Hallacas Recipe

Hallacas on plates

The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

Prep: 2 hrs 30 mins
Cook: 2 hrs
Total: 4 hrs 30 mins
Servings: 12 servings
Yield: 12 Hallacas
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
545 Calories
32g Fat
46g Carbs
20g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 545
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 32g 41%
Saturated Fat 5g 25%
Cholesterol 45mg 15%
Sodium 1309mg 57%
Total Carbohydrate 46g 17%
Dietary Fiber 6g 20%
Total Sugars 11g
Protein 20g
Vitamin C 41mg 204%
Calcium 66mg 5%
Iron 4mg 21%
Potassium 559mg 12%
*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. Their flavorful filling often includes raisins, capers, and olives. Mexican tamales are sometimes wrapped and cooked in banana leaves as well. Banana leaves should be thawed at room temperature before using. Once thawed, rinse the leaves and gently wipe them clean in the direction of the leaf's vein. Pat the leaf dry with paper towels (again, in the direction of the leaf) before using.

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.

"Hallacas are one of those dishes you make for a special event or holiday. I would really recommend enlisting the help of family or friends to form an assembly line when building these. I love the flavor and aroma the banana leaves give these hallacas. Your house will smell incredible after making these." — Jacqueline Tris

Hallacas/Tester Image
A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Dough

  • 1 cup vegetable oil 

  • 2 teaspoons annatto seeds

  • 3 1/2 cups pre-cooked corn meal, such as P.A.N., more as needed

  • 3 cups water 

For the Guiso Filling

  • 1/4 medium coarsely chopped white onion

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 3 1/2 ounces diced bacon

  • 1/2 coarsely 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 coarsely chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/2 cup raisins, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup capers, rinsed, drained, and coarsely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon paprika

For Assembling the Hallacas

  • Banana leaves, thawed if frozen, and cleaned

  • 1 small white onion, sliced crosswise into rings

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

  • 1 cup pitted green olives, coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup capers, coarsely chopped

  • 3/4 cup raisins

Steps to Make It

Make the Masa

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Hallacas ingredients in bowls

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  2. Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat for 3 minutes, then add the annatto seeds, remove from the heat, and let cool, about 30 minutes. Swirl the oil to mix. Strain and discard the seeds. Reserve half of the oil for the masa and half for the filling.

    Oil and annatto seeds in a pot on a burner

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  3. Add corn meal to a large bowl with 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup annatto-infused oil. Stir to combine, then knead the mixture in the bowl by hand.

    Corn meal, water and oil in a bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  4. Gradually add enough of the remaining water a bit at a time and continue kneading until the dough is smooth, and soft enough to shape into a ball without any cracks on the surface. Cover in plastic or with a damp towel until ready to use. Alternatively, if the dough is too wet, add more corn meal 1 teaspoons at a time until you reach the proper consistency.

    Masa dough in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

    Make the Guiso Filling

  5. Heat the remaining 1/2 cup annatto oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the bacon and red pepper. Continue to cook until the bacon begins to brown and red pepper begins to soften, about 3 minutes.

    Oil, garlic, red peppers, and bacon in a pot

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  6. Add the pork, beef, water, wine, and salt. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the meat is very tender and the liquids in the pot reduce, 30 to 45 minutes.

    Bacon mixture with pork, beef, water, wine, and salt in a pot with a wooden spoon

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  7. Add the parsley, raisins, olives, capers, and paprika. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the ingredients meld together, another 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

    Guiso Filling in a pot

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

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 filling.

    Banana leaves, banana leaf strips and scissors

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  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 the leaf. Wet fingers in the bowl of water and spread dough evenly over the center of the leaf.

    Masa dough on a banana leaf, and filling ingredients in bowls

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

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

    Masa dough on a banana leaf, with filling on top

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

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

    Masa dough on a banana leaf, with fillings on top

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

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

    Masa dough folded around the filling, on a banana leaf

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

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

    Banana leaf wrapped around the hallaca

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  7. Turn over and bring side ends together under hallaca. Tie with strips of banana leaves or kitchen twine to secure. Repeat with remaining leaves, dough, and guiso.

    Hallacas tied with twine

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  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 in a pot

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

  9. Remove hallacas from pot. Cool until able to handle. To eat, unwrap banana leaf, revealing the cooked hallaca.

    Hallacas on plates

    The Spruce Eats / Cara Cormack

    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, 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.