Where did tamales get their name from?

people fighting

Our Christmas special is coming to an end. The whole thing not without taking a look outside the box or the continent. Today we are going to South America, more precisely to Venezuela. Hallacas are traditionally prepared there for Christmas.

Hallacas are corn pies cooked or steamed in a banana leaf, which are made in several steps, usually with the whole family, and in large quantities. Most of the recipes on the net are accordingly also for 50 pieces, which is enough for about 25-30 people if you don't want to eat them for several days. They are easy to freeze and taste even better when they are warmed up, because they are then really pulled through. Certainly also a well-suited party meal.

The Hallacas have a long history and are also known in other countries under the name Tamale. Every country, region and family has its own recipe. However, all recipes have in common the addition of ingredients that are less associated with South America, such as olives, capers or raisins. I think the most conclusive explanation is that hallacas emerged from different cultures. Steamed “corn balls” in banana leaves have a very old tradition, but they are a bit boring. However, they make a great dish when filled. And what I like best is that you can experiment wonderfully here. I don't like olives, the kids don't eat spicy and Tina eats everything. No problem, you just have to label the individual parcels and each one has its own personal filling.

I would spread the preparation over 2 days. The recipe is enough for approx. 12 packets.

day 1

On the first day we start coloring the annato oil.

Annato oil

  • 250 ml of vegetable oil
  • 20gr annato seeds (available in Asian shops)

Bring the oil and seeds to the boil and let them steep for another 30 minutes over a low heat. From then on the oil should have got a strong reddish color. Then drain the oil through a sieve for later use.

Then you prepare the chicken broth.

chicken broth

  • 2 large chicken legs (approx 800 gr)
  • 1 bunch of soup greens
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 1 teaspoon annato seeds

Bring everything to the boil once and then simmer on a low level for 4-5 hours.

Meat filling (guiso)

  • 400 gr pork neck
  • 400 gr beef neck
  • 3 onions
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 can of tomato pieces
  • 200ml red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • Salt / pepper / paprika powder
  • oil

Fry the onions and the finely chopped meat, add the garlic and chopped paprika. Braise the whole thing for about 10-15 minutes and add the red wine and tomatoes. Then season and simmer for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours with the lid closed. At the end of the cooking time, remove the lid and remove the liquid until it has a mushy consistency. Season again to taste and set aside.

day 2

The best thing to do on the second day is to prepare the banana leaves. We took frozen ones, which were relatively easy to process. For 12 pies you need about 2 packets of leaves from the Asian shop. You cut this to size and wipe it off well. You may have to free them from the stalk and even cook them a little soft so that they roll well, but we didn't have to do that.

You should end up with 36 pieces. For each pie you need 3 sheets, each slightly larger than the previous one, so that you can wrap them inside each other.

Then comes the dough.


  • 500 grams of corn flour
  • 700 ml chicken broth
  • 100 ml of annato oil
  • 20 grams of salt

Mix all ingredients well with a mixer and knead together by hand to form a large ball. Cover and set aside.

It continues with the chicken filling.

Chicken filling

  • 2 chicken legs cooked (from the broth)
  • 200 ml of broth
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 2-3 red peppers (hot)
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • Salt pepper
  • Annato oil

Fry the onion, garlic and hot peppers vigorously in the colored oil. Add the plucked meat of the chicken drumsticks and the chickpeas and color with a little oil. After about a minute, deglaze with the stock. Let it simmer until the broth has almost boiled off. To taste.

We left some of the chicken meat unseasoned for the children so that it wasn't too spicy.

It continues with the decoration

Here you can let off steam. In principle everything that tastes good is allowed.


  • paprika
  • Olives
  • Capers
  • Raisins
  • Almonds

The ingredients can actually be found in all recipes, so we focused on them.

Now the real fun begins. Filling the banana leaves.

You take about 100gr of the corn mass and distribute it on the leaves coated with a little oil. Then the meat is placed on the corn flatbread and the decoration made of meat, capers, olives, raisins or almonds.

When all are wrapped up, you cook the parcels in a large saucepan for about 1 hour. There is some discussion on the internet about whether the dumplings shouldn't be steamed. I would say yes, even if we didn't. Then just wrap in 1 sheet and steam for about 90 minutes. This works best if you have an oven with a steam function, otherwise you will probably never be finished.

All in all a lot of work, but for a really great dish!

I like it:

LikeLoading ...