As Featured in The Denver Post, March 11, 2010

Barbacoa is one of the most famous and ancient slow-cooked foods of Mexico. The marinade used here contains some of the ingredients brought to the country by the Spanish in the 1500s: garlic, onion and cinnamon. The meats were wrapped in leaves and cooked overnight or all day in underground pits.This recipe is a meal in itself, with vegetables, meat and sauce. Most people eat the barbacoa with a side of corn tortillas. Serves 12.

• You can find bags of dried avocado leaves and frozen banana leaves at specialty markets. The avocado leaves, used to flavor the meat, are optional; they impart a slight anise flavor and aroma. The banana leaves or aluminum foil can be used to wrap the meat; the leaves lend a grassy flavor.

• The dried garbanzo beans (chickpeas) must be soaked overnight. The lamb needs 2 to 24 hours’ marinating time in the refrigerator. To reheat, place the vegetables and meat in a large saucepan over low heat. Add water as needed; cover and warm through. Adapted from a decades-old recipe of the original El Caballo Bayo restaurant in Mexico City.

Ingredients

MARINADE

  • 10        dried guajillo chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
  • 10        dried ancho chile peppers, stemmed and seeded
  • 5        cups water
  • 1/3    cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1         medium Roma tomato, cut into quarters
  • 1/2     medium white onion, coarsely chopped ( 1/2cup)
  • 3         medium cloves garlic
  • 1         tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2     teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2     teaspoon ground allspice
  • 5         whole cloves, stems removed
  • 2 1/2   teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 3         tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

VEGETABLE BASE

  • 2        medium white onions, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2   pounds carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into chunks
  • 1 1/2   pounds red potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • 8        ounces dried garbanzo beans, soaked overnight in 3 cups of very hot water, then drained
  • 12       ounces (1 bottle) light-colored beer, such as Corona
  • 3        cups water
  • 2        bay leaves
  • 1 1/2   teaspoons kosher or sea salt

MEAT

  • 8    pounds bone-in leg and shoulder lamb (or a leg or a shoulder)
  • banana leaves (optional)
  • fresh or dried avocado leaves (optional)

ASSEMBLY
Lime wedges, for serving
Warmed corn tortillas, for serving

Directions
For the marinade: Heat a large, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the dried chile peppers and toast them for no more than 20 seconds per side, taking care not to burn them.

Transfer them to a medium saucepan and add the water; place over medium heat and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until the peppers have softened and rehydrated.

Transfer the peppers to a blender. Add 2 cups of their cooking liquid (discard the remaining liquid), the vinegar, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, cloves (stems removed) and salt; puree until smooth.

Wipe out the medium saucepan and add the oil. Place over medium heat for 1 to 2 minutes, then add the pureed marinade, being careful to avoid splatters. Partially cover, and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the color darkens and the mixture thickens to a pastelike consistency.

Rinse the lamb and pat dry. Place it in a large, nonreactive dish. Use the marinade to cover it completely, rubbing the mixture into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours. Just before the lamb is finished marinating, prepare the vegetable base: Have a large roasting pan at hand with a rack that fits inside, preferably with space underneath. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before it goes into the oven.

Combine the onions, carrots, potatoes, and soaked and drained garbanzo beans in a large roasting pan. Pour the beer and water over the top. Add the bay leaves and season with salt to taste; toss to combine. Place the roasting rack over the mixture.

For meat: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Unfold the banana leaves and arrange a few layers of them on the roasting rack, leaving a generous amount of overlap on the pan’s long sides for wrapping the meat. (Alternatively, use long pieces of aluminum foil.) Place the meat on top of the leaves and use all of the marinade to cover it. Place the avocado leaves on top of the meat, then fold the leaves over to cover the meat. (If using the foil, poke a few small holes near the bottom edges to allow the meat juices to fall into the vegetables during cooking. The juices naturally fall through spaces between the banana leaves.)

Cover the banana leaf package or foil package tightly with foil. Slow-roast for 8 to 10 hours; the meat should come off the bone easily and the vegetables should be well seasoned and tender. Transfer to the stovetop (off the heat) and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes before opening the package. Discard the avocado leaves, if using.

Transfer the vegetable base mixture to a large platter. Shred the meat as desired and place on top of the vegetables, then drizzle the cooking juices on top.

For assembly: Serve with lime wedges, warmed corn tortillas and a salsa you like (see related recipe).

Per serving (based on 14, not including tortillas): 670 calories, 80g protein, 29g carbohydrates, 22g fat, 7g saturated fat, 227mg cholesterol, 771mg sodium, 8g dietary fiber, 2g sugar

Salsa for Barbacoa Tacos

This green salsa with arbol chile peppers complements the deep, earthy flavors of barbacoa. Makes about 2 1/2 cups. The salsa can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week; it will lose some of its heat over time. Based on a recipe from Mexican cookbook author Diana Kennedy.

Ingredients
1 1/2    pounds tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2        medium cloves garlic
Water
3        to 5 whole dried arbol chile peppers
1/3   medium white onion, coarsely chopped ( 1/3 cup)
1/2     teaspoon dried oregano
1/8     teaspoon ground cumin
1        teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/2     teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions
Combine the tomatillos and garlic cloves in a medium saucepan. Cover with water and place over medium heat. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until the tomatillos have softened and become pale green. Turn off the heat.

Heat a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Add the whole dried arbol chile peppers to taste and cook for about 2 minutes, turning them a few times, until their color darkens. Discard the stems, but do not seed the peppers.

Transfer the toasted peppers to a blender, then add the tomatillos and 1/4 cup of their cooking liquid. (Discard the remaining liquid.) Add the onion, oregano, cumin, salt and black pepper. Puree until smooth, then transfer to a bowl for serving or storing. Taste, and add salt as needed. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.