Hallacas Recipe


The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

Prep: 2 hrs 30 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Total: 4 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 12 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
418 Calories
13g Fat
61g Carbs
18g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 418
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 13g 16%
Saturated Fat 4g 21%
Cholesterol 46mg 15%
Sodium 723mg 31%
Total Carbohydrate 61g 22%
Dietary Fiber 7g 24%
Total Sugars 23g
Protein 18g
Vitamin C 37mg 185%
Calcium 39mg 3%
Iron 3mg 16%
Potassium 907mg 19%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

If you're familiar with Mexican-style tamales, hallacas are very similar. Hallacas are from Venezuela, and like tamales, they are made with a corn meal-based dough. They are wrapped in natural packaging and then cooked in a large pot of simmering water. Unlike tamales, however, the dough is made with pre-cooked corn meal flour (like P.A.N.) flavored with annatto instead of masa harina or fresh masa. Annatto seeds come from the achiote tree. It adds a mildly peppery, nutty, floral flavor, and tints foods an orange or bright yellow color.

Another difference is that hallacas are wrapped in banana leaves rather than corn husks (Mexican tamales are sometimes wrapped and cooked in banana leaves as well). And the rich, flavorful filling often includes raisins, capers, and olives.

Hallacas are most often cooked around Christmastime. The entire extended family gathers to make them, grandparents, aunts, uncles cousins, and this makes hallacas both a much-anticipated dish and a ritual for the holidays.


For the Dough

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil 

  • 1 teaspoon annatto seeds

  • 300 grams pre-cooked corn meal, like P.A.N. (just over 3/4 cup)

  • 1 1/2 cups water 

For the Filling

  • 1/4 medium chopped white onion

  • 2 diced cloves garlic

  • 3 1/2 ounces diced bacon

  • 1/2 chopped red bell pepper

  • 9 ounces boneless pork leg, diced into small pieces

  • 9 ounces boneless beef shank, diced into small pieces

  • 3 cups water

  • 1/2 cup red wine

  • 2 teaspoons sea salt

  • 1 cup chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives

  • 1/2 cup capers

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

For Assembling the Hallacas

  • 15 banana leaves

  • 1/2 medium white onion, sliced crosswise into rings

  • 1/2 pepper red bell pepper, sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips

  • 1/2 cup capers

  • 1/2 cup green olives

  • 1/2 cup raisins

Steps to Make It

Make the Masa

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Hallacas Ingredients

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  2. Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, then add the annatto seeds and turn off the heat. Allow to cool down for 30 minutes. Swirl the oil to mix, then strain and reserve half of this oil for the masa and half for the filling.

    Hallacas annatto oil

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  3. Add corn meal to a large bowl. Pour in 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup annatto-infused oil and stir to incorporate. Then knead by hand inside the bowl.

    Hallacas oil in corn meal

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  4. Gradually add up to another 1/2 cup water until the dough is smooth and soft enough to shape into a ball without any cracks forming. Cover in cling wrap or with a damp towel until ready to use.

    Hallacas dough

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

Make the Guiso Filling

  1. Heat the remaining annatto oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until they soften, about 3 minutes. Add the bacon and red pepper and cook for another 3 minutes.

    Hallacas cooking onions

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  2. Add the beef, pork, water, wine, and salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer uncovered until the meat becomes quite soft and the liquids reduce into a sauce, about 30 minutes.

    Hallacas cooking guiso

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  3. Add the parsley, raisins, capers, olives, and paprika, and simmer for another 5 minutes. Allow to cook to room temperature before using filling.

    Hallacas Guiso

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

Assemble the Hallacas

  1. Using kitchen shears, cut banana leaves into 10-inch squares. Remove any center stems without cutting into the leaves. Set out your ingredients in an assembly line: the banana leaves, the hallaca dough, a small bowl of water, and the guiso.

    Hallacas trip leaves

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  2. Spread open a banana leaf. The banana leaves have veins running across the surface. Turn the leaf so the veins run horizontally. Spoon about 1/2 cup of dough on leaf. Wet fingers in bowl of water and spread dough evenly over the center of the leaf.

    Hallacas spread dough

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  3. Spoon about 1/2 cup guiso over dough.

    Hallacas adding guiso

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  4. Place a couple onion rings, bell pepper slices, olives, capers, and raisins on top.

    Hallacas adding garnish

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  5. Fold the top and bottom edges of the dough over the filling.

    Hallacas folding

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  6. Then bring the top and bottom edges of the banana leaf to meet together over the hallaca. Fold together as shown.

    Hallacas folding

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  7. Turn over and bring side ends together under hallaca. Repeat with remaining leaves, dough, and guiso.

    Hallacas folding

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  8. Stack hallacas, folded seams-down, inside a large pot. Cover hallacas with water. Bring water to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until hallacas are cooked through, about 35 minutes.

    Hallacas steam

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

  9. Remove hallacas from pot and allow to cool enough to handle. To eat, unwrap banana leaves, revealing the cooked hallaca.

    Hallacas cooked

    The Spruce Eats / Ubish Yaren

Working With Banana Leaves

Banana leaves typically have a stem running through the center. Carefully trim this stem with scissors of a sharp knife. Avoid puncturing or tearing the leaf while you do so.

How to Store

  • Allow hallacas to cool, then keep in airtight container or zip-close bags in the refrigerator for up to a week.
  • To freeze, allow to cool, wrap individually in cling film, then place in a freezer bag. Hallacas will keep in the freezer for three months.
  • Remove from freezer and allow to defrost overnight in refrigerator before reheating.
  • To reheat, place hallaca (still in its leaf wrapping) in a pot, cover with water, bring to a simmer, and cook, partially covered, until heated through. This will take 10-15 minutes.

Make Ahead

  • Guiso can be made 1-2 days in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and then reheat before filling hallacas.
  • Dough should be prepared just before using.