No global cuisine has to be off limits because of halal dietary restrictions. Dishes that include alcohol and pork, the two main ingredients prohibited for consumption in Islamic tradition, can all be “halalified,” or substituted with wholesome, quality products that’ll make your mouth water.
Yvonne Maffei, Founder of My Halal Kitchen, inspires her over one million social media followers with healthy, delicious cuisine from around the world that truly demonstrates how halal is anything but a constriction.
Founded in 2008, Yvonne says she started My Halal Kitchen because “I saw a real need for not just an explanation of halal in general but as it relates to cooking. I come from an ethnic background of being half Puerto Rican and half Sicilian but having grown up in the US so my food experience was a lot different from most people in the Muslim community.”
Yvonne, who converted to Islam in 2001, always had an interest in all natural cooking, travel, culture and writing. She gave up her teaching career of ten years to pursue her culinary dreams.
“When I started writing about halal, things flowed really easily,” she explains. “I never went into it as a hobby. My intention behind it was that I wanted to make it my career … I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life in this profession.”
But, there was one thing missing. “I wanted to eat all the traditional food that I grew up with,” Yvonne shares. So, she began experimenting and swapped haraam (forbidden) ingredients with quality, halal substitutes. “For someone who likes to cook like myself it was great fun to find out what I could do.”
I grew up eating a lot of French foods and Italian foods but looking back there was probably wine in some of that food, maybe there was some pork…I would look for true halal substitutes for ingredients…It wasn’t like I wanted to experience that exact same taste [from haraam foods] but I knew that taking out certain ingredients will make the food taste flat.
I just wanted to experiment and what I was finding was that if we want halal substitutes, it can actually make the food taste better. I knew because I had eaten things that were not halal and here I was experimenting with authentic flavors and they’re coming out so well.”
But can all food be made halal? “I don’t care what it is, you can make anything that you’re eating halal,” Yvonne affirms. “That’s what I mean by halalifying recipes. … Any food, any dish, any cuisine can be made halal, it’s just a matter of making those substitutions that are halal for things that aren’t.”
Yvonne’s mixed identity also helped her bridge the gap between Muslim and non-Muslim cuisine through halal food. Early in her career she noted, “I knew within the Muslim community some might have never tried Mexican, French or Italian food, although there was an interest in trying it and an interest in making it. On the other side, my non-Muslim friends and family were really confused about what we [Muslims] eat.”
Realizing there was no other resource showing global halal cuisine, Yvonne created her My Halal Kitchen blog sharing diverse recipes, culinary tips and more. “I thought, well, I’m going to do it because it’s something I want to see and other people want to see.”
Her viewership exploded. Currently, she has a growing 1,001,932 likes on Facebook, 9,832 followers on Twitter, 3,738 fans on Instagram and 3,635 on Pinterest.
“That [number] I can say still really shocks me until today because I did not expect that,” Yvonne comments. “I was thinking, oh, you know, I’ll be lucky if I get 10,000. But I honestly never focused on the numbers. I just really wanted to focus on impact and I wanted to answer people’s questions, I wanted to teach. I was really happy doing that.”
Although her focus is quality over quantity, the numbers demonstrate the burgeoning awareness and interest in halal cooking. People are hungry to learn, including non-Muslims.
“Honestly, there have been so many more people who aren’t regular halal consumers or Muslims who ask for the advice or look for the recipes,” Yvonne states. “That really makes me happy because it means that it’s appealing to people who didn’t know about halal or maybe used to think that it was weird.”
While once she was warned to stay away from focusing on a career about healthy, halal global cuisine because “It’s never going to go anywhere. It’s just to small,” Yvonne stayed firm because she knew “halal was going to go on forever” – a wise decision considering the international halal food market is now valued at $1.1 trillion and only escalating according to a Thompson Reuters study.
With her rising popularity, Yvonne has published a popular “Summer Ramadan Cooking” cookbook. The second edition is now available for purchase just in time for the Islamic holy month of fasting.