Most pinto bean preparations are vegetarian, but refried pinto beans may contain lard or other animal fat, especially the kind served in Mexican restaurants. Dried beans are the best choice for making vegetarian pinto beans for any sort of bean dish. Although they take some forethought to prepare, dried beans allow you the most flexibility in adding ingredients and cooking the beans just the way you want them.
Dried pinto beans have no added salt, making them the healthiest choice. If necessary, look for canned pinto beans with no salt added, so that you can add just the amount you want for your recipe, and so that you can use the bean liquid without overloading your dish with salt. Rinse any high-sodium canned pinto beans with water before including them in your recipe.
When preparing pinto beans from dried beans, slow cooking or a long soak before cooking gives the best results. Remove any wrinkled or damaged beans or small pebbles from dried beans before soaking or cooking. The Savvy Vegetarian recommends soaking the beans until they have doubled in size from their dry state and have no wrinkles and then cooking them for six hours in a crockpot. Cook the pinto beans until they are completely soft but still have their shape intact. With canned beans, this means cooking for several minutes.
Cooked with Broth
Cook pinto beans, dried or canned, in vegetable broth or stock rather than water for the richest flavor. Homemade vegetable broth or stock, made with accumulated vegetable scraps, frozen until needed and tossed into a stockpot of water, is even better.
Depending on how you use the pinto beans, add some seasonings, condiments or vegetables to the mix. Great choices for pinto beans include onions, garlic, salsa, black olives, oregano or a splash of beer, according to Vegan Coach. Barbara Fisher of the food website Tigers & Strawberries recommends adding Spanish smoked paprika for a smoked ham flavor in vegetarian refried pinto beans. She uses 1 1/2 tbsp. per 1 lb. of dried pintos.
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Erica Leigh has been writing and editing professionally since 2005, contributing to a technology and education nonprofit, renewable energy companies and various websites. Leigh holds bachelor's degrees in anthropology and linguistics from the University of Washington.