Halal Tamales by Mari

Tamale Wrapped in Banana Leaves
Tamale Wrapped in Banana Leaves

I owe my husband the credit of pursuing the creation of this totally dhabiha (meat slaughtered in the Islamically correct way) halal chicken tamale. We met a Mexican woman, Mari, from the southern part of Mexico City who now lives in Chicago’s Little Villag (La Villita).

Mari stays with Abuelita, my husband’s grandmother, and makes the tamales in her kitchen then hits the street to sell them for just $2 each. (Needless to say, they are sold out quickly!)

On a recent visit to Abuelita’s house, Mari offered us tamales made with Mennonite cheese and soft jalapeno peppers. The tamale was wrapped in banana leaves and when opened, brought me back to the memory of my own Abuelita’s Puerto Rican pasteles, similar to tamales wrapped in banana leaves.

Tamales are a traditoinal Latin American food whose main content is masa (steamed corn dough). They are then filled with meat, cheese and/or chiles. There are hundreds of different ways tamales can be made and home cooks have their own twist on traditional recipes.

Although in Mexico most tamales are wrapped in corn husks, many other parts of Latin America wrap their tamales in plantain (banana) leaves. I was told that since Mari’s tamales are wrapped in banana leaves that they are of the Veracruz (Mexico) style.

Unfortunately for Muslims, most traditional
Mexican tamales are made with masa that is mixed with manteca (lard)- a very important word every Muslim should know if he/she wants to eat Latin American food because lard is pork fat.
Although there is a health trend in Latin American cooking moving away from manteca to aceite vegetal (vegetable oil) or aceite de olive (olive oil), it’s better to ask whether or not your frijoles (beans) or huevos (eggs) are fried in them. Even Mexican, Cuban and Puerto Rican sweet breads (pan dulce) and regular pan is often made with manteca, which gives the pan its flaky crust. Be sure to ask. In the case of traditional Mexican tamales, the masa is almost always mixed with manteca for sabor (flavor).
So, how did we avoid the lard and get dhabiha halal chicken into our tamales? A little questioning and prodding into the preparation of tamales was essential. Getting to know Mari was the next most important thing.
Additionally, we’re fortunate in that Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood, although almost all Mexican, has one dhabiha halal chicken store called Pollo Vivo  (Live Chicken). That is where we bought our chicken for Mari to make our tamales.
We explained to her that we could not have the tamales prepared in masa with manteca, so we bought corn oil and she agreed to make it with that instead. Mari said it wasn’t such a strange request because when she lived in Mexico city she worked with many Jewish people and they also had similar requests for kosher meats and food prepared without any pork or pork products.
The result was simply wonderful- and we weren’t the only ones to think so. Mari thought the result was less heavy and more healthy than the traditional ones prepared with manteca. Now, all I have to do is learn the process from Mari- then I can share the results with you!
Additional Information/Resources:
About Pollo Vivo:
The owners are Muslims who keep chickens, rabbits and ducks in the store for a number of days and give them only halal animal feed. They are not kept cramped up in cages, but often seen having time to waddle around in their specified area. They are then prepared for you in the Islamic manner right there in the store within minutes of your purchase.
The store also sells quail eggs when available and dhabiha halal turkey around Thanksgiving season.  is located at 2601 S. Ridgeway at the corner of 26th Street and Ridgeway in Chicago’s Little Village(773) 542-9451.
For more information and an explanation on what dhabiha means, please refer to the following site: http://www.ehalal.org/Dhabiha%20Halal.html

How to remove caked-on food from pots and pans without using toxic chemicals

I’ve had so much success in my kitchen with this tried and true method of removing food after frying and cooking in other ways that I just had to share the how-to. Here it is fully explained on ehow.com. Click on the link below to read the article (and let me know what you think):


Published in: on October 19, 2008 at 8:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Marcella Hazan on the Martha Stewart Show

Today I learned about a renowned food writer I thought you should know about: Marcella Hazan- and she appeared today on the “Martha Stewart Show” preparing a Tortelloni Stuffed with Swiss Chard, Prosciutto and Ricotta served with a heavy cream tomato sauce. She also talked about her new book, Amarcord: Marcella Remembers, available online at: http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?r=1&popup=0&ean=9781592403882

The base of this dish is prepared with “prosciutto”, an Italian word for ham that has been seasoned, cured or air-dried. It is often used as a fat base for flavoring (thus referred to as “pancetta” or offered in sandwiches as a deli meat or part of an appetizer tray with other cured meats, cheeses and olives.
 In this particular recipe, we Muslims can simply delete this item without sacrificing any great taste at all, or we can substitute it with a wonderful halal alternative, such as the Midamar Halal Beef Soujouk, a type of beef sausage. You can find it in many halal supermarkets or online at: http://www.midamarhalal.com/scripts/products.asp

Marcella. Hazan is renowned for teaching culinary techniques and methods, which I noticed while watching her on Martha’s show. For example, she says when you drain pastas like ravioli, that you shouldn’t just throw them in the colander, but try to catch them first with a ‘chinese spider’ type of handled colander because the weight of the water will break the raviolis. What a great tip!

