Wholly Vegetarian Refried Beans (Which Taste Like They’ve Been Cooked With Pork)

I grew up eating lots and lots of dried beans, simmered on low heat all day, in a big pot, seasoned with a ham hock. My favorites were pinto beans, which were usually served in a bowl with diced raw onions on top and cornbread on the side. They may or may not have had any other seasonings, such as a bay leaf, some garlic or hot peppers, but the one thing pinto beans always had in them was salt, pepper and either smoked jowl bacon, fatback or a ham hock.

Ham hocks gives an absolutely divine richness to the broth, and flavors the beans with the sensual kiss of the smokehouse.

Over the years, I have eaten many sorts of vegetarian beans, and while they may be quite good, most of the time they are missing that smoky richness that just says, “beans” to my palate.

So, most of the time, when I am making soup beans or beans for refried beans (refritos), I haul out whatever bit of smoked hog I have on hand, and toss it in the pot with the beans and start simmering.

However, when one is cooking for one’s Muslim friend and one’s eight month old baby, neither of whom are going to be eating pork any time soon, one has to change one’s ways.

And that is fine. Pork fat may be good for the soul, (and the beans) but it is less good for the figure.

But, how to get that signature smokiness that I want in my beans?

Well, one could use smoked turkey wings, which I have done to great effect in making lower fat beans and greens in the past. However, Kat is still not eating meat under doctor’s orders, so smoked poultry is right out of the equation.

Under normal circumstances, meaning, if I was cooking only for adults, I would use chopped up chipotle chiles to provide the smoky flavor, but since Kat is fond of spices, but not so much heat, I cannot go that route, either.

What to do, what to do?

I suppose I could resign myself to eating beans sans smoke, but I don’t want to do that, and neither does my palate. My tastebuds are quite stubborn and once they have it in their minds that beans taste smoky they don’t want to let go of that concept, and will thus start triggering cravings for smoky goodness that can only be satiated with fifteen pounds of bacon or a whole ham or somesuch evil nonsense, unless I give in and just give them what they really want, which is some nice, creamy, smoky refried beans that smell of all the goodness of smoked pork products.

In my pantry, I realized I had the secret to rich, smoky fully vegetarian pinto beans and thus, refried beans: Spanish Smoked Paprika.

Also known as Pimenton de la Vera Dulce, Smoked Spanish Paprika is a bright russet red colored spice derived from ripe sweet peppers that have been smoke dried slowly over an oak fire for weeks, then ground into a powder. (It also comes in a hot version called Pimenton de la Vera Picante, which is similar to Chipotle chiles, but not as hot.)

It is great stuff, fragrant and full of flavor and color, and I found that by adding a tablespoon and a half to the vegetable broth while cooking the beans produced gave them an amazing smoky punch and colored the broth a rich reddish brown.

Once the beans were mashed, salted and ready to be fried, I found that they were just as good as ones cooked with a ham hock, but were lower in fat and calories, as well as being perfectly baby safe and Muslim-approved.


For Kat, I pureed the beans completely, but for the rest of us had them fairly chunky. (I like to leave plenty of texture in my refrieds.) I also added some chipotle to our chunky beans after I took out Kat’s and pureed them, so we older folks could have a bit of zing in our beans.

Wholly Vegetarian Smoky Refried Beans


1 pound dried pinto beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked in water overnight
1 1/2 quarts vegetable stock or broth
1 small onion, diced roughly
5 large cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tablespoons Spanish Smoked Paprika (sweet)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon salt
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground dried chipotle chile
salt to taste
1/2 cup loosely packed coriander leaves, roughly chopped


Drain pinto beans and rinse again. Put into a pot with stock or broth, onion, garlic, bay leaf and paprika, bring to a boil, and turn down heat so it simmers. Simmer until beans are tender and are just falling apart.

Scoop beans out of the broth with a skimmer or drain the liquid, reserving the juice, in case you need it to moisten the beans after they are mashed.

