Refried black beans with red cabbage ’slaw and zhoug

Refried black beans red cabbage slaw and zhoug

I’ve had a bit of a disastrous week on the cooking front. On the weekend, I tried to make a strawberry layer cake from the Smitten Kitchen blog. Deb’s recipes are usually foolproof and this cake, called a Pink Lady Cake, is so gorgeously pink and princessy: I’ve been wanting to make it since I first read about few years ago. My version of the cake turned out so tough and dense and even though I’d added some pink food coloring to boost its colour, it came out looking like an unattractive, depressing, surgical-stocking pink. The weekend cook-off wasn’t all bad – I made some black bean enchiladas, which were actually pretty awesome but, depressed by my cake disaster, I didn’t take any photos and I don’t actually think it’s a good idea to post on something you’ve only really cooked once.

After the enchiladas, everything I cooked seemed like very ho hum and mediocre and it seemed to like too much work to actually cook, take photos and then actually feel enthusiastic enough about something to write about it. I decided I’d just forget about posting this week and cook what I felt like. So, that is what I did. I had some leftover black beans which were taking up valuable space in my fridge, so I turned them into refried beans, then I made my favourite red cabbage ’slaw with buttermilk dressing, because what is better with refried beans than a nice, refreshing coleslaw.

Zhoug in jar

I was flipping through Yotam Ottolenghi’s new book, Jerusalem, looking for some inspiration to regain my cooking mojo and I came across a recipe for zhoug – this green chilli and herb paste. Originally from Yemen, zhoug is an essential accompaniment to the famous Israeli falafel and shawarma pita sandwiches. I thought it would go fantastically with refried beans and I was right – it did.

refired black beans with red cabbage slaw and zhoug on tortilla

This is what we had for dinner last night – refried beans, ’slaw, crumbled fetta cheese, roasted red peppers and zhoug on tortillas. My son eschewed the ’slaw and zhoug, but he still ate three tortillas with refried beans, chopped iceberg lettuce, grated cheese and sour cream.

I don’t know how authentic my refried beans are but they are very tasty. Pinto bans are the most traditional beans used in refried beans but I prefer to use black beans. Some people drain the broth off the beans and add water but I like to use the broth the beans are cooked in as well for extra taste.  This is a bit of a guess-timate recipe, so season and adapt to your taste. You can serve these beans with tacos, tortillas and burritos or as a dip with corn chips, sour cream and salsa.

Refried black beans with feta and red pepper

Refried beans

To simmer your beans:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups of dried black beans (soaked over night)
  • 1 onion scored at both ends in quarters
  • 3 cloves of garlic lightly crushed
  • some sprigs of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • bay leaf
  • one tablespoon of olive oil

Drain off soaking water  then cover beans with water to about 5 cm or 2 inches above the beans. Add onion, garlic, thyme and the bay leaf to flavour your broth and olive oil so the beans don’t froth while they are cooking.

Bring the beans to the boil and then simmer very gently for an hour or more until the beans are very tender. If they become too dry, top up broth with boiling water. Once the beans are tender, you can also add some salt to taste and simmer for ten minutes more. If you are just making these for refried beans, you can cook them until they are almost bursting out of their skins but I always like to make double the amount of beans, so I cook them until they are tender, but still intact, so I can use them for different recipes.

Remove onion, garlic and bay leaf from beans. If not using immediately, cool, keep the beans in the broth and store in the refrigerator or freeze for later use.

Refried beans

  • one pot of beans (About 3 x 440gram cans of beans)
  • 1 small onion, Chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1½ teaspoons of ground cumin (to taste)
  • 1–2 teaspoons of ground chilli (to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2- 4 tablespoons of olive oil

To make refried beans:

If your beans or too brothy take a cup or so of broth off and reserve to add to the beans later if needed.

Blend beans in food processor or mash with a potato masher. You want the beans to be mashed but not completely smooth.  I like my beans fairly textured so I always just use a potato masher (this also saves on washing up).

Heat olive oil and fry onion and garlic until soft and lightly golden, add cumin and ground chilli then add beans and broth.

Cook beans, mashing them every now and then until the broth has thickened and the beans become thick and paste like. If the beans become too dry add more broth or water. Taste and add more salt and chilli if desired.

To reheat add some more bean broth or water to soften the beans and heat in pan.

Red cabbage ’slaw

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

  • Half a head of red cabbage finely sliced
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and grated

Buttermilk dressing

  • ½ cup well shaken buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise.
  • 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped shallots
  • 3 tablespoons of finely chopped chives
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Slice red cabbage as finely as you can. Sprinkle with salt and sit in a colander for an hour until wilted.

To make buttermilk dressing whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, sugar, cider vinegar, shallots and chives until sugar is dissolved. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Use paper towels to pat cabbage dry.  If it seems a bit too salty you can rinse it with water, drain and pat dry again.

Toss carrot and cabbage together then add dressing and mix again until well combined.

If not serving immediately keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.


Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem

Makes 1 small jar

  • 35g coriander (leaves and stems) roughly chopped
  • 20g flat leaf parsley (leaves and stems) roughly chopped
  • 2 hot green chilli’s, roughly chopped (I added another more chilli for extra heat)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon caster sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 garlic cloves crushed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons water

Add all ingredients to the small bowl of a food processor, pulse a few times until the paste is coarsely blended. Be careful not to over blend it should be still quite textured as it is when is traditionally made in a mortar and pestle.

Transfer to a sterilised jar. Zhoug will keep in the refrigerator for at least 3 weeks

Vegetarian and gluten-free


  1. Nice pics Lizzie! And that meal looks so incredibly tasty and hearty. I love the honesty of your food blog. Surgical stocking pink – hilarious!

  2. That looks delicious! Zhoug! I learned a similar recipe years ago when I was visiting a friend in California, but I didn’t get a name for it. Cilantro, olive oil, garlic, jalapeno peppers, lime juice and salt all minced together. It’s amazing on anything with beans, from papusas to burritos to tacos. It’s pretty good with eggs too! I’m excited to try your version for a different flavour profile.

  3. This looks like my kind of food Elizabeth. I have to say that I adore black beans now after only discovering them last year. I had decided to eat more beans in my diet and went to my local health food shop to see what they had and apart from pinto and some other pretty beans there were black beans and as I had never tried them (can’t get tinned black beans here in Tassie) I decided to give them a go. I read that the cooking broth was tasty but couldn’t see how that was possible…it was just beans and water after all, but it was delicious. I ended up keeping the resulting thick purple liquor and making soup out of it which was probably the best soup that I have ever tasted. Great flavour so why waste it? Cheers for this great share Elizabeth. I think my summer this year is going to be entirely peppered with refried beans, tortilla and salad 🙂

  4. Yummy! Love the crunchy additions to the refried black beans. The zhoug sounds fabulous. I’ve made cilantro also before, which is similar. Fresh herbs add so much to food!

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