‘Twas the season of Ayaka. And this year I finally, finished my own recipe. It’s now the fifth year in a row that I’m making these lovelies. But what are these lovelies exactly? Well, if you hadn’t heard about them yet, Ayaka is a typical dish eaten in Curaçao during the December holiday season. Especially for Christmas! But to be honest, we already start giving it a first taste as soon as the month December arrives. Its origin comes from Venezuela, where they call it the same, but just write it differently: Hallaca. The filling is of chicken and a mixture of sweet & savory ingredients, covered with a comforter of cumin cornflour dough and wrapped in layers of banana tree leaves. The smell is unique and doesn’t only bring back memories once you get a sniff but automatically makes your mouth water. If you know, you know. And if you didn’t, then soon you will..
- Servings: ± 25 medium sized ayakas
- Ready in: ± 5 hours
Ingredients – Chicken
- 750 grams of boneless and skinless chicken breast
- ½ a lemon
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1,5 large white onion
- 3 medium tomatoes
- 2 small bell peppers
- 3 chicken bouillon cubes
- 3 tablespoons of ketjap manis
- 3 tablespoons of tomato paste (about 75 grams)
- 2 tablespoons of piccalilli
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin powder
- ½ teaspoon cilantro powder
- ⅓ teaspoon of salt
- 2 pinches of black pepper
- 400 ml water
- Material: 1 big pot + bowl for the chicken breasts to soak in water and lemon
Ingredients – Dough
- 1 pack of PAN’s corn flour (1kg)
- 500 ml Dutch coffee milk or “koffiemelk” (which is a type of sweetened evaporated milk)
- 500 ml sauce of the Ayaka Chicken
- 400 ml almond milk (or whole milk)
- 200 grams of grated Gouda cheese
- 3 tablespoons of sugar
- 3,5 teaspoons of cumin powder
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- Material: two spoons + 1 big bowl
Ingredients – Filling & Wrapping
- 1 medium green bell pepper
- 1 medium red bell pepper
- 150 grams of roasted & salted cashew nuts
- The Ayaka chicken you prepared
- ½ a jar of piccalilli
- 1 pack of plums (about 250 grams)
- 1 jar of pickles (pickled cucumbers)
- 1 jar of pickled white pearl onions
- 1 jar of green seedless olives
- 1,5 tablespoon of sunflower oil
- 2 packs of banana leaves (about 1 kg total)
- 1 tablespoon of vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of salt for the boiling water
- Material: 30 meters of thin red jute string + scissors + 1 big pot + water for boiling + paper towels
Directions – Ayaka Chicken
- The first thing I actually did was make the piccalilli. Then I used the pot I made the piccalilli in to make the Ayaka chicken. Which is a nice and ecological way of not wasting flavour. Extra piccalilli will be added to the pot later on either way. After the piccalilli is ready to cool, clean the chicken breasts. Rinse them with water, cut off the blood pieces and let the breasts soak in water. Squeeze the lemon in the water and then add the lemon half (skin and all) to the water. Finish potting the piccalilli so the pot is ready to use for the chicken.
- Place the pot on the stove and turn on to a low heat. Add the olive oil to the pot and cut the chicken in very small cubes while the olive oil starts to simmer. Now add the chicken cubes to the pot and start cutting the garlic cloves into small pieces. Add the garlic and then turn the fire up to a medium heat. Stir the chicken till it all turns white and until there is no visible raw chicken.
- It takes a couple of minutes to get to that point so you can mince the onions, bell peppers and tomatoes in the meantime. Add about 1 minced onion and half of the minced bell peppers and tomatoes. Continue on the medium heat and stir the chicken.
- Add the bouillon cubes, ketjap manis, tomato paste, piccalilli, garlic powder, cumin powder, cilantro powder, salt and black pepper. Stir and mix all together well. The vegetables and the chicken should have released some water by now, so you can stir and leave it for about 5 minutes.
- Add the rest of the vegetables and the 400 ml of water. Stir some more, close the lid and leave the chicken on a small fire for about 10 minutes.
- Turn off the burner and remember to taste the chicken and see if you like it!
Directions – Dough
- Warm up the coffee milk, sauce and almond milk together in a pan on a low heat. Don’t let the mixture boil, just make sure it gets warm enough.
- While you wait for the liquid mixture to warm up, empty the whole bag of the PAN flour in a big bowl. Add the sugar, cumin, salt and cheese and mix it together with a spoon.
