The convenience of canned beans is great, but since I can get a pound of dry beans (which yields as much as about 4-5 cans of beans) for less than the price of one can…well, the dry beans win most of the time. Admittedly, dry beans are also a little more nutritious, with substantially less sodium—a 1/2 cup serving of plain pinto beans that started dry has almost no sodium while a 1/2 cup serving of canned pinto beans has around 200 mg of sodium, and slightly less nutrients.
Since I mostly stay at home with my kids, I can afford the prep time with dry beans, but the difficult part for me is planning ahead. This is the primary reason for a distinct deficit in my family’s bean consumption.
Enter the slow cooker.
Unfortunately, I have trouble using the slow cooker for the same reason I have trouble cooking beans, namely, planning ahead. However, it at least means that I can go about my activities without monitoring a boiling pot and even leave the house without interrupting the cooking.
I’m attempting to increase the number of bean recipes in my staple collection, and this recipe for slow cooker refried beans has become a favorite. I was never a fan of refried beans until I had them at a Mexican restaurant, creamy and swimming in melted cheese. Then I was a big fan. The canned variety of refried beans is in my personal estimation, glop, so I was excited to discover this simple and tasty method of creating refried beans at home. They don’t even require “frying” of any sort, so they are less fatty.
Here’s how it works. You have two options:
Option #1 (With Soak): Sort the beans. That means looking through them for little rocks. Yes, rocks really like to hide with beans. Rinse them, pour them into a large container (I just use my slow cooker without turning it on) and cover them with water. Cover the pot and let them sit overnight. In the morning, drain off the water and proceed with the recipe.
Soaking will shorten your cooking time and make the beans the easiest on the digestive tract.
Option #2 (No-Soak Method): Sort the beans and rinse them. Place them in the slow cooker and proceed with the recipe. This option requires a longer cooking time to obtain soft beans, but it does work with pinto beans and black beans. Never use this method with kidney beans. Always follow the soaking directions on the package for kidney beans because they contain a toxin called phytohaemagglutinin, which will make you sick. Certain other beans contain low levels of this toxin as well.
I like to make these refried beans creamy with evaporated milk and no butter (lower fat but still with rich flavor), but you could certainly use fresh milk and melted butter if you want.
At the end of the day, enjoy these creamy, flavorful, low-fat refried beans, then freeze the leftovers in portions for later use.
adapted from Alaska from Scratch
- 3 cups dry pinto beans or black beans
- 9 cups water
- 5 chicken bouillon cubes or 5 tsp chicken base, or replace 5 cups of the water with chicken broth
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp salt
- half of a yellow onion, peeled, but not cut up
- 1 cup evaporated canned milk (or fresh)
- ¼ c. melted butter, optional
- Enough reserved juices from the pot to achieve desired consistency
Rinse and sort beans; soak if desired. Place beans in a large slow cooker and cover with the water. Stir in the chicken base, garlic powder, and salt and sit the onion on top of the beans. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or until beans are very soft and fall apart when mashed (soaking will decrease cooking time). Undercooked beans will be grainy, so be sure to allow plenty of time.
When beans are done, remove the onion and drain the beans. Don’t throw out the cooking juices. Add the milk to the pot, and butter if desired. I prefer to use canned milk, and no butter. Mash the beans with a potato masher or process with an immersion blender to the desired consistency. Add cooking liquid to the beans until you reach the texture you want.
*You can add any seasonings/flavors you want to this recipe to customize your refried beans. Just don’t add acidic ingredients, such as lime juice, or sugary ingredients, until the beans are fully cooked or the beans will resist softening.
Freeze leftovers in portions for later use.
Makes around 2 quarts of refried beans.