Brunch is Served

This site has been officially moved to a new domain, http://www.myhalalkitchen.com. Please visit there to see what’s cooking!

Copyright My Halal Kitchen 2009

Copyright My Halal Kitchen 2009

Every weekend morning I have the same dilemma- make a quick and usual breakfast, or make it an occasion by serving special foods that are timely to prepare but sure to please.

The need-to-please disease I have tells me that small breakfasts should induce guilt. But what if I could serve a sizeable breakfast without all the struggle and extra time in the morning? I didn’t want to just put any old leftovers together- that would be a bit too obvious….

Luckily my husband isn’t a picky guy and doesn’t snub food the same way I would if I didn’t like it, which actually made me want to do a nice thing- not take up too much time in the kitchen (which throws off our entire schedule entirely), without skimping on the food, either.

I decided to serve up eggs baked in ramekins, a savory pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese, a mixed salad, and sliced grapefruit. Not too fancy, but just enough to please, I hoped.

I prepared the baked eggs or ‘Oeufs en Cocotte‘, according to the base of a recipe I saw on a Julia Child French Chef episode. I changed some things to make each dish of two eggs baked in a ramekin then set in hot water to our own liking: Mine was mixed with leftover homemade buttermilk dressing and on my husband’s I poured a simple, plain leftover tomato sauce (see details below). After about fifteen minutes of baking in the oven, they were done. In the meantime, I was able to set the table and prepare the next dishes.

The savory pastry is a favorite in our home, mainly because the smell of baked phyllo puts me in a wonderful mood. Based on a combination of a recipe for Turkish borek from my dearest friend, Inci, and a Greek recipe for spanakopita handed down loosely to me from my cousin’s Yaya (grandmother), I have finally found a recipe that works for us. This one was prepared yesterday, but we really couldn’t finish it last night. It was too hot to eat and this is one dish where patience allows you to enjoy it more. The cheese has time to set and the dough is not as flimsy when it’s cooled. Today three pieces were reheated in the microwave for about two minutes and resulted in a perfect, warm taste. The cheese was set and the spinach had time to mingle with it, just enough time to complement each other nicely (recipe below).

The salad was super easy. In my conscious effort to eat up the largest carton of mixed organic greens possibly for sale at Costco, I decided now was a perfect time to eat it up- and give my husband an excuse to eat something green. Just throw the greens in a large bowl, top with sliced tomatoes and drizzle the mix with olive oil, a pinch of salt and dried parsley flakes. Voila! It’s done.

I almost forgot to mention the proud addition I just had to put on the table- a small bowl of my homemade crème fraiche, which I had been experimenting with all week. Until I get it perfect, I suggest you just buy the best one on the market today: the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company’s Crème Fraiche, sold at Trader Joe’s stores or online at: http://butterandcheese.net/cremeFraiche.html

The last addition was the plate of peeled and sliced grapefruit, a great way to end the meal and clean the palate after all the dairy at the table. The important thing to remember about grapefruit is that if it’s peeled properly, you won’t taste any bitterness; instead it will taste sweet and refreshing. It’s a bit of work, but don’t have it any other way.

Brunch was prepared and served today within a half an hour. It was delicious, healthy and very pleasing to both of us. There were no excuses left for today’s schedule to go awry. Uh oh, what have I started?

Please see recipe information for Buttermilk Dressing, Eggs Baked in Ramekins (Oeufs en Cocotte), and Savory Spinach Pastry:

Buttermilk Dressing (by Tierra Miguel Farm, which I found in the book Slow Food Nation’s Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living, p. 118)

Ingredients:
2 C buttermilk
1 whole hard-boiled egg
¾ cup olive oil
10 sprigs parsley
5 sprigs celery leaves (optional)
2 cloves garlic
4 scallions, green and white parts chopped
1 handful of any fresh green herbs on hand, such as sorrel, nettle, watercress, or cilantro
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Method:
Mix buttermilk, egg, oil, parsley, celery leaves, garlic, scallions, and herbs in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes 6 to 8 servings of dressed salad.

