Instant Pot: Mexican No-Fry Refried Pinto Beans

March 16, 2023

Instant Pot: Mexican No-Fry Refried Pinto Beans

I've been on a personal journey to make the most amazing refried beans in my Instant Pot. But, when I followed other recipes I found them simply lacking. They worked generally, but then they either didn't address details or add steps that don't make sense. The first thing I learned was the type of beans to use to get the creamiest texture. It's definitely pinto. The roman bean looks similar but takes much longer to cook - I found out after several dinner disasters - but I had mistakenly bought a huge bag of them so needed to eat them up. Then, soak or not to soak? I prefer soaking a touch. How much product to cook? Most recipes use 1 cup of beans -- again my big issue with Instant Pot recipes. That's just not enough for our family of four to eat and then have leftovers! But, how to scale up? Did you know that you can safely make up to 2 cups of beans in your 3 quart Instant Pot? And what about the recipe that called for 1 1/2 cups of beans - I mean why? I live for round numbers in the kitchen! Oh, and do I need to use meat stock or will water do? What about the recipe that called for 5 cups of water to cook 1 cup of beans -- I mean that was a ton of water left over - what to do with all that cooked bean water (hint, never ever throw it away - it's liquid gold). And then - what about the recipe that add spices like cumin and oregano and chili powder? I went to a friend who grew up in a Mexican household and happens to also supervise the produce department at our neighborhood grocer. He says the key is to truly taste the beans - just listening to him describe his mother's refried beans made me want to invite myself to her house for a meal. The beans are a canvas (my word, not his) for the other ingredients that you'll pile on when you sit down to eat. So, he says, too many spices will take away from that. One thing that I thought helped ramp up the subtle flavors was the tarka (taking from our Indian cuisine) of the oil, onion, and other ingredients in the end. Browning them was a perfect layer of flavor and depth. Some recipes called to cook this for 10 minutes - which was way too long - 5 is perfect.  This recipe is so good that I was literally scraping the last bits of beans out of the pot with my fingers and then licking them clean. If that's not an endorsement, I don't know what is. If you want to make this on the stovetop follow the steps below in a roomy, heavy pot and cook for about 2 hours. Then, proceed with the remaining recipe. You may need a little extra water to account for evaporation. If you love my Instant Pot recipes, consider ordering my new cookbook, Instant Pot Indian, where I give you recipes for all three key sizes of the Instant Pot and help you make family-style portions with the full Indian flavor for which my cookbooks are always known. 

Instant Pot: Mexican Refried Beans

Pressure Cooker Size: 3 quart or larger *
Warm Up: 21 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Cool Down: 10 minutes NR + MR
TOTAL: 1 hour 11 minutes
Makes: 4 cups

2 cups dried pinto beans, picked over and washed
1 medium yellow onion, minced and divided
6 cloves garlic, minced and divided
1 medium jalapeno, minced and divided (keep the seeds & membrane)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
4 cups water
2 tablespoons olive or avocado oil (or 1 tbsp oil & 1 tbsp unsalted butter)

1. Soak the beans in hot, boiling water for at least 1 hour or in room temperature water for 6 hours to overnight. Drain and discard the water. Two cups of beans soaked in boiling, hot water for 1 hour yield 3 3/4 cups - soak them 2 hours or more and you'll have 4 3/4 cups. Many recipes skip the soaking - and if you do, increase the cook time from 40 to 45 minutes. Or just soak for at least 10 minutes. Even a small amount of soaking gets rid of anti-nutrients naturally found in beans. 

2. To the inner pot of the Instant Pot, add the soaked beans, ½ the onion, ½ the garlic, ½ the jalapeno, the bay leaves, the salt, and the water. Stir.

3. Lock the lid into place and make sure the pressure release valve is set to the sealing position (upwards). Press the PRESSURE COOK button and then press the PRESSURE LEVEL button until the panel reads HIGH. Adjust the cook time to 40 minutes. 

4. Once the cooking is complete, release the pressure naturally for 10 minutes. Then, manually release the remaining pressure. Press CANCEL and remove the lid. Drain the cooked beans over a bowl to catch the cooking liquid. Remove the bay leaves and save for the next step.

5. Replace the inner pot in the Instant Pot base. Select the SAUTE setting and adjust to NORMAL. When the indicator flashes HOT, add the oil. Once the oil is hot, add the bay leaves (it’s okay that they are a little wet) and the remaining onion, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook until browned, about 5 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom. I like getting as much flavor out of my bay leaves as possible. The combination of oil and butter is a nice tip from my friend Stefanie S..

6. Add the cooked beans back into the pot and with a potato masher or an immersion blender mash down. Add small amounts of the reserved cooking liquid to loosen the beans up until they are your desired consistency. I end up using about a ½ cup of cooking liquid. Press CANCEL when finished, remove and discard the bay leaves, garnish the beans with sliced jalapeno and onion and serve warm. Be sure to save the leftover liquid – I keep it in a recycled glass jar in the fridge. First, it’s delicious and could be a brothy soup on its own. It also comes in handy when you want to reheat the beans on the second or third day. Use this liquid to add moisture back into the beans, which will thicken up in the fridge. The beans will last in the fridge for about two weeks. They also freeze beautifully. 

Watch me make them! And please I KNOW the video gets wonky at the end. I need to work on my camera position. The i-phone goes from horizontal to vertical without any warning and it's driving me nuts. But, instead of holding myself back, I'm sharing what I have and just trying to improve it daily. I will fix it. Shout out to Stefanie S. - my dear friend who gave me the tip to add a mix of oil and butter. Love you, girl! 

BACKSTORY: I've been playing around with the best refried beans in my IP for some time. I started as I always do with a recipe in my all-time go-to Joy of Cooking. Though it's not Instant Pot, it does help me frame a recipe in my head. Also, I don't always love the ethnic recipes in here but again - for me it's a guide. In my version of this book that I've had since high school, it's on page 276. They make the refried beans recipe with black beans, which sure you can do but I wanted to use pinto. They also use canned - I wanted to use dried. And they saute just onion and garlic -- I decided to add jalapeno. Then, I look at Cooking With Your Instant Pot Mini by Heather Schlueter. The recipe is on page 42. I generally liked this recipe and it got me started, but what I didn't like was that it only uses 1 cup of beans (like most IP recipes), it uses way too much water (4 cups), and then it really does not tell you what to do with the extra water later -- do NOT throw it away. It's BEAN BROTH that can be used in all sorts of ways. Why do I want to share my backstory? So that you see the processes that I go through to truly perfect my versions of recipes AND so that you see the cookbooks I refer to in my own kitchen. While I typically don't cook from cookbook -- I often for recipes I'm unfamiliar with use them as guidelines. No one gets anywhere without standing on someone else's shoulders. Please support other authors as well and buy their books. I will only include titles that I find useful. And just because a recipe may not be perfect to my taste from a cookbook, I still think having the book as a guideline helps and make a huge difference. 

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