The Sneaky Reason Most Refried Beans Are Not Vegetarian

refried beans and tortilla chips
refried beans and tortilla chips - Marcos Castillo/Shutterstock

Refried beans are a quintessential accompaniment to most Mexican mains, or "platos fuertes". In the case of enfrijoladas, they are the stars of the show. Mexican cuisine is famously meat-heavy, so vegetarians and vegans may see refried beans as a reliable plant-based option they can always order from their local Mexican restaurant. Surprisingly, most authentic refried bean recipes aren't vegetarian at all. The sneaky reason most refried beans aren't vegetarian-friendly is that they're fried in lard.

Lard, known as manteca in Spanish, is a semi-solid fat rendered from various parts of a pig. It's been a staple fat in Mexican cuisine since the introduction of pigs to the Aztecs by Spanish colonists. Not only is lard used for refried beans, but it's also mixed into flour tortilla batter and the corn masa used to make tamales. Lard imparts a rich, savory flavor and a creamy cohesion to the starchy, pastiness of mashed beans. Many Mexican restaurant owners argue that lard is the secret behind why refried beans taste so much better at Mexican restaurants than out of the can.

Consequently, vegetarians shouldn't assume that they're guaranteed a plant-based meal at a Mexican restaurant when they order a side of rice, refried beans, and tortillas. If you're a vegetarian, it's prudent to ask if the refried beans contain lard before ordering or to check the ingredients list on the back of canned refried beans.

Read more: Restaurant Foods That Always Taste Better Than What You Make At Home

Vegetarian Refried Beans

refried pinto beans in skillet
refried pinto beans in skillet - Zkruger/Getty Images

While lard might still be behind many restaurant-style and Mexican families' refried bean recipes, there are plenty of restaurants that offer vegetarian refried beans, not to mention the majority of canned refried bean brands. Even Mexican refried bean brands like La Sierra and Isadora don't use lard in their refried bean products, opting instead for Mexican spices and vegetable oil.

If you want to make your own vegetarian refried beans, olive oil, coconut oil, or butter are great alternatives for fats that'll add savory depth to refried beans. You could even add a portion of vegetable stock to the mash for a thinner and creamier consistency. Another way to infuse flavor into vegetarian refried beans is to saute sliced onions and bell peppers or jalapenos as the foundation for whole black or pinto beans.

Since canned refried beans tend to be thicker and pastier than homemade or restaurant refried beans, you can likewise doctor them with flavorful thinning agents. You can use vegetable broth and a squeeze of lime juice for a savory, tangy infusion. Red salsa would not only thin out canned refried beans, but it would also add a long list of delicious umami, spicy, and aromatic ingredients. Topping refried beans with chopped cilantro and a sprinkling of cotija or feta cheese will bring a pop of color, salt, and earthiness.

Read the original article on Tasting Table