'Refried' Beans Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means

Foods from different cultures aren't always fully translated when they are made in America — figuratively and literally. Take refried beans, for instance. You might think the name means someone is sweating over the stove frying these beans over and over again, but that's not true. This well-loved Mexican and Tex-Mex side dish gets its somewhat erroneous English name from some linguistic confusion when making the switch from Spanish to English. The dish, originally called "frijoles refritos," means "very fried" — and the beans are fried only once. In the English language, the prefix "re" means to do again. In Spanish, "re" is added to words in order to emphasize them. Hence, refried beans are actually well-fried once, not fried and then fried again and then fried again, and so on. 

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Refried beans are actually pretty new to Mexican food, appearing about 100 years ago. Pinto beans were originally used to make refried beans, though now it's not unusual to see red kidney beans being used in addition to pinto. Basically, you boil and mash the beans to a paste and then bake them or fry them ONLY ONCE. Please. Step away from the stove and enjoy your beans.

How to incorporate refried beans into your meals

Since their introduction, refried beans have become a staple at Mexican restaurants, alongside black beans. You can get them in a burrito, in an enchilada, on a tostada, or in a layered nachos dish. They can also be used as a dip with tortilla chips. They are warm, luxurious, comforting, and hearty. They are also very easy to make at home. Some of the most common ingredients in refried beans include: Onion, garlic, salt, black pepper, olive oil, oregano, cumin, and chili powder — but there are so many recipes out there that play with spice, texture, and flavor. 

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Every good recipe begins with the beans, so make sure you soak them overnight. Then add them to a saucepan of water with the rest of the ingredients you've chosen. After they've cooked, blend everything to your desired consistency and then REALLY FRY THEM. ONCE. If you're low on time, you can use canned refried beans and fuss with them a little bit to get them up to your desired flavor level. No judgment! Sometimes you don't have the time for soaking the beans overnight and not everyone has an instant pot. You can add sour cream to those canned beans to add texture, sprinkle in some spices for heat, or saute some garlic and throw that in. If you're vegetarian or vegan, know that some cans of refried beans include animal products, such as lard, so be sure to check for that before buying.

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