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

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Assalamu’alaikum Dear Sister. I live in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area and I am always interested to find out more about food from other culture. Jazakha Allahu Khairan for your blog. Insha’Allah I hope to read more about your cooking adventures soon 🙂

  2. Wa’alaikum as salaam Sister,

    Thank you for your comment, which was very encouraging. I’m curious to know how you found this blog. Keep on coming back for more, please!

  3. Actually I found your blog by accident. I ‘ve been searching the internet for blog by Muslims and happened to stumble upon yours. Insha’Allah I will visit your blog regularly for good info!

  4. As salaam alaikum sister…….. so I guess my question is did u ever get the recipe from mari and have you tested it…….my wife is newly converted to islam and even though we don’t celebrate christmas or thanksgiving she misses being with her family during those times so sometimes we go………one of her favorite traditions, that she pretends to dislike is when her and her stepmother and grandmother and aunty and friends would make huge batches of tamales and I can tell that she gets sad because not only is she excluded from the preperation but she cannot even eat the tamales…….since I am a chef and her and I are starting a family I’ve been attempting to start a new tradition where her and I and eventually our children make the huge batches of hilal tamales……everywhere I go people hispanic people almost seem offended that I am even attempting to recreate this dish without swine nevertheless I am unwaivered……..so u can imagine my delight when I was sent a link to your site by someone on facebook after telling them my story…….anyways if there is any assitance you could lend me please let me know.

  5. Asalam Aleikum,

    I happen to be a Hispanic Muslim and love to make halal chicken tamales. I make my own salsa with dried Chile California or Guajillo. They come in plastic bags and can be purchased at your local convenience store in the international section our Hispanic markets. Wash first and soak chiles in hot water until soft. I also use 100% vegetable bullion and I make my salsa Roja by blending 6 to 7 med. chiles and using some of the soaking chile water 1 small fresh cut onion, garlic, 1/4 C olive oil.the salsa Roja should be semi thin. strain and simmer adding now your salt to taste. ( I use 100% vegetable bullion). simmer until it thickens up a bit.
    I buy Unprepared masa at my local Tortilleria. I Prepared my masa with 100% Soy bean oil by using a hand blender ( no need to get your hands messy and kneading for hours) Tip; the masa should be glossy and semi wet. Blend with hand mixer any where between 20 to 45 min. I do not use the water in a glass test. I use corn husk you can also use the banana leaves. Boil the halal chicken, beet, or turkey in water with bay leaves, whole cumin, onion, a little tomato paste, oregano, pepper, and I add veg. bullion instead of just salt. ( you can definitely use any spices you like. shred the meat with hands removing all bones. When assembling the tamales together smear the masa evenly in a circle in the middle of the corn husk, line up the meat and spoon on the salsa Roja and fold. Steam your tamales until done (about 1 1/2 hrs.) Enjoy…
    I have made my own creation of fillings. One being a slice of halal Havarati cheese a slice of can chile relleno chile and sliced black olives, with finely chopped gourmet chives blended in the masa. (note: you can use any halal soft cheese that is available to you)
    This invention impressed my Aunt who owns her own Mexican Restaurant. Possibilities are endless. Get creative. 🙂

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