Last time I wrote one of these, everything was different, I was fending off scorching heat, battling a super slow ISP and working around scheduled power outages, amongst many other issues. Yes up until three days ago I was in Venezuela.
[Oh yes and obviously dealing with the odd server hiccup]
And you know in any other occasion I’d be sad for not being back in my hometown for the festivities, all the food, the family, the long journeys to do something we rarely do on any other time of the year. But not this year! This year we are going to have a huge meet up here in good ol’ S. Florida! Come on William, let’s get this party started!
For a gathering of such proportions we had to prepare a feast... oh yes, this is certainly one of those SnackTAYkus. So come on gather ye! As I try to beat Zarnyx and her
lame stories of a Caribbean Island, in my celebration of stories and food, it is time for the last SnackTAYku International Versus of the year!
Are you ready?
This year we prepared some Venezuelan traditional holiday plate called Hallaca. I’d say it’s like a super charged Tamal, and sorry my Mexican friends, but this is like the ultimate Tamal, no shredded pork will ever beat this plate. Why is the Hallaca better? Let’s take a look at our ingredient list...
First up is all the veggies. Hooray for Green-Greens (and red and yellow)!
From Left to Right: Pickled veggies (a hint of crushed capers & olives), chives, and red bell peppers. But it’s not all veggies... we need meats, and lo and behold two pieces of roasted pork loins prepared the night before:
Garlic, Oregano, Thyme, Onions and Mustard were some of the ingredients used in the preparation of my fellow swine friend. Roasted for four hours at 400F they were left to cool overnight in their own juices to preserve those flavour profiles. Bold!
We also used a hen, when it comes to flavor the hen is like the bland cousin of the turkey, on the other hand it’s cheaper than a turkey! Plus what it lacks in tastiness it makes up in the versatility we need in this plate.
The hen was boiled for four hours in salty water with onions, carrots and if I recall correctly some cilantro twigs were thrown in the mix. It’s nothing special, but it’s easier to prepare than the other avian species.
Now that we have all the ingredients... it’s time to prepare a stew. To be more precise, a five hour stew. We set up a stove outside and threw in all the ingredients in the pot, but before...
...we had to cut them into small cubes to make it easier to distribute evenly. Once they are good to go we set up a stove outside and started mixing the ingredients in.
It should look like this:
It’s a perfect mixture of flavour and influences from our past... a mini version of our cultural background. You see each ingredient has it’s own origin: The pickled veggies are a variation of the Giardineria served in Italy, the capers and olives are from Spain, the raisin come from the Andes, and the chickpeas (not pictured) well... I really don’t know where they come from. This mix of ingredients is just one of the many variations of the Hallaca, each region of the country prepare their own iteration of the infamous holiday plate.
In the meantime, it’s time to work on the other two processes to create the perfect Hallaca. I forgot to mention but there are three key processes on the preparation of the plate: one is the stew, the second one is the curation of the plantain leaves, and the easiest one... kneading the dough.
For the dough there are two steps that should never be ignored... preparing a mix of annato oil is one of them, a pale cornmeal will haunt us in our dreams, so a bit of natural colouring fixes that problem.
The other key ingredient is chopping and grinding red peppers to add an extra kick of flavour to the dough. And please... no seeds :P
Finally... it’s the most tedious process of the night, curating the leaves takes time, patience and some technique, usually the elder take care of this process. Before my aunt worked on this it was my grandfather who always picked, cleaned and trimmed the plantain leaves.
And of course... it is never a complete Christmas eve without some traditional music from our region. The Gaita is like ... an afro-american mix of percussion, strings and steel instruments.
Political, religious and nostalgia are amongst the themes covered in the Gaita, it’s the popular music from Maracaibo, not exactly my cup of tea, but hey it’s part of the tradition (plus everyone else enjoys it... so yeah I’m not going to rebel against them).
The sun has set and the stew has just cooled off, it is time to fill the dough and wrap them... it’s a mess and it will be for the next three hours as we prepare a hundred of these.
Each disc of dough has to be handed carefully, it cannot be too thick or too thin... the leaves have to be greased with annatto oil to avid the dough from sticking.
A good spoonful or two from the stew is placed in the middle of the cornmeal mix. Notice how each ingredient makes its own statement in the plate.
the remainder of the dough is folded to seal the ingredients...
...and wrapped in the plantain leaves. The leaves add this slight bold and spicy flavour to the hallaca, I really can’t find words to describe exactly how it tastes like.... but it is something rather unique!
Nine hours after we started our journey, we finished wrapping up these beauties, nearly a hundred of them! The saddest part is... we don’t consume them immediately. We usually wait for a day or two to eat them and sadly here’s where my story ends since I don’t have any pictures of the feast cause it hasn’t happened yet... (maybe?).
[Also I lied... this was not written in Christmas... but on New Year’s Eve! Psych! Nach Out! Happy New Year TAY!]