Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Venezuelan Hallaca Process

     Something that has greatly impacted my life is my Venezuelan heritage. I have been incredibly lucky to grow up in a multi-cultural atmosphere and be able to take part in my culture. My father was born and raised in the US, just like me, and my mother is from Venezuela. She was able to come to the US to teach at university and she still teaches there today. 
     My family and I used to visit Venezuela during the holidays every year and we would stay with relatives to celebrate Christmas and New Years. Although we have not been able to go back for the past few years, we have kept the holiday traditions alive in the US. 
     I was able to spend Christmas in Washington DC with family, and we decided to make traditional Venezuelan Hallacas, which is the common holiday meal. 
     Hallacas originated from the indigenous population in Venezuela, since they were given the scraps of meat from the tables of the Europeans. They would use cornmeal dough to supplement the meat and wrap the hallacas in banana leaves to cook them. 
     Like the Venezuelans that came before us, we wrap our hallacas in banana leaves, which can be found at Latin or Asian markets. We cut the leaves into smaller pieces and save the tiny scraps just in case we need more. 
     We use Achiote to dye the cornmeal dough, or masa. When the dried cornmeal comes out of the bag, it is white, but it becomes a corn-yellow color after the achiote is mixed in. This seed also gives the dough some flavor. 
     When the masa is the proper consistency, it must be rolled into balls, placed on an oiled banana leaf (we used the leftover achiote oil) and flattened. Next, the spiced and cooked meat mixture goes in the middle, as well as some onion, pepper, olives, and raisins. 
     The hallacas are then folded up in the banana leaves. They are tied with string so that they do not fall apart. 
     They are then cooked for about an hour, as seen above. 
     When they come out, they look like the photo above. My family and I made a little less than 100 hallacas this year and we ate them between Christmas and New Years. To accompany the traditional Venezuelan holiday meal, we ate ensalada de gallina and pan de jamon.
     I had a really great holiday with my family, and I hope you did as well!
     What kinds of meals do you cook for the holidays?

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