Resource:
Heron, Katrina, Ed. with a foreword by Alice Waters. Slow Food Nation’s Come to the Table: The Slow Food Way of Living. New York: Rodale Books, 2008.

Eggs Baked in Ramekins (Oeufs en Cocotte) can be found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Fortieth Anniversary Edition, Volume One, pages 123-124. It was written by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. New York, Alfred A. Knopf. 2001.

Savory Spinach Pastry
You will need:
One package of phyllo dough
1lb. bag of frozen spinach
1 lb. feta cheese
2 eggs
approximately ½ cup each of olive oil and cold milk, mixed together in a cup
large rectangular pyrex dish
black seeds or sesame seeds to taste

Buy one package of phyllo dough typically used to prepare baklava. When the dough is cold, but not frozen, open it up to its full length. Lay the dough down so that it looks rectangular. With kitchen shears or scissors, cut the dough in half vertically. Reserve half in the fridge to keep cold and keep the other half out to prepare on your counter.

Using a pastry brush, ‘paint’ the bottom of your pyrex dish with a mixture of ½ cup olive oil and ½ cup milk (this should be in a cup next to you as you work). Lay a sheet of phyllo dough on top of it, then continue to paint each sheet one by one until you have finished this half of the dough.

Mix the feta cheese, eggs and frozen spinach in a bowl until well mixed. Pour on top of the phyllo dough you have painted in the pyrex dish. Pat the mixture down so it lies flat.

Bring out the cold dough from your fridge and continue to pain each layer individually until you are finished. Paint the very last layer generously and then add either sesame seeds or black seeds, but not both.

Bake in a 375 degrees oven for approximately 35-45 minutes, depending on your oven. Allow to cool before eating.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are entirely based on my own personal tastes, which may obviously be different for others who try the same product(s). The reviewer also declares that she has not received any monetary or non-monetary compensation from the restaurant or food product company for writing this review.

Copyright © 2009 My Halal Kitchen. All rights reserved. The information contained in this blog may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of My Halal Kitchen.

To Roast a Duckling

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To roast a duckling is an endeavor not meant for the faint-hearted of the kitchen. I’ve cooked duck in the past and it was disastrous- tough, pan-seared breast that I never researched how to make in the first place. How hard could it be, really?

It was the early years of marriage and my sweet husband ate every tough-to-chew last bit of it, while I looked at my plate deciding not to finish the ‘mistake’ on my plate. I knew then he was much too nice- or much too hungry. He argues that a person can be both, and that I must agree with.

Well, that was seven years ago and I have since broken down and learned that it doesn’t mean I’m not a natural in the kitchen if I have to read a recipe or study particular cooking techniques, especially in preparation for roasting poultry and game that are not regulars at our dinner table.

While recently shopping at our favorite Mediterranean grocery store, I scanned the frozen food aisle just to see if anything was new in prepared foods such as pizzas and falafel and meats like halal burgers and sejouk, or spicy sausages. I’m not a fan of frozen foods, but once in a while I do find something useful, especially at this store, which sells only halal products- very exciting in its own right.

Much to my surprise, sitting right next to the halal turkeys, I spotted a smaller frozen bird of some sort. I thought it was probably just another whole chicken but it seemed a tad bit larger so I turned it around to look at the label, not expecting it to be anything I would actually purchase (we already had an entire lamb being prepared for us as we shopped). Sure enough, it was the first frozen halal duckling I had ever seen before. I plopped it into the cart and hoped for the best, hoping I wasn’t kidding myself into thinking I could actually make up for the last bird.

At the checkout, the store clerk commented that the roast duckling would be ‘an extravagant meal’. “Great,” I thought. Just what I needed- not only to mess up the duck, but to waste money and ‘extravagant’ food in the process. “I’m in trouble now,” I murmured to myself.

I spent a couple of weeks letting the little duckling continue its destiny deep in the depths of my standing freezer. I thought about it often, trying to come up with my own recipe in my head, and then came to my senses: “NO! Not again, I will ruin the reputation of roast duckling for my husband forever if I do THAT again! I need the perfect recipe.”

