Lamb Barbacoa with refried beans and salsa

Words Vicki Ravlich-Horan, Images Brydie Thompson

Lamb Barbacoa

Barbacoa is a traditional way of slow cooking meat in an underground oven. Mutton, lamb and goat are traditional, although beef is also popular. The meat is wrapped in large leaves from the agave plant or banana palm then topped with the animal’s stomach and organs.

The result is melt in the mouth pulled meat. Despite the rustic ingredients, appearance and preparation, barbacoa is considered a delicacy and a treat or special-occasion food. This version brings together the essence of barbacoa for a twist on your Kiwi Sunday roast lamb.

1 onion, sliced

4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
100g tin chipotle peppers in adobo sauce

1 lamb leg

2 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tsp salt

½ tsp white pepper

2½ cups beef stock

¼ cup fresh lime juice


Peel and slice the onion and place on the bottom of a roasting dish along with the garlic gloves, bay leaves and tin of chipotle peppers. Place the lamb leg on top.
Mix the cumin, oregano, salt and white pepper together and rub over the lamb leg.
Pour the stock and lime juice into the baking tray before covering with foil and roasting at 160°C for 6–7 hours.

Once cooked, allow the lamb to rest for 30 minutes before cutting/shredding the meat and mixing with the soft onions and cooking juices.

Serve in warm tortillas with refired beans, salsa, guacamole and extra limes.

Tomato Salsa

This recipe is based on a salsa we enjoyed in a restaurant overlooking the Teothuacan pyramids. It was made in a mortar and pestle tableside. My version has two key differences: I make mine in a blender and have omitted the agave worms!

1 small red onion
4–5 large ripe tomatoes, halved
olive oil
1–2 garlic cloves
1 chilli*
handful of coriander
squeeze of lime juice

Peel and halve the onion and place in an oven dish along with the halved tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and roast at 180°C for 45 minutes.
Allow the onion and tomato to cool before placing in the blender with the garlic, chilli, coriander and lime juice. Blend and then season to taste.

*I’m a wimp when it comes to spice, so half a green chilli is usually sufficient but having said that not all chillis are the same. If you don’t have fresh chilli, pickled jalapeños will work.

Refried Beans

After corn, beans are the second most common food in Mexico. Before the arrival of the Spanish, they would have been an important source of protein. Black and pinto beans are the most popular and offer the perfect counterpart to the spicy cuisine.

Refried black beans come with almost everything, from tortilla chips as a dip to tacos, tostadas, barbacoa and more, including, much to my daughter’s disgust, even your eggs in the morning.

2 tbsp oil
½ onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 green chilli, chopped
1 tsp cumin
½ cup water
1 tin black beans, drained and rinsed
pinch salt

In a pan heat the oil and sauté the onion, garlic, chilli and cumin until the onion is translucent. Add in the beans along with the water and bring to a simmer. Mash the beans to your desired consistency and season to taste.

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