Recipe for 20 hallacas (pronounced AH-JAC-KA).
Requires 2 days of advanced preparation.
The hallaca is the main Venezuelan Christmas dinner dish. It was
created by the slaves during the colony times. They put the left-overs
of their master's Christmas festivities in a bit of cornmeal dough,
wrapped this with banana leaves and cooked to mix the flavors.
As many things in my country, the hallaca has the influence of
three cultures, the white one (European ingredients like raisins,
nuts and olives), the native one (the corn meal colored with onoto
seeds), and the black one (banana leaves used to cook the food).
The original hallaca is made with meat (pork, poultry, beef, lard,
crisp pork rind, etc) and boiled eggs. The hallaca tastes better
once it has cooled. It requires hours of preparation, but it is
usually prepared by the whole family. Its preparation is a celebration
by itself. Music and drinks make up the festive atmosphere. Mothers
nagging children as they steal bits of fillings from the table,
and the guys complaining of being relegated to the leaf cleaning
and last minute shopping are typical during the hallaca making
Please note: the banana leaves are not intended to be eaten,
they are just for cooking!
- 1 can of mock duck or 1 packet of tofu marinated pieces
- 500 g of cooked and mashed new potatoes
- 50 g of almonds.
- 4 white onions
- 2 red onions
- 2 carrots, 6 Brussels sprouts, a handful of green beans (or
another similar combination of vegetables)
- 1 can of artichokes
- 1 can of asparagus
- 1 can of chickpeas
- 1 garlic head
- 1 packet of mi-cuit (half dried) tomatoes or 1 tube of tomato
- 4 red bell peppers
- 2 green bell peppers
- 100 g of mixed vine fruit
- 20 prunes
- 1 jar of green olives
- 1 jar of mixed pickles in mustard sauce
- 1 jar of capers
- 3 leeks
- 2 packets of spring onions
- 1 large bunch of herbs (coriander, thyme, parsley, celery)
- 1 Tsp of black peppercorns
- 1 tsp of coriander seeds
- 1 tsp of cumin seeds
- 1 Tsp of "onoto" (also called "achiote") seeds (*)
- 1 Kg of instant polenta meal
- 1 roll of kitchen string
- 1 Kg of banana leaves (**)
- 250 ml of olive oil
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 mushroom stock cube
- Marmite, soya sauce and chili sauce to season
- 20mx30cm roll of strong aluminum foil (unless you are rich
enough to buy triple quantity of banana leaves and wrap the
hallacas exclusively with banana leaves)
(*) available in Latin-American food shops (there are two in The
Elephant and Castle shopping centre, London).
(**) available in Chinese food shops.
With a damp cloth wipe the banana leaves. Heat the banana leaves
with a flame (gas cooker, camping fire, etc). The leaves turn
softer and darker, with a distinctive smoky smell. Cut the hard
rim without shredding the leaves.
Cut in 30 cm segments along the transversal veins.
In a small pan, warm (at very low heat) 5 Tsp of olive oil with
the onoto seeds for 20 minutes. The oil should turn red. In the
meantime fry in a deep pan the spices (cumin, black pepper, and
coriander seeds) in 2-3 Tsp of olive oil. Cut the white onions
in slices and add to the pan. Add 5 cups of boiling water. Add
the stock cubes and a Tsp of marmite to season. Add the green
part of the leeks plus the white part of 2 leeks in 1-inch chunks.
Cut 1 and a half packet of spring onions and add to the pan. Add
all the herbs (keep some parsley to garnish) and the garlic head
cut in halves.
Simmer this broth for 15 minutes. Put the content of the pan
in a food processor and liquidise it. Strain it very well keeping
the liquid and discarding the solid waste (may want it to make
vegetable cakes, up to you). Put the broth in a large bowl and
add the red oil (previously strained to remove the onoto seeds).
Pour the water content of the olive and the caper jars in the
bowl. Add the polenta meal, 1 cup at a time, stirring very well.
The consistency should be smooth. Mix the mashed potatoes with
the polenta dough.
Make a small test for the consistency of the dough. Wrap 1 Tsp
of dough with a small segment of banana leaf. Wrap it in aluminum
foil and boil it in water for 15 minutes. If the cooked dough
maintain the shape of the banana leaf "package", the dough is
OK. If it crumbles or comes out half dissolved in water, then
add more polenta meal. If it comes out rock hard, then add more
water to the dough. Rectify the salt as well.
Grill peppers: Rub olive oil in two red bell peppers and grill
them. Remove the skin and seeds and cut in 1cm wide strips. Put
them apart in a small bowl.
Slice two red onions. Chop the rest of the spring onions and a
leek. Stir fry quickly. Liquidise the mi-cuit tomatoes, two red
peppers and two green peppers and add to the stir fry onions and
leek. Stir for a minute. Add soya sauce, chili sauce and ground
cumin to season. Add some cooking wine if you want. Let it simmer
for another minute. Add some wheat or corn flour to thicken. Put
the sauce apart in a bowl.
Vegetables: Shred the carrots and Brussels sprouts, mix with
the green beans, chopped. Put them apart in a bowl.
Vine fruit: Soak the vine fruit in cooking wine or replacement
(ie Norfolk punch). Put it apart in a small bowl.
Prunes: Soak in cooking wine or replacement (ie Norfolk punch).
Put in a small bowl.
Chickpeas: Drain and put them apart in a small bowl.
Pickles: Put them apart in a small bowl.
Almonds: Blanch, toast and put them apart in a small bowl.
Mock duck: Drain, chop in 1cm cubes and put them in a small bowl.
Olives: Put them apart in a small bowl.
Capers: Put them apart in a small bowl.
Artichokes: Drain, cut in quarters and put them in a small bowl.
Asparagus: Drain and put it in a plate.
Cut a 35 cm long piece of aluminum foil and put it over the
table. Cover with a banana leaf, the transversal veins along the
horizontal axis. Rub oil on front face of the banana leaf. Put
a bit more than half a ladle of dough in the centre of the leaf.
Extend with a spoon to cover a 14cm-diameter circle.
Put 1 Tsp of Sauce in the middle. Put 1 1/2Tsp of shredded vegetables
over the sauce. Put 2 olives and 2 capers, one on each corner
of the dough. Keep placing the rest of the fillings as in a collage:
1 tsp. of vine fruit, 1 prune, 2 tsp. of pickles, 1 Tsp of chickpeas,
3 cubes of mock duck, 1 asparagus, 2 strips of grill pepper and
some leaves of parsley.
Wrap this with the banana leaf (not against the veins). Fold
the foil to seal the ends of the banana leaf packet. Then, fold
the foil to wrap the whole packet. Tie it with kitchen string.
Repeat for the rest of the dough (see diagrams below).
Boil the hallacas covered in water for 20-30 minutes. You may
have to do this in batches unless you have a hugh cauldron. Drain
the hallacas and let them cool for 10 hours. Put them in the fridge
or freezer. Heat the hallacas in boiling water, simmering for
10 minutes before eat them. Enjoy your meal!