Once again, Julia Child came to my rescue, renewing my hope in ever being able to successfully bring a duck to an edible level. My husband’s only preference this time around was not to make the orange sauce that traditionally accompanies this bird dish. “No problem, I’m sure Julia has a recipe for that,” I thought.

Life has a way of allowing you to surprise yourself once in a while. It just so happens that my newfound love of all things Julia Child ever created has brought me to remember the poultry pages of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Fortieth Anniversary Edition.

Simply put, “Caneton Roti”, or Roast Duckling, had real instructions I could follow on two pages (274-275), and I had all the ingredients in tow.

I followed the recipe exact, like an apprentice following a master chef in hopes of earning a Le Cordon Bleu diploma at the final exam. If I messed this one up, I would be traumatized. That’s why I chose the easiest of all the duck recipes, and the only one listed for roast duckling, not duck- aren’t they older, anyway?

I trussed it, cut off the wing tips and stuffed its cavity with fragrant herbs, just as instructed. I poured cut onions and carrots at the bottom of the roasting pan and laid him down gently out of the way of the vegetables. No water or broth needed for this baby- it would generate more fat than I could ever imagine. No need for basting, just keep removing the fat.

After a few hours (much longer than the recipe suggested, due to the funny temperament of my oven), it was finally done- successfully. Served with a side of garlicky mashed potatoes, it was worth the wait–and the work–and the need to follow a recipe, at least once in a while.

If you’d like to try this recipe, you can find it in Julia Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, 40th Anniversary Edition, Volume One. Alfred A. Knopf. 2001. http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Art-French-Cooking-Fortieth/dp/0375413405

To find your own halal duckling, check out Midamar’s website at: http://www.midamarhalal.com/scripts/products.asp?C=Halal+Chicken. Each duckling costs $15.00.

If you live in the Chicagoland area and want to take a drive out to the western suburbs to buy your halal meats, including a frozen Midamar duckling, check out our favorite spot: Mediterranean Oasis Mart Inc., 357 E Bailey Rd., Naperville, IL 60565; Telephone: (630) 420-9507. Ask for Abu Shoosha- he’ll take great care of you.

Keeping Warm, French Style

This site has been officially moved to a new domain, http://www.myhalalkitchen.com. Please visit there to see what’s cooking!

This winter, I’ve snuggled up to more than my fair share of Julia Child cookbooks and DVDs of her cooking shows, “The French Chef”. So far I’ve seen countless hours of her slapping dough around to make croissants and French bread, demonstrating brutally tedious sauce-making techniques and offering 1960’s style video of her own shopping tours around Paris and the south of France. Nevertheless, I’m addicted to learning from this woman.

As a result, for the first time I’ve made homemade French Onion Soup, following Julia’s recipe verbatim. It turned out perfectly. Even my husband was “warmed” up to the idea of eating enormous amounts of onions and butter and cheese in this hearty dish. He even warmed up to the idea of learning a little something from Julia. I think he’s enjoying himself, ever so slightly, because Julia was a practical woman and a wildly demonstrative teacher who made it easy for us to understand and learn from- something all teachers should be, in my opinion.

One thing I’ve learned from reading other books and blogs about French culture, cooking techniques, style and form is that the French, particularly Parisians, really love to warm themselves up with a hot bowl of soup during the chilly winter months. Check out David Lebovitz’s blog about living in Paris and his article about celery root soup at: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/archives/2008/12/celery_root_soup.html

Here’s a quicker version of French Onion Soup than in Julia Child’s book I used (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Fortieth Edition, Vol. 1 by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, p. 43-45). It’s Emerille Lagasse’s recipe found on the Food Network website:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/french-onion-soup-recipe/index.html

Substitute ½ cup red grape juice for the sherry and remember to use only your own homemade chicken and veal stock, made from dhabiha halal animals. If you don’t have that, use a halal canned or carton broth (let me know if you see that in any stores), or a can or carton of kosher stock or broth.

You can also use beef stock instead of chicken or veal stock but the taste will be a bit more “meaty”. And you can also just use one type of stock (i.e. only chicken as opposed to the combination), just make sure the stock is dark. Don’t make this dish if you will only be able to use water- it just isn’t worth sacrifice in taste.

