While living in Sudan, a predominantly Muslim country, I had the wonderful opportunity to eat like a local. I was even invited to several iftar meals, which celebrate the breaking of the day's fast during Ramadan. It was during these meals that I truly fell in love with Sudanese cuisine. Even today, back home in Los Angeles, these halal recipes remain some of my favorites.
What Is Halal?
In Arabic, "halal" means "permitted" ("haram" means "forbidden"). Halal foods are ones that Muslims are allowed to eat, and the term often is used to describe how the food is prepared. Pork and alcohol are never permitted to be consumed. But other meats only are considered halal if they follow strict rules. In this way, halal has similarities to the Jewish practice of kosher, but there are some important distinctions. For instance, for meat to be halal:
- The animal must be alive before slaughter.
- To make the slaughter as fast and painless as possible, the animal's blood must be drained and a knife must be used which is four times the size of the neck and razor-sharp.
- No other animals can witness the slaughter.
- A Muslim must bless the animal before carrying out the slaughter. Or, depending on the branch of Islam, a Jew or Christian also may conduct the slaughter.
This traditional halal recipe from Darfur, Sudan, uses peanut butter; ground nuts are a staple crop in the region. I love how peanut butter acts as a fantastically nutritious (it's high in protein and a great source of healthy fat) addition to this savory dish.
- 2 halal chicken breasts, cut into cubes
- 1½ tablespoons peanut oil, sesame oil or vegetable oil, divided
- ½ cup tomatoes, diced
- ¼ cup onion, finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons natural peanut butter
- ¼ cup water
- Sauté chicken in 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat in a large pan until cooked through. When chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165°F, remove from heat and set aside.
- Add remaining oil to the same pan, still on medium heat. Add tomatoes, onion and garlic. Sauté until soft.
- Add salt and peanut butter and mix until everything is combined. Add water and stir.
- Add cooked chicken back into the mixture and bring to a boil. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Serve over rice with a side of vegetables, such as broccoli or sautéed greens.
- Make the dish vegan-friendly by substituting tofu for chicken.