Refried beans from a can are generally a thick, grainy glop that lacks flavor. A real Mexican meal deserves a suave puree that is best achieved by cooking your own beans. The traditional method requires soaking overnight, then boiling them for a couple of hours, and finally mashing them with fried onions and garlic. That's more advance planning than many of us can manage on a regular basis, not to mention a couple pots to scrub.
If you have a pressure cooker and an immersion blender, you can streamline this process to just about an hour from conception to consumption, with only one pot. I have the (terrific) Cuisinart CPC-600 electric model, but you can really use any type of pressure cooker. Just be sure and follow the manufacturer's recommendations for maximum quantities and time.
One of the strengths of using a pressure cooker? You can do an initial saute or sear before adding your liquids.
For this recipe, we cook the onions and aromatics in oil first, then add the beans and water and crank up the pressure. You have to use oil when cooking beans in a pressure cooker anyhow, to reduce foaming that might clog the valve—so in this case it does double duty.
If you prefer your beans with a little more texture, you can either reserve a cup or so of them before pureeing and then mix them back in, or just use a lighter hand with the immersion blender.
For a simple vegetarian "taco night" dinner, serve the beans with soft, warm corn tortillas, legendary guacamole, cheese, minced onions, pickled jalapenos, lime wedges and hot sauces of your choice.
About the author: Michael Natkin is an aspiring professional chef in Seattle. As the founder of the blog Herbivoracious, he's on a mission to show the world that vegetarian cuisine can be modern, satisfying and delicious. When he's not cooking, Michael is a senior software engineer at Adobe Systems.