These smoky vegan refried beans are a staple for tacos, wraps, burritos, snacking, and more! They’re full of vibrant, savory flavor, thanks to the addition of lime juice, tomato paste, and smoked paprika. Best of all, they take only 15 minutes to prepare with cooked beans.
When my friend Ashley and I were working together on Power Plates, I went to stay and work with her in Denver.
When she asked me if there was anything I wanted to have on hand for breakfast, I asked if she could pick up some soft tortillas and canned, vegan refried beans.
Ashley was later surprised at how often I made soft tacos for breakfast. Fittingly, my go-to breakfast tacos ended up becoming a recipe in the breakfast section of the cookbook.
I noted there how often I rely on breakfast tacos because they’re versatile and satisfying. They’re also a good vehicle for so many kinds of plant proteins and vegetables.
Leftover cubes of baked tofu or tempeh? Roasted sweet potatoes or sautéed greens? The last cup or two of a tangy vegan slaw? Put them into a breakfast taco.
Not much has changed. Soft tacos are still one of my favorite, most frequent vegan breakfasts. The only difference is that I now make my own, smoky vegan refried beans more often than not.
What are refried beans?
Refried beans are beans that have been cooked and mashed, then fried or baked. “Refried” comes from the word “refritos,” or “well-fried.” They aren’t, as might be inferred from the name, fried twice.
This recipe is for vegan refried beans. While some vegan refried beans are available in stores, traditional recipes for refried beans might be prepared with chicken stock, lard, bacon fat, or butter.
It’s also worth saying that beans are typically soaked and scratch cooked for traditional refried beans. In order to make this version quick-cooking, I use canned beans.
If you like to scratch cook your beans, then you can of course use 3 cups of pinto beans that you’ve soaked, boiled, and drained.
Refried beans are typically made with onion and garlic, and they can be seasoned with epazote or oregano.
The main seasoning note in these vegan refried beans is smokiness. The smoky flavor comes from smoked paprika, which is a wonderful spice to keep on hand. I use it in chili, soup, tacos, my cashew queso, and many other recipes.
Making refried beans
Traditionally, the first step in making refried beans would be to boil dried beans until they’re tender. I bypass this step for my smoky vegan refried beans, opting to use canned instead.
The recipe calls for a total of 3 cups of cooked pinto beans. That’s about 480g, or two 15-ounce/425g cans, drained and rinsed.
Step 1: Sauté onion & tomato
The first step in the process of making the vegan refried beans is to sauté some onion and garlic in a skillet or deep sauté pan.
I use avocado oil, which is my go-to neutral oil for cooking and baking, to do this. You could use olive oil or vegan butter as well.
I also add a small amount of fresh, chopped tomato or tomato paste to the onion and garlic mix. This a non-traditional addition. For what purpose? Umami.
Tomato is a source of umami, which is also known as the “fifth taste.” It can be thought of as savoriness, but it roughly translates to “deliciousness” in Japanese.
Umami is responsible for the deep, savory quality of soy sauce, Parmesan cheese, anchovies, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
Plant-based sources of umami can be a powerful tool in vegan cooking, as umami is also sometimes associated with protein in recipes. In any case, I think that it enhances the flavor of the refried beans.
Step 2: Add beans, broth & spices
Next, you’ll add your cooked beans, a half cup of broth (I like to use a vegan chicken-style broth, but vegetable broth is fine) or water, and spices to the pan.
The spices I like to use are smoked paprika, cumin, and fine sea salt. You could modify these to your liking: for example, if you like, you can add cayenne for heat. Oregano is also a nice and more traditional flavor addition.
Step 3: Mash
Now it’s time to get mashing!
Refried beans are typically mashed. I’ve tried refried beans that have a more chunky texture, in which some of the beans are whole. I’ve also tried some that are silky smooth, almost like a purée.
For these vegan refried beans, I’d invite you to use your judgment about how much you’d like to mash the beans. I like mine mostly mashed, with a little bit of texture still remaining.
You might prefer more mashing or less than me.
