Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hallacas – A Venezuelan Christmas Tradition

Venezuelan Hallacas-2

Many countries and regions have a dish that is a source of family, if not national pride.  You know the type – the recipe passed down from generation to generation for which everyone claims to have a secret ingredient or preparation that makes theirs the best you will ever taste.  In Venezuela, it is the hallaca.

Venezuelan Hallacas-1

The Venezuela national competition for the best hallaca comes every Christmas season.  I still do not understand why hallacas are a traditional Christmas dish – they are sooooooo good I could eat them all year long!  One of the great things about living in Venezuela at Christmas is the wonderful generosity of fun loving Venezuelans.  Much like we in the U.S. deliver plates of cookies and other Christmas treats to friends, coworkers, and neighbors, Venezuelans deliver plates of Hallacas.  I know this is mostly motivated by the giving season, but I am quite sure that some people like to share their hallacas as proof their recipe is the best.  I was always pleased to accommodate.

Venezuelan Hallacas

Unlike Christmas cookies, hallacas require a good deal of effort.  However, the reward when you unfold your steamy plantain leaf to reveal a fresh hallaca is unquestionably worth the effort.

Sorry I did not do a wine pairing.  I planned to, but was a little delayed getting around to making the hallacas (actually, Chef Sue did all the hard work – I just helped with the assembly).  However, I would recommend a Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, a light bodied Viognier, or a light bodied Chardonnay with good acidity.  Any of these would complement the hallacas nicely.  If you want to be daring and try the contrasting balance approach, a Zinfandel, Syrah, or Malbec could be interesting.

Venezuelan Hallacas-4




  • 1 lb chuck roast cut to less than 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 lb pork cut to less than 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1lb shredded roasted chicken
  • 1/4 lb bacon cut to 1/2-inch lengths
  • 3 seeded tomatoes
  • 4 hard boiled eggs halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons dried marjoram
  • 1 medium diced leek
  • 1/4 cup capers
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 diced bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salsa negra (Worcestershire sauce)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • salt and pepper , to taste
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • Pimento stuffed olives, halved
  • Tobasco Sauce


  • 2/3 cup lard (or substitute vegetable shortening)
  • 2 cups harina flour (we prefer authentic Venezuelan Harina Pan)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 1/3 cups warm water



  1. Combine beef, pork, bacon, tomatoes (after pureeing) onion, garlic, salt, marjoram, and leek in a medium sized pot and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer until the meat is tender.
  2. Add capers, mustard , vinegar, bell pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and sugar. Add Tobasco to taste, and season to taste.
  3. Increase the heat and reduce for about ten minutes or until liquid is nearly evaporated.
  4. Add raisins and set aside.


  1. Melt 1/3 cup lard over low heat and let simmer for 2 minutes.
  2. Whip remaining lard until fluffy and combine with harina, salt, cayenne pepper, and water.
  3. Mix in melted lard and form into 24 equally sized balls.

Final Assembly

  1. Cut banana or plantain leaves into (24) 8-10 inch squared.
  2. Put a ball of masa in the center of each leaf section and press into a square shape about 1/8 inch thick.
  3. Top with the meat filling, chicken, eggs, and olives.
  4. Fold leaves and press to seal the masa around the filling. Traditionally, the hallacas are now tied with kitchen string, but if you fold and stack carefully, you can skip this step.
  5. Stack hallacas in a large pot and steam for one hour and serve. I prefer to garnish my hallaca with salsa de ajo.

Enjoy your hallacas.  Feliz navidad.


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