Bon Appetit! Let me know how your soup turns out…

Yvonne

My Halal Kitchen Website Coming Soon!

Published in: on December 17, 2008 at 11:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

King Arthur Flour comes to Chicagoland

Scanning through the local paper can prove to be a rewarding endeavor for the thrifty cook these days. I found myself lucky to see a tiny ad in the Chicago Tribune about the King Arthur Flour Company coming to Palatine, IL for a free baking class, one of their many free national classes!)

There were actually two classes taking place in the Hotel Indigo that day (Thursday, November 13)- one in the early afternoon called “Sweet & Savory Yeast Breads”, the one I attended; and another in the evening called “Festive Cookies & Pies”. I was fortunate to see the ad Wednesday night, sufficient time to plan my day around this opportunity.

I arrived at the Hotel Indigo early enough to get a good seat near the front where I could clearly see and hear our baking instructor. I didn’t want to miss a thing- sort of a deja vous of my college days attending lectures by famed authors or politicians.

I was kindly greeted by a friendly, slender young woman in a black fleece vest who handed me a booklet entitled “Baking with King Arthur Flour”. At my seat, I perused the book for a few minutes, skimming through the various bread recipes. There were tips and hints on baking and on the last page a valuable coupon towards the purchase of any variety of King Arthur Flour. I made a mental note to hit my local Shop ‘N Save on my way home, knowing full well they carried this brand of flour—and it was on sale this week.

Before the class started, an employee, baker and editor of King Arthur’s bimonthly baking newsletter, The Baking Sheet, Susan Reid, warmed up the crowd by testing our knowledge of baking and even telling a personal story about how she joined the 100% employee-owner company of King Arthur Flour, located in Norwich, VT. She also explained the interesting history behind this company, which dates back to Boston in 1790.

Once the actual program began, all eyes were on the instructor, Carolyn Hack. Her gentle and inviting presence seemed to make everyone comfortable. As planned, she began to introduce the Sweet Bread Dough recipe she was to prepare.  Her witty humor about dough, baking and life garnered everyone’s attention, even the latecomers that filled up the back rows quietly. From Carolyn we all shared in the experience of learning valuable instructions about yeast, water temperature, flour and eventually kneading the dough. Here are just a few of the things I was surprised to learn:

  • Water to proof the yeast should be like the temperature of warm bath water
  • When putting water in your yeast, if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your yeast
  • Yeast is a living thing. You “proof it” in order to see if it’s viable
  • Once the yeast is in water (proofing), you don’t have to get all the lumps out, just get everything wet
  • If your yeast doesn’t proof properly, it could be due to one of the following reasons: the yeast was improperly stored; maybe there was soap left in the container you used to proof; there could be too many chemicals in your water; perhaps the water used was too hard or too soft.
  • It’s very important to measure ingredients properly when baking.
  • If you bake a lot it might be a good idea to get a kitchen scale, for accuracy.
  • Sprinkle flour into your measuring cup- don’t pack it in, otherwise you’ll be using more flour than necessary
  • Don’t sift flour unless your recipe calls for it.
  • Cake yeast has a very short shelf life.

When the dough was finished but not yet baked, she explained some creative ways it could be used. One idea was to make an almond-filled braid out of the dough; another to make a batch of cinnamon swirls. Both ideas sounded delicious. Ms. Hack made these seem so easy to make, I thought even I (the lazy baker) would be willing to give a try to the braided dough recipe.

At the end of the program, the company gave out door prizes to many lucky winners- dough whisks, aprons, and gift cards among them.  Although I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t win any of these, my heart broke when I didn’t win the only King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book given away. And then, just as if the employee-owners read my mind, they wouldn’t let us leave empty-handed. Everyone- yes, everyone- was given a $10 King Arthur Flour gift card, a ¼ oz. package of Red Star Active Dry Yeast and a King Arthur Flour  labeled dough scraper. We even got free samples of whole grain bread on our way out.

