Hallacas: Authentic Venezuelan Christmas

By Liliana Moyano for Shine Latina

Hallaca, the final product!Hallaca, the final product!

My Latin friends are all holiday fanatics, and every one of our festivities comes with a great deal of pre-production. The first gathering of the year was Mari's Thanksgiving leftover party where everyone had to wear ugly Christmas sweaters, and decorate the tree. Next up is Tati's Venezuelan Christmas kick off party. Here, once again, we decorate the Christmas tree, and everyone cooks a traditional dish from Venezuela. Most importantly, this is the party where Boris gets to make hallacas. He claims to make the best ones in town.

Guiso ready to cool down Guiso ready to cool down

Hallacas are a kind of tamale (don't tell Venezuelans that!) made with corn-based dough, pork, chicken and meat- all wrapped in a plantain leaf and cooked slowly. This year I decided to document the preparation process from start to finish, only to realize how much work and patience making hallacas requires. On the other hand, I enjoyed taking that first bite with great appreciation.

We started by meeting one day to make what Tati calls the guiso, or stew, which he makes for the filling. This type of stew needs to be cooked a day in advance so all the juices can blend to perfection. The next day, Boris made the dough in the morning, followed by wrapping the hallacas in the evening.

The end result is this exquisite, savory dish filled with meats, vegetables and rich juices- a perfect combination in every bite.

(Makes 30 Hallacas)

Making the dough Making the dough

Guiso - Ingredients
2 lbs. round beef
2 1/2 lbs. pork loin
10 cups water
2 large chicken breasts
4 tbsp. canola oil
12 garlic cloves, minced
2 bell peppers, finely chopped
2 large white onions, finely chopped
4 sweet Sichuan peppers, chopped (low heat)
1 cup pitted manzanilla olives, finely chopped
1/2 cup capers, drained and finely chopped
1 cup raisins in 1 cup water
2 cups red cooking wine
1 cup smoked ham, chopped

Try this with my Colombian eggnog for a perfect Christmas party!


Boris making the dough ballsBoris making the dough balls

Chop the pork loin and beef into large pieces, and place them in a large pot at medium heat with 5 cups of water. Bring them to a boil. Repeat the process with the chicken breasts in a separate pot, ensuring the water covers all the meat, and cook for 25 minutes. Remove the meats from the water, and let them cool down. Save the meat broth from the pork and round beef in the fridge to use it later when preparing the dough. Once all the meats are at room temperature, chop them finely, leaving one chicken breast aside.

Place the oil in a large pan at medium heat, and add the garlic, peppers, sweet Sichuan peppers, onions and olives. Cook the mix for 10 minutes, or until the onions become transparent. Add the chopped meats, olives and capers, and stir well.

Rehydrate the raisins by covering them with water in a large bowl, letting them absorb the liquid for 20 minutes. Drain the raisins, and add them into the meat mixture along with 2 cups of red cooking. Finally, add the chopped ham. Turn the heat down to low, and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove from the heat letting the mix cool down overnight.

Closing the hallacasClosing the hallacas

Masa (corn dough)
1/2 lb. pork belly, in chunks
4 tbsp. canola oil
1 tbsp. annatto seeds (achiote)
6 garlic cloves, whole
4 cups corn flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 cups leftover meat broth
Salt to taste
1 cup canola oil and annatto (achiote) blend
60 8x8 plantain leaves

Directions - putting hallacas together
Place the pork belly chunks in a flat pan at medium heat with the canola oil, annatto and garlic. Cover, and cook for 20 minutes. Place the corn flour in a large pan, and spread it evenly. Drain the pork belly pieces, and set them aside. Pour the leftover oil mix on the corn flour. Mix the flour and oil with clean hands. Add the chicken and meat broths gradually, until the mix attains a golden color. Continue mixing, adding salt to taste, plus the annatto/canola oil blend. Once the dough thickens, make approximately 3-4 inch balls of dough and set aside.

Hallaca wrapped and ready to cook Hallaca wrapped and ready to cook Making the hallacas
30 dough balls, previously made
1 chicken breast, shredded
2 red peppers, julienned
1 medium white onion, julienned
1 cup raisins
1 cup manzanilla olives, drained
1 cup carrots, diced

Wipe the plantain leaves gently with a wet towel on both sides.

Grab each dough ball, and place it on the soft side of the plantain leaf. Press it down with your hands stretching the dough on the plantain leaf and forming a circle. Fill the circle with the guiso, and top it with a couple of strips of chicken, peppers and onions. Finish by topping with 5-8 raisins, 5 olives and 2 carrot pieces. Carefully close the ends of the plantain leaf, and tuck them underneath. Wrap in another plantain leaf to preserve the juices. Close the hallaca using string on each end (see image). Repeat the process with each hallaca until all the dough balls are prepared, filled and wrapped. Place the hallacas in a deep pot at medium-low heat, and cover them with water. Cook for 20-30 minutes, and remove from the water. Once cooked, you can keep them in the fridge, and warm them up in the microwave as needed.

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