Monday, January 10, 2011

Hallacas

As I mentioned last week, the Fiancé and I had a lot of fun over our Christmas vacation, but I had no time to blog about it! One of my favorite events of the season is when his family gets together to make hallacas (pronounced "ayakas") the weekend before Christmas. Hallacas, very similar to tamales, are the staple of the Venezuelan Christmas holiday, and are made almost exclusively during that period of time. I learned from a trip to Wikipedia that popular myth states that the tradition began when plantation owners would give leftovers from their Christmas meal to their slaves, who would then wrap them in plantain leaves with cornmeal to make hallacas. Today, the dish is typically with a stew of meat, raisins, olives, and assorted vegetables wrapped in a cornmeal dough, which is then wrapped in a plantain leaf tied together with string. It's a very labor-intensive operation, and families get together to make them assembly line style in order to quicken the process. Mack's grandmother, Elizabeth (who was born and raised in Venezuela) carries out this tradition with her family every year.

Our family's spread, complete with workers in festive hats.

The family making hallacas (Grandma is in the Santa hat!)

At our hallaca party, all the fillings are prepared in advance and laid out across a long table. At the head of the table, someone flattens the balls of cornmeal dough on to the plantain leaf and spreads oil on it. In the center of the table, people put in the fillings. Next, the hallacas are folded up methodically into little bundles. Finally, at the end of the table, the little bundles are tied up with string. Meanwhile, there's festive music, drinks, and dancing! How can you argue with that?

The cornmeal dough, after being flattened and oiled.

Monica passes along the prepared cornmeal dough to be filled.

Uncle Richard steams the hallacas in batches in this large pot.

Luckily, my grandmother-in-law-to-be is so very thoughtful, and helps us to make vegan hallacas. They were so yummy! We set up our own end of the assembly line to stuff our hallacas with black beans, tofu, onion, olives, raisins, potato, and carrots. We made so many of them that we were eating them all week! Each one was a little bit different, and they were all delicious.

Our vegan hallacas, being cooked separately.

The inside of the hallaca- this one has beans and tofu.

Fiancé and I ate these for days and days after we made them, and they were still delicious. I love taking special foods with me to work for lunch, it gives me something to look forward to. These hallacas certainly fit the bill. We even took some with us to Kentucky for Christmas, and everyone loved them. Just looking at these photos is making me hungry for hallacas again. Too bad I'll have to wait until next Christmas!  

3 comments:

  1. Oh wow, Hallacas are new to me as I've never seen or heard of them, perhaps cos I live in the U.K. I really enjoyed the step by step photographs.

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  2. Thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :)

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