Although they’re often interchangeable as side dishes when you’re ordering at a Mexican restaurant, black beans and refried beans are not the same dish, and you’ll be sorely disappointed if you’re in the mood for frijoles refritos (which translates directly to well-fried beans), and get frijoles negros instead.
Refried beans usually consist of onion, cooked beans, seasonings, and a fat to fry them in—often lard in Mexico, or vegetable oil. The frying is what imparts the unique flavor, and you can add in a variety of spices, including cayenne, garlic, chili pepper, or cumin. In the United States, refried beans are often made with pinto beans, but they can be made with any type of bean, including black beans or kidney beans. Refried beans are often mashed or pureed, but they can also be a combination of mashed beans with whole beans; the texture is a matter of preference, but canned refried beans are most often smooth and uniform. Refried beans are a great source of fiber and protein, and despite the “fried” in their name, they don’t actually contain that much fat and aren’t as unhealthy as they’re often made out to be.
Refried beans are a great dish to make in advance. You can reheat them easily in individual portions, or serve them as a side dish, topping, or dip—check out our 7 recipes for refried beans, and incorporate this simple kitchen staple into your dinner rotation ASAP.
This classic recipe for refried beans has black beans, garlic, salt, and chopped white onion, and suggests that you use vegetable oil or lard to fry the beans. Make a double batch so that you have leftovers to use in burritos, tacos, or nachos. Get our Refried Black Beans recipe.
A slow cooker is a great shortcut to make homemade refried beans in no time when you’re cooking up a fresh batch. Combine dried beans, spices, garlic, and water and let them cook until all the water is absorbed. Then you can puree the beans directly in the slow cooker. Get the recipe.
Refried beans are the base of this delicious cheesy dip made with pinto beans, chopped pickled jalapeños, and cheddar cheese, and seasoned with garlic, salt, onion, and hot sauce (Mexican-style Cholula is perfect). Get our Warm Cheesy Bean Dip recipe.
Crunchy tostadas filled with creamy refried black beans are a quick and easy dinner option, and good for feeding a crowd—set up a toppings bar so everyone can customize to their taste. Store-bought rotisserie chicken adds some heft, but you can simply leave it off (ditto the queso fresco) for a vegan meal. Get our Easy Rotisserie Chicken Tostadas recipe.
Two slices of bacon makes these refried beans better than all the rest—season with chili powder, cayenne, and fresh cilantro and serve immediately. Get the recipe.
Huevos rancheros are a breakfast favorite, and are infinitely adaptable. This version adds spice, earthiness, and extra texture with chorizo refried beans. Get the recipe.
Refried beans are the hearty base of this filling seven layer Mexican dip—you can choose to make it vegan or not based on the ingredients, but the basic premise stays the same. Substitute store-bought guacamole and pico de gallo if you’re running short on time. Get the recipe.