You cannot have an authentic Mexican meal without a side of refried beans. When done right, refried beans should be creamy with a mild onion flavor spiked with oregano or the Mexican herb, epazote. This simple yet versatile recipe can be served as a side to tacos or mixed with cheese and chorizo to create a zesty bean dip. The key to perfect refried beans is starting off with dried beans (no canned beans please). The reason for this is that you have access to the starchy bean cooking liquid that helps create a smooth texture. Also, you have more control over the flavor, especially the amount of salt. So get out your stock pot and masher and make these delicious homemade refried beans.
1/2 lb. pinto beans
1 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1 bay leaf
1 medium onion, 1/2 cut into large chunks and the other half diced
3 medium garlic cloves, 2 left whole and 1 finely minced
1 jalapenos, finely minced (optional)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil*
cotija cheese, for garnish
Step 1: In a large pot, add the pinto beans, Mexican oregano, bay leaf, onion chunks, and whole garlic cloves. Cover the beans with water until it is about two inches above the ingredients. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently cook the beans for 2 to 3 hours until tender. You can also do this process in the slow cooker. Once cooked, discard the the aromatics and reserve at least 3 cups of the cooking liquid.
Step 2: In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add the diced onion, jalapeno (if using) and minced garlic clove. Cook until fragrant and onions appear translucent, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the beans to the pot and continue to cook for an additional 3 to 5 minutes. In one cup increments, add the reserved cooking liquid to the pan. After the first cup is added, mash the beans using a a potato masher or large fork. For a smoother consistency, use an immersion blender. Depending on the desired consistency, you may not need to add all the cooking liquid. Just before serving, sprinkle on some cotija cheese.
*Note: Traditionally, lard is the fat of choice for refried beans. If you decide to cook with lard instead of vegetable oil, simply swap out the ingredients in equal amounts. You can also do half and half.