You can find these types of colanders online at: http://www.amazon.com/6-diameter-Bamboo-Skimmer-Strainer/dp/B00012F3U4


Ms. Hazan is not teaching cooking as she used to in the past at the famed French Culinary Institute but is now retired and lives with her husband, Victor, in Florida.


To find the exact recipe mentioned in this post, please click on the link below for the Martha Stewart show:



You can read more about Marcella Hazan’s interesting background online at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcella_Hazan






Turmeric-Ginger Chicken in “Cooking Light” Magazine

If you’re looking for a quick and easy dish that is bursting with flavor, check out my recipe that was selected and appeared in Cooking Light Magazine last winter. I came up with it one night when I only had boneless chicken breast and several exciting spices on hand. Let me know how you like it!


Published in: on October 16, 2008 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Making Homemade Yogurt Has Never Been Easier

I was attracted to the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure by Mirielle Guiliano, not because I wanted to diet (no thanks!), but because I sincerely wanted to re-affirm what I already felt to be true about healthy eating. In it, she describes the benefits of eating yogurt and how to make it both the old-fashioned way and with an electronic yogurt maker. (p. 148-153)

(As an important side note, I need to mention the fact that Ms. Guiliano advocates drinking wine, which is absolutely not halal, therefore I do not advocate nor condone that part of the book)  

It was my belief that not only French, but most European, Asian, South Asian, and more–don’t get fat, at least not like we do here. I have been in Europe, North Africa, Mexico and Central America and have never seen the severe obesity problem we have in this country. However, I fear that with the export of processed foods, fast food chains and chemically-treated and preserved foods, we are severely-and perhaps permanently-damaging the dietary habits of other global culinary traditons. Needless to say, that’s another topic in itself to discuss on my spinoff blog at www.everydayhalal.wordpress.com.

Today’s post is to demonstrate how easy it is to make yogurt at home. I have tried it the old-fashioned way by boiling milk and adding the yogurt culture and letting it sit for hours and hours in my own pots. Sometimes it would work, other times it wouldn’t. I felt very horrible “expirementing” with perfectly good milk when the yogurt would not turn out right; and elated and surprised when it (rarely) did turn out to be yogurt.

As an economical and much less-wasteful solution, I decided to make the investment in an electronic yogurt maker- a Donvier brand, as suggested by Mirielle Guiliano in her book. A variety of yogurt makers are available online at http://www.amazon.com for between $30-60 plus shipping. Just type in “yogurt makers”.

Let’s get to the process so you can see how easy it is to do yourself. Please refer to the photos below:


1. Get yourself any electronic yogurt maker!  (http://www.donvier.com/site/eng/search_result.aspx)

2. Boil the milk for at least 20 minutes, or until you see the bubbly foam at the top. Immediately turn off heat and remove any film collected at the top.

3. Use a thermometer to continuously check the temperature of the milk. It should be between 110-115 degrees F when you add the yogurt culture. At this point, if you are using a Donvier or similar type of yogurt maker, you will need 1 TB. of plain yogurt (at room temperature). I like to use whole milk plain yogurt only because the result is smooth, thick and creamy. The best yogurt for starter (in my opinion) is Stonyfield Farm Yogurt (http://www.stonyfield.com/OurProducts/WholeMilkYogurt.cfm). It is organic and certified Kosher, as well. Mix the 1 TB. of yogurt with one plastic container of milk (this should come with your yogurt maker). Pour this mixture back into your pot of boiled milk.

4.  Stir this mixture very well so that there are no clumps of yogurt throughout the boiled milk.

5. Next, pour this mixture into each of the plastic glasses that comes with your yogurt maker and use the caps to cover. My Donvier comes with 8 plastic glasses and caps.

6. Set the electric time for 10 hours. The red light (of a Donvier) should indicate that it is “on”. Do not open any of the glasses during this entire time, as it may tamper with the delicate process of cultivating the yogurt.

7. At the 10 hour mark, your yogurt maker should indicate with a beep that it is ready to be shut off. Do not keep the yogurt on longer than this. Each glass should be immediately stored in the refrigerator.

The great thing about this is that you can enjoy the yogurt plain or add fruit, nuts and/or honey to your liking– all without any preservatives or unhealthy elements like high fructose corn syrup (yes, some commercial brands DO contain it!).

Bon Apetit!

P.S. I’d love to hear your comments about this post.

Published in: on October 11, 2008 at 5:25 am  Comments (4)  
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