A free program, door prizes and even more gifts upon leaving, made possible by the generous sponsorship of the Red Star Yeast company. I must say, not only was I impressed but it made me want to give my business to Red Star Yeast and of course to this quality company, King Arthur Flour, made up of nice people who love to bake, love to educate and are generous with their knowledge and time.  Needless to say, I immediately used my gift card to purchase a King Arthur dough whisk, a tool Ms. Hack taught me was an important baking tool and one that would probably last me a lifetime.

(For a complete list of King Arthur’s free national baking classes, go to: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/national-baking-classes.html

For information on their free online baking classes, visit: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/online-baking-classes.html

If you’d like to order their newsletter, “The Baking Sheet”, go to: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/bakingsheet/bakingsheet.htm

For more information about the King Arthur instructor at this program, go to:

Carolyn Hack: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/baking/national-baking-classes.html#nbc-instructor

Yeast products recommended in this program can be found at:

SAF Yeast: http://www.safyeast.com/

Red Star Yeast: http://www.redstaryeast.com/products.html

 

Free Sun-Maid Recipe Booklet!

If you read your Sunday coupons carefully, you might have found the ad for a free recipe book on the Sun-Maid Raisins or Dried-Fruit Packages coupon ($1.00 off two). If not, the information below will show you the variety of recipe books they offer. One per household only. Enjoy! And please, share with us if you make any of the recipes from your free booklet.

 

Sun Maid Fruit and Sunshine: Naturally Healthy Raisin Recipes

This 17-page booklet is available to download for free at:

http://www.sunmaid.com/fruitsunshine/pictures/FruitAndSunshineRecipeBooklet.pdf

You can also order it by writing to:

Sun Maid Fruit and Sunshine Recipe Booklet:

P.O. Box 8272

St. Cloud, MN 56398-8272

Include your name, phone number, address, city, state and zip code.

 

New Taste of Tradition Recipe Booklet (45 recipes)

P.O. Box 9290

St. Cloud, MN 56398-9290

Include your name, phone number, address, city, state and zip code, or call toll free at 877-414-3397 between 7am-5pm (CST)

Follow this link to take a look for yourself: http://www.sunmaid.com/newtraditions/intro.html

 

Sun Maid Recipes for Healthier Eating

Available by mail at the same address or phone number above.  Follow the link below for full details:

http://www.sunmaid.com/freebooklet/intro.html

 

Gooseberry Patch Fall Favorites Recipe Booklet

Order by mail at:

Sun Maid Fall Favorites

P.O. Box 190

Delaware, OH 43015

Include name, phone number, address, city, state and zip code

To see the information, click on the following link:

http://www.sunmaid.com/gooseberryfallrecipeweb/intro.html

A selection of recipes are available on this site.

 

Gooseberry Patch Family Favorite Recipe Booklet

Sun Maid Family Favorites

P.O. Box 190

Delaware, OH 43015

Include name, phone number, address, city, state/province and zip/postal code

To see the information, click on the following link:

http://www.sunmaid.com/gooseberrypatch/intro.html

A selection of recipes are available on this site.

 

 

 

 

Published in: on November 18, 2008 at 4:23 pm  Comments (3)  
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Breakfast to Go

In a rush to get out the door in the morning, it’s often difficult to make something portable, easy to handle and tasty, all in one. I came up with this very simple and quick breakfast sandwich and would like to share it with you busy (or not so busy) folks out there.

Here’s what you need (per person):

  • 2 bread slices- any of your favorite. I choose Trader Joe’s Italian Loaf, which arrives pre-cut
  • 2 small pats of softened, real butter for each slice of bread (no margarine, please!!)
  • 1-2 tsps. creme fraiche (French style cultured cream) for each slice of bread. I like to use Vermont Butter & Cheese Company’s Creme Fraiche, sold at Trader Joe’s
  • 2 Tb. of your favorite jam for each slice of bread. I love the Organic, Reduced Sugar Raspberry Preserves sold at Trader Joe’s

Preparation:

Toast your bread, or warm to preference. Then, spread the softened butter on each slice of bread, followed by the creme fraiche and then finally the jam or preserves you’ve chosen. It’s that simple!

