Dinner ideas for devout Muslim friend
August 15, 2013 5:00 AM   Subscribe

I have a good friend who is coming to visit us this weekend ~ Yay! She is an observant muslim, and adheres to the dietary guidelines of her religion. We are both keen cooks, and I would like to exhibit a little of my passion, but want to make sure that the food is in keeping with her requirements. Curly issue: we are both in Italy, so pasta and risotto with various vegetable and sauces are already a mainstay of her diet. I am in Umbria, the land of pork, and there is no halal butcher around for 100s of miles. Any ideas Hivemind?
posted by Flashduck to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How about seafood or dishes with eggs, such as quiche.
posted by Snazzy67 at 5:35 AM on August 15, 2013

The easiest thing to do will be to cook a vegetarian meal. Reasonably strict vegetarian food (i.e. no bone gelatin or other "hidden" meat-based ingredients) that is prepared without alcohol (i.e. no wine, no vanilla extract, etc) is automatically halal.

Fish is also halal — and unlike meat, as I understand it, there's no requirement that it be slaughtered or blessed in a particular way.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 5:41 AM on August 15, 2013 [3 favorites]

Be careful with some kinds of seafood, as prawns, octopus and squid are held by some schools of Islamic thought to be maqruh (offensive but not entirely forbidden/haram). Don't rule these out, but you should ask her what her personal feelings are on this. I have actually searched the web on this before, but there seems no actual consensus that I can find! I am a Muslim, but I eat all those things.

All other kinds of fish should be absolutely fine.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:42 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yup - go vegetarian and play safe. If you're in Umbria there are plenty of pasta options that will be delicious.

Something simple like Summertime tagliarini or one of the River Cafe vegetarian pastas or one of the Ottolenghi recipes would work.
posted by MuffinMan at 5:47 AM on August 15, 2013

What about baked vegetable dishes? (If it's not too hot to bake.) I do a lot of baked tomato gratin-type stuff, for instance: Oven at 300, halve your tomatoes horizontally and core if needed, remove seeds and pulp, set them upside down to drain for ten minutes, brush them lightly with olive oil, salt them lightly, cover with a mixture of breadcrumbs, herbs, olive oil, salt, etc, and then bake in a shallow dish for about an hour. I've always wanted to do this with small tomatoes and crowd the pan.

And what about beans or lentils? French lentil salad, maybe? That's cool and refreshing. Or I cook a lot of white beans via the "beans in a bottle" method, which doesn't actually involve a bottle - you just soak your beans for eight hours and bake them, shallowly covered with water, in a shallow pan with olive oil, salt, pepper and whatever fresh herbs strike you. Cover with foil, bake at 225 for two hours, checking periodically to make sure all the water isn't gone. Stir when they come out of the oven and serve with chopped garlic or herbs, drizzled with olive oil.
posted by Frowner at 6:06 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]

Hi, I have people with a lot of food quirks in my wake.

I'm assuming you've asked her what her specific requirements are (and if you haven't - please do, that's always the first step, because you may realize that "oh hey, wait, chicken is actually okay" or something).

But if you're not able to, then go veggie - this may mean you have to call upon Tuscan food rather than Umbrian, but Tuscan is still damn awesome (in my book, anyway). Or zuppa de pesce.

Another tip, if you're going veggie - if you're looking for some way to get that rich meaty umami flavor into vegetable stock, try adding nutritional yeast. I admit this may take some hunting, but I imagine there is SOME sort of vegetarian community there, and they may know a place that sells the stuff that caters to them. If that doesn't work, try making a homemade vegetable stock where you roast everything first. And then add a bit more garlic (for some reason that always seems to kick things more into the umami flavor for me).

And if you are at all uneasy about asking your friend about specific quirks - in my experience, people actually don't feel self-conscious when you ask them - quite the opposite. My gluten-free friend once told me she's incredibly grateful that I always go out of my way to check with her whether something I serve is going to be okay, because it's in contrast to the rest of her family that serves bread and stuff and implies she's being a picky diva.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:45 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Depending on how strict your friend is, you would also want to find substitutes for alcohol in any of the recipes you are using.

Check with her about what fish/seafood is acceptable to her. Also, I'm assuming you know for certain that she will only eat meat from a halal butcher. Many Muslims who do follow Islamic dietary rules will eat meat slaughtered by non-Muslim butchers, so if you have any doubts on this score, you may want to check. It would open up a lot of other options.

