning to meld together. Taste and add more salt if necessary. If you like the beans with a lot of liquid stop cooking now. If you want them to be the consistency of traditional refried beans, cook them longer, until more of the liquid is evaporated and the beans are literally falling apart. You can even use a spoon to mash up the beans against the side of the pot a little. In either case, you can serve these immediately or let cool, store in an airtight container and reheat over low heat. These will keep for at least a week in the fridge which makes them a perfect make ahead dish too!


Note:  Recipe adapted from Taco Night by Kate McMillan. I left out the cilantro and removed the seeds and ribs from the jalapeño so that the beans wouldn't be overly spicy. I also cooked the mixture for longer so that the beans broke down further and became more like refried beans.

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