Plantain leaves are first smoked to make them easy to manipulate. They need to be cleaned to remove any trace of the smoking process. For the ‘hallacas’ one needs three different cuts of leaves. The first is the base, the second one should be the same size or larger than the base and the third one is the ‘faja’ (belt), which is thin and helps to tie the leaves together. When folding the ‘hallaca’ make sure to follow the vein of the leaf in order to avoid it from cracking open.
‘Onoto’ or the annatto seed is originally from South America and a derivative of the Achiote tree. Traditionally used by indigenous people as a dye for textiles or body paint, it is also used as a natural food coloring agent (yellow to orange) that has a slight peppery flavor. To obtain the dye it is boiled in water or oil. The dough is made with white corn flour (Harina PAN), the broth from the hens used for the three meat stew (hen, beef, pork), and ‘onoto’ (annatto) seeds heated up in vegetable lard to release the red/orange color. The dough will be ready when it has an intense orange color and it is shinny (palms of hands should be shinny orange).Once dough has rested, proceed to make 6-7 oz balls. We suggest making a large quantity of balls and setting aside. Cover with a humid cloth to prevent the dough from drying.On the left in small bowls, the ‘adornos’ (decorations)- onions, red bell peppers, capers, olives, salt pork, almonds and raisins. Place one of each over the spoonful of the stew on the dough, as a representation of the main ingredients used to make the three meat stew. To the right, little cones of ‘papelon’ (or piloncillo as it is know in Mexican markets). It is unprocessed sugar cane, a key ingredient in venezuelan cuisine, both for sweet and savory dishes.
Take a ball of dough, and place over a previously oiled plantain leaf and flatten with a wood block or plate. Do not make it too thin that it will break, but do not make it too thick, as it will not be delicate or pleasant to eat.Place a generous spoonfull of three meat stew over the flattened dough. Decorations will be arranged over the stew.The ‘hallaca’ shall be folded over to close like a pocket. It should be wrapped with three leaves: the base, the second one that protects the ‘hallaca’ from getting water in while it boils and the ‘faja’ (belt), which holds the leaves together.
The final step in the assembly process is to tie the ‘hallaca’ with twine. Before starting the assembly process, cut a good amount of twine, about 1.5 meters long.The ‘hallaca’ should be tied as you wold a gift!Once the ‘hallacas’ are all done, they need to be steamed or boiled for about 45 minutes. After that time, take them out, drain them and set aside to cool entirely before refrigerating. For serving, the ‘hallaca’ should be warmed up by boiling (again) for 45 minutes. Take out carefully, drain and cut the string. Discard the first two leaves. Place the ‘hallaca’ (still wrapped) on a plate and carefully open, folding or cutting the excess of leaf over the plate. Do not eat the leaf! ’Hallacas’ can be refrigerated for up to two months.