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Des Plaines blogger helps Muslims follow halal without giving up taste
By Kim Mikus | Daily Herald Staff

Gâteau chocolate, fig and blood orange yogurt cake and baked stuffed peaches with mascarpone are among the dishes prepared by Yvonne Maffei of Des Plaines.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Yvonne Maffei of Des Plaines started a blog and Web site, My Halal Kitchen, where she offers advice and recipes with foods consistent with Islamic dietary rules.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

Yvonne Maffei, who converted to the Islamic faith, offers advice on how to cook with halal foods.

 

Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/8/2009 12:07 AM

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Yvonne Maffei of Des Plaines has made many changes in her life. She left her job as a college prep school English teacher to become a writer and converted from Catholicism to embrace the Islamic faith.

Maffei, an avid cook, is now utilizing her passion for writing and cooking to help inform others about how to prepare meals while following the dietary laws that Muslims observe. Those embracing Islam follow a halal diet with guidelines that prohibit pork, pork-based products, alcohol and foods with alcohol as an ingredient. Muslims also avoid meats that aren't slaughtered in the appropriate Islamic way.

Maffei, 34, found it challenging to eat this way and often chose vegetarian dishes especially when she visited restaurants. She learned that marshmallows and other products usually contain gelatin, which is often derived from pork and therefore not halal.

After teaching school for about 10 years, Maffei decided to pursue her true desire to inform others about how to more easily follow halal cooking. She publishes a blog and Web site, My Halal Kitchen, myhalalkitchen.com, where she shares culinary tips, recipes and adventures.

Maffei admits she really enjoys good food. After all, her mother is Puerto Rican and her father Sicilian. She grew up in Ohio eating spaghetti, custard desserts and an array of Puerto Rican foods. "And I love French food," she added. Maffei's husband, an engineer, is half Mexican and half Italian. He also converted to the Islamic faith before the couple met and married.

Before launching the Web site, Maffei spoke with French pastry chefs and researched the growing interest in halal cooking. She tested recipes. She learned that when alcohol is in a recipe, it's usually only for taste. She substitutes white grape juice for wine and gets the same result.

Maffei, who says Julia Child is her mentor, also found that there are many Muslims in the area who are looking for this type of outlet. "The feedback so far has been good," she said. "Young Muslim women are interested in tasting Italian food," she added. "Islam allows for cultural diversity. We don't have to eat only Indian food. We are able to enjoy the foods we want as long as it follows halal guidelines."

What's next for Maffei? She hopes to publish a cookbook within the next year and start offering cooking classes.

And after that, who knows. Her long-term dream is to have her own cooking show, maybe on Bridges TV, a Muslim channel.

"Muslims are craving this," she said.