- Make a hole in the middle of the dry mixture and pour about half of the warm liquid mixture in that hole. Knead the dough until all lumps are gone. Add the rest of the liquid mixture little by little while you continue kneading. The dough will stay soft but not too watery. You should be able to take a piece and roll a ball with it in your hands without it sticking everywhere. You should also be able to press that little ball of dough flat without it sticking to your hands. Use some sunflower oil and rub it in the palm of your hands to make this process go smoother. Taste a little piece of the dough and see if you like it.
Directions – Filling & Wrapping
- Now that the chicken and the dough is done, start rinsing the banana leaves. Fill the big pot with water, vinegar and salt and bring it to a boil on a high heat. Once it starts boiling, lower the heat and place the banana leaves in the water. Turn the leaves or bath them with the water if the pot is not big enough. Do this for 2 minutes so the leaves don’t start turning brown. You want them to keep their nice deep green color. Turn off the burner and pour out the water. Allow the leaves to drip away the leftover water in between them.
- While the leaves drip, you cut: start cutting the peppers and pickles in thin slices as seen on picture below. Cut the plums, the pickled onions and the olives in half. It’s best to place each ingredient in separate boxes. This way when you have leftovers or you want to take a break, it’s easy to just put the lid on the box and place them in the fridge without them losing their freshness. Also cut the jute string in a little bit over 1 meter of length each.
- Now that the leaves had some time to drip, cut them in separate pieces each with a width between 25 to 30 cm. If the lines on the leave are vertical it means you’re cutting correctly in width. Once you’re done take a piece of paper towel dip it slightly in the sunflower oil and start cleaning the cut leaves on both sides. Now you have the dough kneaded and ready, the ingredients for filling cut and ready, the string cut and ready and the leaves cleaned and ready. It’s time to make yourself comfortable, because the folding hours are about to start!
- Take two leaves and place them on top of each other, one vertical and one horizontal. You’ll see the difference of the leaves by the lines on them. Dip your fingers in the sunflower oil and rub it right in the middle of the leaves where you will put a bit of the dough to press on. Also rub some of the oil in the palm of your hands and repeat this from time to time (in between some folded ayakas). Then take one tablespoon of the dough, a good full one. Make a little ball and smoothen it out. Then press it flat and place it in the middle of the leaves. Continue to press and knead, spreading the dough out on the leaves into a big round shape with the size you prefer the ayaka to be in. I made them medium sized, to the size of my hand. See the picture below.
- Now comes the fun part.. filling the package! These are the amounts I used, but you can of course fill them however you prefer to: one tablespoon of ayaka chicken, two cashews, one slice of both red and green bell pepper, two slices of pickles, two halves of pickled white pearl onion, 2-3 halves of prune, one teaspoon of piccalilli and 2-3 halves of olives. Make sure you place everything nicely in the center, slightly in a rectangular shape. See picture below for how full the ayaka looks and how much of the dough is left around it.
- Now lift up the ayaka by the leaves carefully so the filling doesn’t roll off and in one single movement close the leaves as if you are closing a book. Keep it closed as the surrounding edge of the dough will now touch and press on each other, starting to merge. You then tightly roll the ayaka so the rest of the leaves wrap the whole ayaka. Remember the side the dough was pressed on the leave, so that that side ends up back on the table. Now you fold the open top and the open bottom towards the middle, folding them on top of each other. Hold it tight so it doesn’t open back up. Now take a piece of the string and start wrapping as if you’re wrapping a present. See end result below.
- When all ayakas are wrapped and done, you have to boil them in a big pot with water for 15 minutes. If you’re not going to eat them right away (which is often the case if you make so many), then pour out the water and place the ayakas on a kitchen towel. Allowing them to cool off to then be stored in the freezer until you’re ready to eat them.
- To serve the ayaka, you take it out of the freezer to defrost for about 30 minutes. Then steam the ayaka for another 15 minutes, placing them on a vegetable steamer above some boiling water in a pot with the lid on it. Flip the ayaka mid-steam. Once done, place the ayaka on your plate, cut the string, open your banana leave present and savour away. Enjoy!
- Ayakas are best served with a teaspoon of piccalilli and some slices of Christmas ham. Mmm..
- For the true Ayaka-eaters, make them just as big as you’re used to eat them! As you can see, I made them a bit smaller. Medium sized and a couple small sized. This is easier for me to share with the people that don’t really know ayaka nor do I want to see any of it go to waste.
- Next year I’ll take better pictures. I promise!
Did you use this recipe? Please leave a comment with your experience! Feel free to share ideas, alternatives and tips.