Using a potato or bean masher, as pictured above, (or a stick blender) mash the drained beans to the texture you prefer. (Do not remove the onions and garlic that were cooked in the beans–mash them up, too.)

After the beans are mashed, heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan big enough to hold all the beans. Add onions and sprinkle with the teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, until the onions are a dark golden/light brown color. Add garlic and keep cooking until the garlic is fragrant. Sprinkle cumin and if you are using it, chipotle chile into the pan, then add the beans all at once.

Stir to thoroughly mix beans with oil and aromatics. Keep cooking, stirring continually, until the beans dry out somewhat and become creamy and thick. Salt to taste, then right before serving stir in cilantro.

What can you do with refried beans, other than feed them to your baby? (Kat likes them as much as she likes guacamole, curry and carrot potato soup.)

They are a great filling for burritos, I like them in my Mexican rice casserole, Arroz Gratinado, and they are a classic side dish with rice.

They are also great in nachos! Just layer good quality tortilla chips in a baking sheet, dot with hot refrieds, sprinkle with grated cheese, top with scallions, cilantro and jalapenos and run under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Then, serve with guacamole and the salsas of your choice for a great snack.


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  1. Thank you for this excellent blog, and for allowing the feed which allows me to enjoy your work over on LJ.
    I enjoy your explanations and your recipes very much, we have similar tastes.
    You are an excellent teacher.

    Comment by RJ — May 16, 2007 #

  2. I’d be surprised if you have never used Wright’s hickory smoked flavoring, liquid smoke. Works for me, even in pea soup.

    Comment by Frank — May 16, 2007 #

  3. Yum!

    I’ve also found that taking a tablespoon of really strongly brewed lapsang souchang tea (and drinking the rest, naturally), a teaspoon of brown sugar and a dash of soy sauce (or bragg’s liquid aminos), makes for a great “fake ham hock” flavor for soups and stews (added last). But the smoke flavor isn’t quite as powerful as I want (and I don’t like liquid smoke much). I hadn’t thought to use smoked paprika! Now I will!

    Comment by Alexis — May 16, 2007 #

  4. mmm. Looking forward to trying that, I’ve recently discovered smoked paprika and its wonderful. I find liquid smoke makes me gag a bit but the smoked paprika works wonders. I’ve put it in all sorts of things but its particularly useful in stuff like the veggeroni seitan and that sort of thing.

    Comment by jenny — May 16, 2007 #

  5. Thank you, thank you! This looks tasty and may poke me to actually make veggie refried beans at some point.

    And hey, there is another Alexis. Whoa.

    Comment by Alexis G — May 16, 2007 #

  6. I’m a big fan of smoked paprika–I don’t think I’ve used it in beans yet though. I might make these for dinner tonight.
    Another flavor enhancer that is good in vegetarian dishes is a rind of Parmesan cheese–toss it into dished that are stewed or boiled. In this one, I’d put it in with the beans when they precook.

    Comment by lucette — May 17, 2007 #

  7. I will have to try the smoked paprika sometime, especially since I just bought some. One thing I’ve been doing is a tip from Bryanna Clark Grogan (a vegan chef) – she uses toasted sesame oil to help replace the fat and slight smokey taste of ham in recipes. It unfortunately doesn’t help much with the lower fat part though.

    Comment by JJ — May 17, 2007 #

  8. Thank you, RJ–I appreciate your kind words. I really love teaching cooking skills, so it is good to know that my writing is useful to others.

    Frank–I used to use liquid smoke, until my Dad, who used to work in a chemical plant that made the flavoring told me how it was made.

    So, I leave it alone, now, and use stuff like smoked paprika and chipotle instead.

    Alexis–the paprika definitely will have a stronger flavor than the tea and soy sauce–though that is a really ingenious idea.

    Lapsang souchong might make an interesting ice cream flavor….

