What We Spent and What We Ate: The best thing I ever made.

This week I made lamb barbacoa that was to die for.  I was a vegetarian for fifteen years before I met my husband, so I never really learned how to cook meat. For most of our marriage, Pat did all the meat cooking.  But with him working so much and me home, I’ve had to learn.  I’ve never made anything I thought was that great–until last Sunday.  The lamb, which smelled like cinnamon and chocolate, fell off the bone when I barely poked it with a fork.  It was juicy and incredibly flavorful.  Yay me!

I’m glad it was the best thing ever, because I spent a fortune this week–almost double our budget.  I don’t feel that bad–it’s my birthday tomorrow and I wanted to treat myself.  Maybe I should be concerned that I want groceries for my birthday, though.  Is that weird?

One of my favorite things this week was our visit to La Purisima Bakery for tortillas.  They make the best tortillas in town–but remember, they only take cash.  You wait in line for 20 minutes or so on Sundays, but it’s good people watching–and you get a chance to look at all the colorful things in the cases.  Lots of pink.  I love pink.


What We Ate:

Saturday: Cajun catfish from Whole Foods with purslane, tomato and cucumber salad, corn and kale

The purslane wasn’t a huge hit, but I think I could get everyone used to it.  I like it–it has a lovely texture and strong flavor.  It’s also really good for you.


Sunday: chips, salsa, vegetables, lamb, black bean and corn salad

I spent the day making lamb, but Pat didn’t get home until after 8:00.  I wanted the lamb to be a family dinner, so we just snacked on my haul from Pro’s Ranch Market and tasted the lamb.  I got several salsas, crema, and hot sauce, and we had Casa Sanchez tortilla chips (from Whole Foods)–which are the best.  I threw together a salad with avocados, leftover corn and canned black beans with some olive oil and vinegar dressing (with garlic, oregano, salt and pepper).


Monday: lamb barbacoa and corn torillas

This is a traditional Mexican recipe.  It’s usually made with garbanzo beans, but I’m sick of them, so I left them out.  In Mexico, the meat is usually cooked in a pit, but I don’t have a pit–just an oven.

It’s a time-consuming recipe–it took me a day and a half.  That said, it’s not difficult and it’s really fun.  The banana leaves are giant and silly and when the whole thing gets cooking, your house will smell amazing.

The meat is even better the next day, so make sure you buy enough for leftovers.  Also–save the water you boil the chiles in and save the extra broth from the roasting pan.  We used this for beans a few days later and it was heavenly.

The lamb needs 2 to 24 hours’ marinating time in the refrigerator.


For the marinade

  • 10 dried guajillo chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (see headnote)
  • 6-10 dried ancho chili peppers, stemmed and seeded (see headnote)
  • 5 cups water
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 medium Roma tomato, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 medium white onion, coarsely chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 3 medium cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

For the vegetable base

  • 2 medium white onions, coarsely chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 1 1/2 pounds carrots (I just used a bag of those “baby” carrots I hate, but they worked fine)
  • 24 ounces (2 bottles) dark beer
  • 2 cups water (including the water you boiled the chiles in)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt

For the meat

  • 6 lamb shoulder chops (you can use any cut, really)
  • 1 whole banana leaf (two if they’re small)
  • 5 to 6 fresh or dried avocado leaves (they’re on the same shelf as the dried chiles and spices at Ranch Market)

For assembly

  • Lime wedges, crema, and guacamole salsa from Ranch Market for serving
  • Corn tortillas–you can get the masa at Ranch Market and make them yourself.  We also had La Purisima’s flour tortillas.

For the marinade: Heat a large, dry skillet over medium heat.  Add the dried chile peppers and toast them for 15-20 seconds.  They burn easily.
Transfer them to a medium saucepan and add the water (you can add the onion, garlic and oregano, too, if you want); 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 (save the extra liquid and use it with the beer to cook the vegetables), the vinegar, tomato, onion, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, cloves 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 any 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 with paper towels. Place it in a large, nonreactive dish. Use the marinade to cover it completely, rubbing the mixture into the meat. Cover and refrigerate for 12-24 hours.

Just before you want to cook the lamb, prepare the vegetable base: Have a large roasting pan at hand with a rack that fits inside with some space underneath. Remove the lamb from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before it goes into the oven.

Put the onions, carrots, beer and water (leftover chile water if you have it) in the roasting pan.  Place the roasting rack over the mixture.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

For the meat:

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.  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 banana leaves over to cover the meat.

Cover the banana leaf package tightly with foil. Slow-roast for 4 to 6 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.

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.

Serve with lime wedges, warmed corn tortillas and salsa.

Again–you’ll have extra broth–save this for something else (beans, soup, mole, even rice).

Tuesday: roasted chickens–I made two and made lots of broth the next day.  A patient of Pat’s gave us a million parsnips, so the broth is kind of sweet.  I used a leek, bay leaves, a ton of celery I was trying to get rid of and an onion.  I can’t wait to use it for rissoto.

Wednesday: black beans in lamb broth and rice

I remembered to soak the black beans–I am so proud.  Pat put them in the crock pot with onions, garlic, tomatoes and roasted green chiles–and the leftover broth from the lamb.  It was easy–we just let it cook all day.  These were the best black beans I’ve ever tasted–the broth was even better than it was Monday.

Thursday: Einkorn penne with jalepeno pesto, sliced red peppers and green beans

I bought the jalepeno pesto at the downtown farmers’ market.  It was from Doctor Hummus and, unlike their hummus and pita chips, it was pretty good.  Not enough jalepeno flavor and a little too sour, but Lute liked it a lot.

Friday:  canned kidney beans,tomatoes and corn tortillas–we were too tired to cook.  I made the corn tortillas from masa I bought at Ranch Market.  I don’t have a tortilla press, so it was kind of a pain.  Pat’s getting me one for my birthday, so I’ll show you how to make tortillas next week!


What We Spent:  Okay, this is bad.  I’m so embarrassed. $110 at farmers’ markets and $270 at grocery stores–that’s $380 total:


4 Comments on “What We Spent and What We Ate: The best thing I ever made.”

  1. df says:

    Wow, the banana leaves and many of the other items you use seem so exotic to me! It’s a whole different kitchen in your part of the world. The lamb dish sounds amazing, and I love the sound of those black beans you later cooked up. I’m very keen to see how you make tortillas!

  2. The banana leaves are exotic here, too–but they don’t seem like it since so many markets carry them. We are lucky to have people from so many parts of Mexico living here–we owe most of our culinary blessings to them.

  3. My mouth is watering. I am still an amateur when it comes to cooking meat. And, I don’t think it is weird to want groceries for you birthday. On my Christmas list is a heavy duty food mill ;).

  4. […] at ethnic markets.  I love LeLe, Baiz and Ranch Market in Phoenix.  You’ll get better prices at these stores and often better quality.  If you […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s