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Larry’s Culver City Refried Beans
Last updated: 8/23/02

Back in my Navy days when I was going to school in Culver City, California to learn how to use some new equipment for a destroyer that was being built, we would frequent the Mexican restaurants in and around Los Angeles. The food and refried beans were excellent. Claudia, my Wife, has been trying to duplicate the food and refried beans for many years. The beans have never cut the mustard with me. They were too dry and course. Finally, I told her that. She said, ‘you don’t like ‘em, you make ‘em.’ So, I did.

First, I asked her how she did it. She used canned pinto beans and drained the liquid from the can and dumped it down the sink before putting the beans in a frying pan. I researched the Internet on the subject and came-up with several promising recipes. Most of them used dried beans. I asked Claudia to pick me up some dried, black Mexican beans the next time she went shopping. She came back with one pound of dried Goya Small Red Beans. I used a mix from the recipes I found on the Internet plus some of my own preferences and tried to make it simple—I wanted good refried beans, not a new career. I got real lucky and made (with some of Claudia’s expert help) the best refried beans I have eaten since Culver City, dinning in restaurants in other parts of California, and visits to several places in Mexico. Here’s the recipe:

Serves 10-12 people.


1 lb. of dry Goya Small Red Beans or Hurst's Red Kidney  Beans

4 cups of water

4 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Half of a large yellow onion

2 - 4 heaping Tablespoons of oregano (1 tablespoon dry)—we used fresh out of the garden

2 Good-sized garlic clove (I used White Soft Neck; German Hard Neck would probably be a little better)

2 Large Shallots (optional--in addition to the onion)

3 Hungarian Yellow Wax pepper (optional)

1 - 2 Tablespoons dried basil (optional)


1. I start in the evening two or three days before having a Mexican dinner (or make for freezer).

2. Sort through beans and remove any foreign material.

3. Wash beans in strainer, rinsing a couple of times.

4. Put in 3-quart saucepan and add 4 cups of water.

5. Put a lid on the pan and let it soak overnight.

6. Remove any floaters.

7. Chop-up the onion. Doesn’t have to be too fine. It will disappear.

8. Chop-up the oregano.

9. Chop-up the pepper, seeds and all.

10. Squash the garlic cloves with the side of a knife or meat clever (once squashed the skins are then easily removed).

11. Put the pan on the stove, add all of the ingredients except two of the four tablespoons of olive oil (no salt), and bring to a full boil (that should kill anything harmful).

12. We then put the contents of the saucepan in an electric crock-pot and let it cook for about two hours at medium heat with the lid on. You can probably accomplish the same results by simmering in the saucepan for two hours on a stove with the lid ajar. The idea is to end-up with beans that are soft, but not entirely falling apart.

13. Do not drain the liquid off the beans at any step in this process. It is the secrete to good refried beans.

14. After cooking remove the beans, let them cool with the lid on, and put them in the refrigerator for a day or two. That seems to enhance the flavors.  Refried beans are made from leftovers.

15. Cover the bottom of a frying pan with the remaining olive oil (about two tablespoons) and apply medium heat.

16. Remove enough beans and liquid for the people who will be dinning. We put the rest in three or four plastic zip-lock bags, apportion the liquid among them, and freeze them.

17. Put the beans in a frying pan (the Mexicans use a black iron frying pan; we don't) and start reducing the beans.

18. While the beans are reducing, squash them to the desired consistency. We use a wooden pestle.

19. Keep stirring (and squashing) with a fork so the beans and liquid will not stick to the bottom of the pan.

20. Reduce so the beans are sort-of sticking together to the desired consistency (refried beans, not soup—they should clump somewhat in the frying pan and the bottom will show).

21. We serve topped with a tablespoon of sour cream and a sprinkle chopped green onions. Like most restaurants, we do not have them as a main dish.

We have tried this recipe with dried black beans, pinto beans, Hust's red kidney beans, and Goya small red beans.  All were good, but the red kidney beans and small red beans are little better tasting than the others.  The shallots and basil add a unique taste (and smell while cooking).  We use the large "Frogs' Legs" shallots, which we grow in our garden.  I strain the dried basil through an old fashioned metal mesh strainer to remove course stems, etc. One can also use the first part of this recipe as a starting point for making some very good chili and boston baked beans (we use northern or navy beans; they are white). This is really worth the small effort it takes. The dry beans cost noticeably less than the canned ones. Try it! Larry

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