When it’s time to “halalize” a French, Puerto Rican, or other ethnic recipe, swapping pork with halal beef or chicken is just the beginning.

Asma Ahad, director of halal market development at IFANCA, calls herself a below average cook and says she has no option but to follow recipes exactly. That is except when it comes to making them halal and, so far, she’s had great results. She swears by her halalized Baja Fish Tacos recipe. “These are beer-battered cod fish tacos. It’s a Mexican recipe,” she says. “Substitute the beer with ginger ale and it turns out absolutely delicious. I mix the batter with a one for one swap. The beer gives it the malted, sizzly texture. We are probably missing the malted flavor, but we are still getting that cultured ale taste,” says Ahad, who belongs to a cooking club where culinary skills culminate in an intimate monthly dinner extravaganza.

Recently, Ahad made an Australian recipe, a chocolate mousse log that called for liqueur, a flavored alcohol. She used alcohol-free almond flavor instead. “People could not stop eating it! It was that good,” she says. “When I originally did a 1:1 swap, it was too strong. I now use the almond [flavor] in half the proportion,” she says.

So just how did she decide what halal alternative to use in her chocolate mousse log? “Anytime you are looking to switch out an ingredient, see what the ingredient does in the recipe,” she says. “I knew the chocolate mousse had eggs, butter, caster sugar, and 70 percent cacao and wanted an ingredient that would bring out their flavors best and complement them as well,” she says.

Ahad tried different kinds of flavors. Hazelnut was also a viable option, but she finally settled on almond. “The almond flavor is so complex and delicious when combined with high quality chocolate and caster sugar. It is so flavorful. When I added almond [flavor], you could smell the combination of the almonds, butter, and sugar! My cooking club ladies can have high standards,” she laughs. What’s her one bit of advice when experimenting with a recipe? “When you make a recipe repeatedly, it gets easier.”

In speaking with Ahad, it becomes apparent that switching ingredients successfully is a process involving trial and error. “And lots of taste testing, too,” says expert cook Yvonne Maffei, who has literally written the book on switching out non-halal ingredients. Her new cookbook, My Halal Kitchen, is due out this summer. Of Sicilian and Puerto Rican descent, Maffei’s cooking is an attempt to recreate the flavors and meals of her childhood, as authentically as possible, using halal ingredients. In fact, people who aren’t Muslim have told her they don’t notice the difference when she cooks with halal ingredients. Recreating the foods she’s learned of on her travels through Europe, Mexico, Belize, and Morocco is also a passion. “I grew up tasting a lot of these foods so I know what is a good substitute,” she says.

In French cuisine, for example, sauces typically call for wine as an ingredient. Maffei’s mother loved French food and made breaded chicken with béarnaise sauce, buying pre-made packets of the sauce. “As I studied French cuisine,” says the author who turned her back on pursuing a degree in law, “I realized I could make it from scratch, but it had wine. I used a white grape juice substitute. When we put the sauce over breaded chicken, everyone said it was probably their favorite recipe! We were able to accomplish it without the wine!”

“Tiramisu, for instance, is typically made with rum,” says this chef whose favorite food memory is eating Parisian chocolate desserts from the Eiffel tower restaurant with cousins. “I look at the alcohol being called for in a recipe and determine its original source and use the halal version. Rum comes from sugar cane, so apple juice is a sweet enough substitute. If the recipe calls for white wine, I will consider white grape juice as a substitute.”

Maffei’s cookbook has both traditional favorites and her own original recipes. With all the testing she has done on her recipes, home cooks can embrace global cuisine in halal-only kitchens without being a super foodie. Plus, many of her recipes are easy enough to make during the week. Boeuf bourguignon is a French one-pot dish made with bacon and red wine, made popular in America by Julia Child. In her recipe, Maffei replaces the pork fat with beef fat and adds high quality grape juice instead of wine. “People who ate it couldn’t tell the difference!” she recalls.

“Another recipe everyone goes crazy over is carnitas,” says Maffei. “It is usually made with pork, but I make it with lamb. The fat on the lamb gives the flavor, making the meat really moist. The flavor is still very authentic because of the spices,” she says.

A baker since she was nine, what is a childhood favorite that Maffei has adapted? “On my Sicilian side, it was always spaghetti with meatballs made from a mixture of beef and pork. Now, I really use good quality halal meat. We aren’t missing out on anything as long as we use authentic flavorings and spices, and the fat of the animal. And when you cook with bones, it adds a lot of the flavor,” she says.

Farzana Moinuddin, chief accounting officer at Nanosphere and Palatine, Illinois, resident, draws on her Zambia and Zimbabwe heritage, using lots of corn, spinach, and dry fish in her cooking. Moinuddin and her husband love recreating great restaurant food.

“Research why an ingredient is in a recipe,” she too advises. “Ham is for smokiness, for instance. For a BLT, we use halal beef bacon. The turkey bacon is like plastic.” A visit to a not-so-local grocery store is a must for hand-made halal sausage. “It’s about an hour away, but we make a trip out of it,” she says.

One recipe she makes all the time—“It’s so easy”—is pistachio-crusted roast leg of lamb. The original recipe called for half a glass of wine. Unlike Maffei, who used grape juice in place of wine, Moinuddin tested out the recipe using orange juice. Experimenting with different juices will yield a slightly different, but suitable, result, as Moinuddin has discovered. “Now every time a recipe calls for wine, I use pomegranate juice as it has both fruitiness and the tartness. I have improvised that leg of lamb recipe so much since [first making it] but still use the juice as it helps the marinating process.”

When a recipe for pan chicken needed bacon fat, Moinuddin used chicken skin. “I cut it into strips and let it cook in its own fat. I used the fat in my recipe and disposed of the skin. The recipe turned out really good. I have never measured my spices. If something doesn’t work out well, I’ll figure out how to use it to make another dish because I don’t want to waste food,” she says.

Moinuddin used her leg of lamb recipe to make leg of impala (a type of antelope) on her last trip to Zimbabwe. “I cooked a huge chunk of game meat, almost 20 pounds, for six hours. I also used a meat tenderizer, which I normally don’t have to do. I did not know what the end result would be. It turned out amazing!” Her advice? “Be creative. What difference does it make if a dish tastes a little different from the original, so long as it tastes great?”


Simple Halal Substitutions:

Use almond flavoring in place of liqueur.

Use apple juice in place of rum.

Use grape juice in place of wine.

NAAZISH YARKHAN is a prolific journalist and communications strategist whose work has been featured in over 50 media outlets including NPR, PRI, and Huffington Post. She works with students across the US as a writing and college essay coach. More at WritersStudio.us.