Muslim convert Eren Cervantes-Altamirano hails from Mexico, a land of hearty, meaty dishes. Though she no longer indulges quite like before, her experiments in the kitchen have yielded a halal version of a favourite childhood dish.
After I converted to Islam, one of the things I struggled with was food. How could I prepare traditional dishes that met the requirements of my new faith? Coming from Mexico, pork, lard and alcohol are common ingredients in traditional dishes. It is said that lard, for instance, gives dishes a unique flavour that cannot be compared to any other fat. This led me to think of other Muslims out there who might also feel discouraged about favourite meals prepared with haram ingredients.
After a lot of experimentation and research, I have been able to find great substitutes for pork, its byproducts, and alcohol in traditional Mexican dishes. I won’t lie to you. It was not easy. The process of substitution required a lot of research and in some cases, a lot of trial and error. However, I am happy that Muslims nowadays have a lot of resources available to us, such as online stores that deliver goods and halal products internationally.
During my last visit home, I decided to adapt a very popular southern recipe to meet my faith’s requirements. Cochinita pibil is a Mayan dish from the Peninsula. It is a slow-cooked pork roast that is spiced with achiote or annatto, a red paste used for its red colour and acidity. The meat is first “cooked” in the achiote’s citric juices to tenderise it. It is later roasted in the oven or cooked in a pot covered with banana leaves. This is a ubiquitous Mexican dish, well-loved for its sweet and sour tang and buttery-soft texture.
In recent years, many traditional Mexican dishes have been adapted and modified to meet new food recommendations. Pork is now considered to be too fatty and unhealthy particularly for people who already suffer from certain medical conditions. As a result, pollo pibil has become a great substitute for cochinita pibil, because it’s prepared using chicken. The advantages of cooking with chicken over pork are many. It is not only halal and healthier, but its cooking time is also shorter. While recreating this recipe, I tried to adapt it such that it can be used worldwide with readily available ingredients. For example, instead of using banana leaves, which can be hard to find even in Mexico, I used foil.
I encourage you to buy fresh halal chicken. I like to buy mine from my neighbourhood’s deli as the meat comes fresh every day. The animals are fed with grain and they are not injected with or fed hormones. You can easily notice the difference because fresh and healthy chicken is neither huge nor tiny, yellower in tone, and does not have a strong smell. The meat is also firmer and less fatty, a sign of a life spent running freely.
So, this Mexican dish is a must-try for chicken lovers and foodies alike. I hope that this will also encourage you to be adventurous and try to turn your favourite dishes into halal delicacies, too!
To make pollo pibil you will need:
- 4 pieces chicken breast
- 4 oranges
- 3 limes
- 4 medium garlic (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 3 tablespoons white vinegar (you can also use rice or apple vinegar)
- Salt to taste (I used 1 ½ teaspoons)
- ½ purple onion
- 2 tablespoons achiote paste*
- Cutting board
- Sharp knife
- Big bowl
- Small mixing bowl
- Plastic clingwrap
- Baking pan
Preheat your oven to 450 F or 250 C.
Source: Aquila Style