Haute Arabia had the opportunity to have a conversation with Yvonne Maffei of My Halal Kitchen, in which she shared her story, some of her Ramadan cooking tips as well as some recipes.
Yvonne, who has an Italian and Hispanic background, started My Halal Kitchen in 2008. She became Muslim in 2001, and started learning more about halal, and decided that coking will not change of her. Rather, she found recipes that take halal rulings into consideration.
My Halal Kitchen, which started off as a blog, has grown into lifestyle platform, with a plethora of halal recipes and tips, as well as encouraging readers to adopt a more wholesome lifestyle. Yvonne also used My Halal Kitchen as a means of removing the barrier between the Muslim and non Muslim community. There are many Muslims who have not tried authentic dishes from other cultures, being worried that it is not halal. The same way, there are non Muslims who do not really understand what halal is. My Halal Kitchen helped in educating individuals on both sides.
Can you please tell us about how you started My Halal Kitchen?
I started cooking a lot of traditional food that my grandmothers made; it was a revival in my family as no one really cooks that way anymore. I always loved cooking, but this was taking it to another level. So I decided to dive into how they really make the food, talking with my grandmother and my husband’s side of the family.
I was teaching for many years, but quit teaching because I felt like I finally found the thing that I wanted to do with food. I have always wanted to do something with food and writing.
Some people have never had authentic Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican or Hispanic food. They just avoid it all together and assume that nothing is halal. I was able to show the Muslim community what our cuisines are like, as well as show our non Muslim families what halal actually is; that its normal and really good for you. It does not prevent us from having any type of cuisine.
What is your go to iftar meal when you have time and when you are pressed for time?
When I have a lot of time, I try to make a soup because soup is my favourite thing to have before a having a big meal. It helps the stomach even out before eating and so if I have time, I want to make sure that I add that to the meal plan. If it is summer, a lighter soup, but I also like cream soup any time of the year.
If I don’t have time, a ground meat dish or a fish because fish cooks so quickly even if its frozen. I just throw it in a pan, with some butter and olive oil, a few spices and it is done. I can put it on at the time we break our fast and by the time we finish praying Maghreb, its done. You can put it in tortillas and tacos, and its great.
We are nearly a third of the way through Ramadan; do you have any tips on keeping up with the discipline that we learn during the month with our food, beyond the month?
That’s such a good question, because I feel in Ramadan we realise that you really don’t need as much food as you think you do. Being a cook, I used to think that I need so many ingredients, so many of everything. Now, after so many Ramadan’s and experiences, I feel that I just don’t want a lot of food in the fridge or a lot of ingredients. What I realise is that I like to keep things fresh and simple. You can be a much more creative cook with less as it forces you to use what you have and put together a great and simple meal. Not only is it cheaper, but also it is less stressful and more enjoyable. Keep the groceries simple, don’t waste money, and figure out what you want to have for the next 2 – 3 days and recycle. You don’t always have to plan out what you are going to eat for the whole month, its good if you do, but sometimes it becomes overwhelming. That is something you can do the whole year and not just Ramadan.
Finally, which two top recipes of yours would you recommend for our readers to make for iftar?
My go to, absolute favourite recipes for breaking the fast are the strawberry and watermelon cooler. That is our favourite in the house, I can make it all day during Ramadan and no one would be upset. The other one is a really quick meal. It is chicken; you can cut boneless chicken or take the bone out, any cut of chicken. But I use a chicken tender as it cuts small and cooks really fast.
Yvonne has been kind enough to share the recommended recipes so that you can make them for your iftaar. The first recipe is on the My Halal Kitchen website, whilst the other one can be found in her cookbook.
Chicken Pitta Rolls with Humous and Tabbouleh
3 tablespoons olive oil1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast cubes (I used Crescent Foods chicken)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 cup date vinegar or another type of dark vinegar
1 cup tabbouleh
1 cup hummus
4 pieces large, thin pita bread
In a large sauté pan, gently heat the oil over low-medium flame then add the salt. Add the chicken and cook for about five minutes over medium heat without turning it. Once browned on the bottom, gently turn each piece.
Cook for an additional five minutes, or until the chicken is thoroughly browned. Next, add the vinegar. Let the vinegar bubble a bit then evaporate slightly. De-glaze the pan with a spatula. Toss the meat around so that every piece is touched by the vinegar.
Turn off heat and let the chicken rest and cool slightly before preparing the pita rolls. Once cooled, divide it into four equal parts to make the pita rolls.
*At this point, you can save the cooked chicken to be added to the pita rolls later- just let cool then chill in the refrigerator. If making ahead of time for the next morning’s lunch, proceed to finish making the rolls. As long as they’re tightly wrapped and the tabbouleh is not very juicy, the pita roll should stay nice and firm in the refrigerator for the next day’s lunchbox.
To make the pita rolls, place one piece of bread on a plate with the ‘wrong side’ facing upwards. Spread two heaping tablespoons full of hummus down the middle. Next, do the same with the tabbouleh directly on top. Add 1/4 of the divided chicken to one pita directly on top of the tabbouleh.
Roll one edge of the pita bread completely over the ingredients then fold in with your hands slightly to keep the contents firmly inside. Roll one more time and secure it closed. Cut in half, if desired. Wrap in parchment paper or foil for your lunchbox.
You can find the full article on My Halal Kitchen here.
3 cups semi-frozen watermelon
3 1/4 cups watermelon juice (from about 1/2 pound watermelon)
1 pound fresh strawberries, stems removed
Juice of 3 lemons, seeds removed
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
Cut three cups of watermelon into chunks and freeze for about 2 hours. Continue this recipe once the chunks are semi-frozen.
Make watermelon juice with an additional 1/2 pound of watermelon by blending it for about 20 seconds on high speed in a blender.
Add the strawberries, lemon juice and cane sugar to the blender. Blend for an additional 20-30 seconds. Pour into glasses and serve. If serving later, chill until ready.
Alternatively, you can try the Strawberry and Watermelon Zipzicles, the recipe can be found here.
We would like to thank Yvonne for her time and hope to have her again on Haute Arabia in the future.