Open the fridge in the California home of Anjie Villalobos, and you’ll find a big pot of creamy refried beans. She makes them the same way her grandmother simmered frijoles back in New Mexico. “She always had these beans in the house. It was one of my favorite things to eat when I was little and we’d go over,” Anjie remembers.
Refried pintos are abuela cooking at their time-honored best. Delicious, no-fuss authentic, and honed to simple perfección after decades of making the same beans in the same pot, week after week, generation after generation—this recipe never fails, reports Anjie. First, boil the beans with a little salt and a halved onion in water to cover. Second, cook for 2 1/2 hours. Scoop out and mash a few ladle-fulls of beans in heated olive oil and mix them back into the pot. Third: Invite the grandkids over. Serve.
“When my grandchildren come over now, that’s what they want to eat: homemade refried beans,” says Anjie, one of the most youngest abuelas we know. “That’s one of the reasons I always have them in my refrigerator. I never know when they are going to show up. They spent the night at my house the other night and what did they want to eat? Poached eggs, refried beans, chips, salsa—all that good stuff.”
To make sure her kitchen is always abuela-ready, “I make these beans once a week,” says Anjie, who is the recipe keeper for so many of her family’s go-to Mexican and southwestern dishes. Favorites include green chicken pozole, avocado salsa, and handmade corn tortillas, which she makes when she finds herself far from a good Mexican market. Which isn’t often, since she lives in Southern California, she’s happy to report.
Anjie has updated two things from the recipe handed down by Grandma Pino, a great cocinera who was family-famous for her New Mexican beef-stuffed sweet chile rellenos.
“I used to make my beans on the stove and boil them, as is traditional,” explains Anjie. But one time, when she was time-strapped, she used her crock pot. To her surprise, the refried pintos tasted even better. “It’s an easier way to make them, without having to worry about whether I need to leave my house during the day. Because it’s a commitment making beans. But what I found is that I actually like the texture a lot more. And my family agrees,” says Anjie.
The second departure in her recipe version: No flour. “My grandmother would add one tablespoon of flour to her beans’ broth when she was done,” reports Anjie. ”I always tried to figure out why. I think it was to thicken up the broth, but you know, I find that beans thicken up themselves without having to do that.“
Slightly different recipe, same results. “I used to say my grandmother always made the best beans in the world, and I am proud to say that my grandkids Charlee and Rowan now tell me that I make the best beans on the planet,” says Anjie.
”It makes me happy that my grandchildren love them as much as I did.“
Further evidencia that a family-favorite dish that is abuela approved = grandchild adored.
Ready to make “the best refried beans on the planet?”
Top Photo: Michelle Ezratty Murphy