It sounds like you don't want to serve pasta or risotto, but you give no indication of what other kinds of cuisine might be options. Are you definitely wanting Italian food? There's a whole world of food that Muslims eat without using meat. Beans are an excellent option.
posted by bardophile at 6:45 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, definitely ask her. Like adherents of any religion, there's an infinite variety of degrees of adherence to dietary restrictions that Muslims have -- like observant Jews not keeping full kosher, etc. Muslim friends sneaking sips of water on a super hot Ramadan day, etc. It's possible that she's way more lenient than you imagine. Ask her!
posted by suedehead at 8:22 AM on August 15, 2013 [4 favorites]

Is she willing to eat meat from a kosher butcher?
posted by brujita at 8:43 AM on August 15, 2013

Make a vegetable terrine like this one (I chose that because it was pretty, but there are a million variations, use your favorite vegetables.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:44 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

If she's observant enough to keep halal, kosher food is definitely acceptable for her. are there any jewish delis or butchers around? i mention this because if she's okay with kosher maybe you can branch out a bit using deli meats like pastrami or salt beef.
posted by cendawanita at 5:44 PM on August 15, 2013

I am not sure whether your question mostly revolves around not knowing how to cook vegetarian food, or wanting to find something daring and fun to feed your friend, and whether or not you want it to be Italian food (and whether or not you have access to international foods via a grocery store).

If I were in your position, I would ask her what her dietary restrictions are and if there's anything she'd like to cook with you. Then, depending on what you think is fun, some kind of pasta/risotto? Quiche? Chinese fried rice? Gazpacho? Peach pie? Dumpling soup?
posted by feets at 11:28 PM on August 15, 2013

Thanks, all good ideas, and and I should have clarified that Italian food is great, but she has it all the time! (And her heritage is Indian, so I wouldn't dare to pit myself against her mothers cooking!). I have no problem with great Vegetarian food, although am not certain about food combinations and restrictions.

There are no kosher or halal butchers or markets. Potential for an Indian shop to the south, and an Asian 80 kms to the north, however it is a major holiday weekend and things tend not to open! I'd normally fall back on SE Asian vegetarian and fish based food - Thai, Laksa, etc, however the ingredients aren't around (think basil, rosemary, sage, not lemongrass and coriander (cilantro).

I do a signature roasted vegetable terrine using mediterranean vegetables, however it uses sheet gelatine. Apart from agar agar (if I can get it) are there any substitutes?

Some great ideas - such as Gazpacho. The local lentils are famous, but I tend to think of them for colder weather, or in a salad . . . more hints?

No sneaking water during 100º heat for this girl during Ramadan. Any further hints would be great - keep them coming!

posted by Flashduck at 4:00 AM on August 16, 2013

If she's not too fussy, there are gelatine of bovine origin instead of porcine. I say fussy in the sense unless it's specifically halal gelatine, which is available, she may be OK with uncertainty as to whether the cows have been slaughtered in a halal or kosher manner.

Is Italy a decent place to get deliveries? I've been depending on online shops to get my spices and other esoteric stuff. Good luck!
posted by cendawanita at 6:22 AM on August 16, 2013

OP, the terrine I linked to doesn't use any gelatin. Looks like it uses eggs for firming instead.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:44 AM on August 16, 2013

Ooh, if I were going to make a summer gazpacho for a halal friend in Italy I might pair it with home-baked bread, homemade labneh and a fruit salad for dessert.

There are a lot of good halal recipes on that labneh link, too (it's a site called "my halal kitchen" aimed at North Americans, but a lot of the stuff could be applicable to your grocery situation too).

I wouldn't necessarily throw out all the Italian ideas in your head either. I was vegetarian in Italy and always got a kick out of it when someone who loved me would "amend" a pork-filled recipe to make me a vegetarian version (i.e. "vegetarian carbonara" which doesn't have any bacon). I mean, Italian chefs aren't going to accomodate requests like that in restaurants, so it's kind of a thrill when someone makes it for you at home. I wasn't much of a cook back then, though, so I couldn't make my own bastardizations of Italian cuisine :)

Another thing that might pair nicely with gazpacho: deviled eggs!
posted by feets at 12:02 PM on August 16, 2013

The go-to thickening agent here tends to be corn starch.
posted by bardophile at 7:34 AM on August 17, 2013

Thanks everyone! I have stocked up on products from the stores which sell non-Italian spices, although their use shall have to wait until a future visit. Great ideas, and we had a lovely holiday weekend.
posted by Flashduck at 4:48 AM on September 15, 2013

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