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ShaykhChef one imam's passion for food

Since a child I loved being in the kitchen

More Than Just Food

Food. It's everywhere. But what does it mean? That may be a strange thing to ask of something that is not generally considered sentient and yet food cannot simply be rendered to entertainment, or even nutrition, without dire social consequences. Food is a sign of God: of His presence and benevolence.

فَليَنظُرِ الإِنسانُ إِلىٰ طَعامِهِ أَنّا صَبَبنَا الماءَ صَبًّا ثُمَّ شَقَقنَا الأَرضَ شَقًّا فَأَنبَتنا فيها حَبًّا وَعِنَبًا وَقَضبًا وَزَيتونًا وَنَخلًا وَحَدائِقَ غُلبًا وَفاكِهَةً وَأَبًّا مَتاعًا لَكُم وَلِأَنعامِكُم

"Mankind has only to look at his food and know We pour down plentiful water, then split the earth into furrows. Then We make grain grow in it, as well as grapes and herbs, olives and dates, and luxuriant gardens, orchards, and meadows, all for you and your livestock to enjoy." - Qur'an

Daily Food Rituals

I love spending time in the kitchen every day. And while I know that the average American eats out nearly four times a week, I increasingly find greater joy and pleasure in cooking at home for family and friends.

EGGS

I just can't get enough of eggs. I eat them almost daily. They're quick to make, versatile, and quite satisfying. And while the medical community can't seem to make up its mind as to whether they're good for us, or bad, I'm all about the incredible, edible, egg!

GROWN YOUR OWN

One of the most elemental features of life is the growing of food and it's been a dream of mine for years to grow and produce as much of my food for myself.

There's nothing like a fruit right off the tree or a vegetable right out of your garden. al-Hamdulillah (praise God!), it's a real blessing to live in southern California where the growing season is basically 24/7. I love picking oranges and lemons right off the tree in my yard.

The phrase, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food", often attributed to Hippocrates, the Greek physician from the the Age of Pericles, proves that ancient wisdom still has much to tell us how we should live our lives today. Growing and maintaining an herb garden is a great way to augment one's health.

BEYOND HALAL

Lord knows I love me a good steak. A byproduct of being raised in the midwest I suppose. One aspect of meat eating, especially as a Muslim, is the conversation, or perhaps better stated, obsession, over halal meat. Like other faith groups, such as Jews, Muslims have some dietary guidelines and restrictions. For many Muslims, they will not eat meat that doesn't meet a certain set of slaughtering principles, commonly articulated as halal (another common articulation is zabihah). But what does the Qur'an have to say about the slaughter of meats such as beef, lamb, of chicken? And what does halal even mean?

There are some twenty-odd verses in the Qur'an which deal with eating and yet only roughly six of those twenty utilize the word halal, which simply means "permissible" or "allowed", while the word the Qur'an most often employs is tayyibat. A qualitative declaration, versus a qualitative (permissible vs. impermissible) tayyibat is derived from tayyib, meaning "wholesome" or "good things". In other words, while ritually slaughtered meat is definitely of importance, the broader and more encompassing tayyibat illustrates that eating well is of greater concern than merely what is the status of one's slaughtered meat. There has also been debate amongst scholars and jurists as to how broadly does halal encompass other groups methods of slaughtering, such as Jews and Christians. In fact, the Qur'an attests to this in passages such as,

اليَومَ أُحِلَّ لَكُمُ الطَّيِّباتُ ۖ وَطَعامُ الَّذينَ أوتُوا الكِتابَ حِلٌّ لَكُم وَطَعامُكُم حِلٌّ لَهُم

"Today all good things have been made halal for you. And the food of those given the Book is also halal for you and your food is halal for them." - Qur'an

I have written articles about the importance of looking "beyond halal" in our food sensibilities as Muslims. You can read one recent article, "BeyondHalal – It May Be Organic But Is It Blessed? Eating Prophetically", here.

TASTES LIKE CHICKEN

Chicken kinda gets a bad rap and I'd say it definitely takes the gold medal in the industrial farming olympics. And sadly, as a result of how it's massed produced, chicken quite often is little more than a delivery mechanism for, at best, some kind of breading, and at worst, harmful microbes to poison your GI tract. But if it's raised with kindness and consciousness, chicken can truly be a meat worthy of praise.

One day I hope to be able to raise my own chickens, both for meat and for eggs. But that train hasn't pulled into the station yet. So in the mean time I try and look for the best places to source my meats and right now one place that's got my attention is Freshway Marketplace in Upland, CA. Tucked away in the heart of the Inland Empire, Freshway is a real gem. The meat is remarkably delicious and thus meets (pun intended!) not only my gastronomic standards, but my ethical ones as well. If you're anywhere near the IE, don't be fooled by its outside appearance; the meat is top quality. And while the owner, Ahmed, doesn't always have every single cut of meat, I have found he's more than willingly to accommodate your requests and can generally acquire what you want.

NOTHING LIKE A GOOD BURGER

I'll risk a cliché by saying that there's nothing like a good burger. Proof of this is that this sample American staple has evolved beyond cheap fast food establishments like McDonald's or Burger King and now can be found even in restaurants that claim to be fine dining. So here's one of my favorite renditions of the American class:

  • ground beef: I like mine fatty and not too lean. That's where the flavor's at!
  • spice mix: cracked black pepper, kosher salt and an umami seasoning. Trader Joe's has a great one.
  • havarti cheese: creamy, it goes nice with mayo and a spicy mustard.
  • arugula salad mix: I like to make a little salad topping for my burger instead of putting it on the side. It's a mix of arugula, tomatoes, red wine vinegar (or any other), kosher salt to taste, olive oil and capers. Simply mix together and top your burger with it.
  • sourdough bread: I prefer to use a nice sourdough for the bun. I butter it and brown it in my cast iron pan, set aside, and then add my meat. This makes for a nice, crunchy and creamy texture.
  • homemade fries: what's a good burger without fries? I like to use some kind of gold potato versus a russet as they're softer, cook faster, and taste better. Cut them thin to cook faster, fry in peanut oil, or any oil of your choice, and sprinkle them with some kosher salt at the end.

A LIFE LONG PASSION

I spent a lot of time dreaming (and salivating!) in front of the television, captivated by the phenomenon of TV chefs. Some of my earliest and most pleasant memories are watching the likes of Julia Child and Jacques Pépin.

"I guarantee!...."

The advent of television cooking shows played a major role in why I chose to pursue a vocation in culinary arts when I was younger. TV evangelists also played a role in why I would also go on to become an Imam but that's a story for another day!

But the biggest influence on me as it relates to food and cooking is my mother. It's from her gift as a cook (love my momma's food!) and her compassion and dedication to her family, providing delicious and nurturing meals, day in and day out, I grew to love food and cooking. It's specifically the act of cooking as an act of giving, that I enjoy the most. So thanks, mom! You really started something 46 years ago!

I am the Imam and Religious Director at Middle Ground, in Upland, California. When I'm not teaching at Middle Ground, or writing articles on my own website (marcmanley.com), you can almost always find me in the kitchen.

Created By
Marc Manley
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