    Jenny–I have found that the paprika is good in all sorts of dishes. It is a new favorite in my house.

    Yes, try it–I am trying to cook more vegetarian food these days—and smoked paprika is a definite help in that direction.

    Lucette–the Parmesan rind is a great idea. Not for this batch, because some of them are for the girl who isn’t eating cheese yet. I keep my Parmesan rinds and use them in cooking soups, so I will have to try them in lentils or beans soon.

    JJ–I like Bryanna Clark Grogan’s work, but I disagree with the use of sesame oil to replace ham in recipes…mostly because I am very sensitive to its flavor. I use it a lot in Asian dishes, and so I have found that in non-Asian dishes, the taste “jumps out” at me and I notice it too much.

    But the paprika rules–and adds no fat. (Though sesame oil is a good bit more healthy for you than ham fat!)

    Comment by Barbara — May 17, 2007 #

  9. Barbara, I have found that smoked sun-dried tomatoes also work really well to give beans that rich smoky goodness.

    Comment by dejamo — May 18, 2007 #

  10. I adore smoked paprika, and by some coincedence we’ve been experimenting with some different paprikas at my house too. I probably don’t eat nearly enough beans. Great post

    Comment by Trig — May 20, 2007 #

  11. Have made this twice, although with canned pinto beans. Wow! Had never heard of smoked paprika before. This was GREAT!! Suggestions for people using canned pinto beans: Get the BIG cans (25 oz or more) and rinse and drain. Meantime, water-saute one onion with maybe a LITTLE bit of oil if you want. When onions are golden, add 5 big cloves of minced garlic and saute a little longer. Add 1/4 cup of water and one tablespoon of smoked paprika and the rest of the spices (1/2 teaspon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt) and saute until water is gone.
    Meantime, blend the pinto beans with at least 2 cups filtered water and pour into the pan. Mix, and let mixture “boil” for 15 – 20 minutes until most of the liquid is gone. This gives the beans an amazing creamy texture. Add more salt to taste.

    Comment by Suzette — May 29, 2007 #

  12. oops — should have specified — that’s ONE big can. 😉

    Comment by Suzette — May 29, 2007 #

  13. oops — should have specified — that’s ONE big can of pinto beans. 😉

    Comment by Suzette — May 29, 2007 #

  14. Late posting.

    I cook beans for a vegetarian almost daily. Some tricks to make it “meatier”

    1. Dried Pasilla chilies, toasted until blistered and crackery, then ground fine.

    2. Kombu seaweed, about an inch or two added with beans. Remove when cooked. (or not)

    3. Fry lots of annatto seed (will make everything red) cumin, mexican oregano, bay, black mustard seed in a cup of oil – add a few tablespoons to beans, save the rest.

    4. Whisk in some masa harina.

    The smoked tea and smoked paprika options sound interesting! Will try them.

    Comment by Chad — June 19, 2007 #

  15. […] Wholly Vegetarian Refried Beans , From Tigers & Strawberries […]

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  16. Hi, I’m living in the UK and I really wanted to try this recipe (I really love that it’s vegetarian/vegan), but my local supermarkets don’t sell chipotle chile powder. I can order the whole (dried, I think) chipotle chiles off ebay; if I get those, will I be able to use them whole in the recipe? Otherwise, how should I go about powdering them?
    Thanks 🙂

    Comment by ZG — April 16, 2010 #

  17. On second thought, the ones on Ebay might not be dried. I *can* also get dried ones from a different site, but at a slightly higher price.

    Comment by ZG — April 16, 2010 #

  18. I *can* get smoked paprika here, either sweet or hot…

    Comment by ZG — April 16, 2010 #

  19. Chipotles are hot, smoked paprika or pimenton, in Spanish, is sweet. Keep that in mind if you substitute.

    If you can get sweet smoked paprika, that is the one to use for this recipe.

    Good luck–I hope you like the recipe. It is delicious.

    Comment by Barbara — April 16, 2010 #

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