I love to pair this breakfast with a homemade cup of cappuccino made my way. Here’s what you need:

  • Trader Joe’s Fair Trade Organic Bolivian Blend Medium Dark Roast, Sweet Caramel Flavor, Medium Body Coffee. It comes whole bean in a 14 oz. container.
  • Whole milk
  • a pinch of ground cinnamon
  • organic raw cane sugar, to taste.

Preparation:

Grind the coffee in a coffee grinder. If you have whole cinnamon, just put about 1/2 cinnamon stick in the coffee grinder at the same time so the flavors mix well.  The amount of ground coffee that you put in your coffee maker depends upon the size of your coffee maker and the amount of coffee you would like to prepare. While my coffee is heating up, I put my milk in the microwave (1/3 of the coffee cup I’m going to drink out of). When both the coffee and milk are done, I add about 2 tsps. of sugar and enjoy it with my breakfast, nice and warm.

Resources:

As you can see, I am a fan of Trader Joe’s. They have a great variety of healthy food choices with fewer and less complicated ingredients in their products than I have found elsewhere. Their prices are not unreasonable and often times cheaper than the large supermarkets in my area. Their excellent customer service should not go unnoticed- it really is the best around. Here’s how you can find a Trader Joe’s in your area:

http://www.traderjoes.com/locations.asp

If you’d like to order creme fraiche from the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company, visit their website. You can also see that this product is kosher-certified and their site has a downloadable pdf document you can view as proof. It also lists eight other products that are kosher, which should reassure us that there are no pork by-products in these items:

http://butterandcheese.net/cremeFraiche.html

If you’d like to read more about Fair Trade and Fair Trade coffee specifically, please see this website:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_trade

http://coffeeonlinemagazine.com/buying-fair-trade-coffee-why-its-important-where-to-get-it/

And, as always, please let me know how you’ve enjoyed this post.

Asalaamu’laikum!

Update on Cabot Cheddar Cheese (Halal)

In response to the message posted from Jen at Cabot (in my original post about Cabot’s Cheddar), I just wanted to make a special post for those who don’t read the comments.

Jen says that Cabot does, in fact sell their products online. I’m sorry I missed that link previously somehow. Here it is:

https://www.shopcabot.com/

What a great resource for those who don’t live close to a source that sells the Halal-Certified Cabot Cheddar Cheese! Thanks, Jen!

Published in: on November 17, 2008 at 4:52 pm  Comments (1)  
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Halal Certified Cheddar Cheese

Shopping at Costco is both exciting and overwhelming. I always worry that I’ll miss something and equally worry that I’ll buy something in my excitement for the variety and quantity that is not actually halal. 

With regards to one product, my worry was replaced with delight when I was studying the cheese aisle. Which flavor should I choose for the meals I plan to create this week? Should I experiment with European varieties or stick to the American varieties I already know? Should I buy slices, blocks or cubes?

I stumbled upon a Vermont brand I’m familiar with from shopping at Trader Joe’s- it was the Cabot brand of Vermont. When I turned it over to search for the ingredients, I discovered a Halal certification symbol right next to the Kosher certification symbol. I had to blink to make sure I wasn’t just seeing what I wanted to see. Sure enough, it was real, but on only this type of cheese made by Cabot, not the other varieties at this particular Costco (Mt. Prospect, IL).  

Here are the details of the cheese:

Sharp Classic Vermont Cheddar Cheese made by Cabot of Vermont. Net wt. 2 LB. Ingredients: Milk, Cheese Cultures, Salt, Enzymes. Manufactured by Cabot Creamery, Cabot, VT 05647. http://www.cabotcheese.com/  They even have a Cabot blog! http://www.cabotblog.com/products/. It appears you cannot buy their products online, but the website does have a store locator and a host of recipes and other information about cheese that is quite thoghtful of its consumers. No wonder, it’s dairy-farmer owned, since 1919.

For the Costco warehouse nearest you, click on: http://www.costco.com/Warehouse/locator.aspx

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please let me know!

Published in: on November 14, 2008 at 8:19 pm  Comments (10)  
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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