In order to do this mashing, I use a handheld potato masher, and I mash the beans right in the sauté pan they’ve been cooking is. This spares me the need to dirty an additional bowl for the mashing process.
If you prefer a very smooth texture, you could use an immersion blender here.
Step 4: Stir in acid
The smoky refried beans benefit from the addition of a little bit of acid. I like to use freshly squeezed lime juice, white wine vinegar, or apple cider vinegar. Sometimes it just depends on what I have.
Once you do this, you can taste the beans and adjust all other seasonings. They’re now ready to store or eat!
How to serve vegan refried beans
There are so many ways to serve these convenient, flavorful beans.
You can use them in any simple taco, of course. Add any vegetables, additional protein, and some sort of condiment.
I like to garnish tacos with my 4-ingredient vegan sour cream, cashew queso, cashew cheese, and vegan feta cheese.
I’ve used the refried beans to make a creative spin on huevos rancheros with cauliflower and my easy black bean sweet potato tacos.
The vegan refried beans could go into a tray of homemade vegan nachos. I love this seasonal version with butternut squash.
Or you can simply serve them on toast or with tortilla chips, for a savory little snack.
Do I need to use pinto beans?
You certainly don’t have to use pinto beans in the recipe. The vegan refried beans can be made with black beans, kidney beans, black eyed peas, or adzuki beans. Use what you have.
Can I make vegan refried beans with no oil?
You can make a whole foods, plant-based version of the vegan refried beans if you wish. To do this, sauté the onion and garlic in 1/4 vegetable or vegan no-chicken broth instead.
I find that the avocado oil contributes to a creamy texture and also helps to carry the smoky flavors of the dish.
Meal prep & storage
The vegan refried beans are a great option to include in vegan meal prep for the week ahead.
Like many sauces or dips, they can add instant flavor and life to otherwise simple combinations of ingredients. And the refried beans can be used in a few different recipes or methods as your week goes on.
The refried beans will keep for up to four days in an airtight container in the fridge.
The Vegan Week
Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.
Whether you have three, two, or even just one hour of time to spare, The Vegan Week will show you how to batch cook varied, colorful, and comforting dishes over the weekend.
Can I freeze vegan refried beans?
Yes, the refried beans can be frozen! I often make this batch as directed by the recipe and immediately freeze half, so that I can make soft tacos at a moment’s notice in the future.
The refried beans can be frozen for up to 8 weeks.
And here’s the recipe.
- 2 tablespoons avocado oil
- 1 small white or yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup chopped, fresh tomato (substitute 2 tablespoons/33g tomato paste and add with the beans in step 2)
- 3 cups cooked pinto beans (480g, or two 15- ounce/425g cans, drained and rinsed)
- 1/2 cup vegan no-chicken or vegetable broth, or water (120ml)
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice or 1/2 tablespoon white wine or apple cider vinegar (or to taste)
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and tomato, if using fresh. Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the onion is tender and translucent.
- Add the beans, tomato paste, if you're not using fresh tomatoes, broth or water, smoked paprika, cumin, and sea salt to the pan. Bring the mixture to a low simmer.
- Use a handheld potato masher to mash the refried beans. You can leave quite a bit of texture or make them smooth—it's up to you. Continue heating for another couple minutes, or until they've thickened. Stir in the lime juice or vinegar. Serve or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
While I’m all for relying on store-bought items in a pinch, I’ve learned that whipping up certain homemade staples is often quicker and easier than running an errand.
Homemade staples are a nice way to be budget-conscious, too.
In the last six months I’ve come to rely more and more on my cashew ricotta, a new go-to marinara sauce, vegan mayo, tofu cream cheese, cashew sour cream, tempeh bacon, and other vegan basics that I’ve gone through phases of purchasing nearly all the time.
No guilt or story around trying new products, but it feels nice to make these foundational items from scratch. And the refried beans that I have in the freezer are now a more flavorful alternative to the canned stuff that I’m used to.
Hope you’ll get lots of use from them, too! Enjoy.