Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting

Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationMaking stuffed grape vine leaves is probably one of the most time-consuming dishes in the Middle Eastern cuisine, but it also is one of the most delicious! Served hot with a dab of chilled yogurt on the side, many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern households cook this delicious dish on special occasions, or from time to time, as it most certainly is not your quick, every-day, go-to dish.

Although I am a serious foodie and cooking aficionado, I am quite impatient in the kitchen, a vice I am trying so hard to let go of. That’s why, creating an oil painting with my impressions of one of my most favourite dishes is more like the thing I would spend my afternoon doing. I guess I’d rather create art than spend the time creating this mouth-watering dish on a hot summer day!

This is the second canvas art I make after “discovering” my oil painting style. In a previous post, I spoke about how I finally found my oil painting style after taking a mini social-media and life-in-general break to really free myself from any distractions that may have been affecting my illustration style. I also got the chance to experiment with new materials, including a Cobalt Siccative medium that quickens the drying time of paint – by French manufacturer, Pébéo.

Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationThe Many Names of ‘Stuffed Grape Leaves’

There’s a bit of a confusion over the internet with regards to the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern name variations of the stuffed grape leaves dish, or shall I say, dishes.

There are actually two main dishes that use grape leaves with some kind of stuffing in both the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Cuisines:

One is served hot and comes with a minced meat and rice stuffing (and is usually cooked with fat or Middle Eastern ghee, aka Samneh). And the other is usually served at room temperature or even cold, and comes with a rice and vegetarian stuffing, and is generally cooked in olive oil.

  • Where I come from, we call the hot dish Warak Enab, and that is the dish depicted in today’s painting. Other people call it Mehshi Warak Enab or Warak Enab Mehshi – Mehshi being the word for “stuffed.” In Syria for instance, they call it Yabrak.
  • We also call the oil-based dish Yalanji, which is the Turkish word for this savoury dish originating in this beautiful Euro-Asian country. Now, if you stuff other vegetables (like aubergine or eggplants) with the vegetarian oil-based stuffing the whole dish becomes Dolma, in Turkish.

Middle Eastern Stuffed Grape Leaves: Warak Enab vs Yalanji | New Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationRecipes for Warak Enab, Yalanji… and Dolmathakia

Here is an excellent post by a blog I discovered recently, Orange Blossom Water, on Warak Enab and Yalanji.

And here is another lovely blog by a Lebanese lady, dubbed “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms,” where you can find authentic ways to clean and store fresh grape leaves, learn the technique to roll grape leaves, make Lebanese Warak Enab and Yalanji-style vegetarian grape leaf rolls. The last recipe uses chickpeas in the stuffing, which is also common in Turkey, but the recipe my grandmother and family uses has no chickpeas. This is how versatile and truly vast the Middle Eastern cuisine is!

I also found several other Greek and Armenian variations over the internet for the oil-based stuffed leaves dish. The Greek have a different recipe for Yalanji, which they like to call Dolmathakia. Instead of diced vegetables and rice, they keep it simple with rice, onions and herbs including dill, which is a Greek cuisine staple. Quick note… Dill isn’t used at all in the Lebanese and Syrian cuisines. I think it’s a new comer, and we may have the Egyptians to thank for bringing the Dill herb into the Middle Eastern pantry, thanks to their proximity to other Mediterranean nations.

So… do you have a stuffed grape leaves dish from your culture that you would like to share with us today? Please feel free to share your recipes, thoughts, and links in the comments box below!

Meanwhile, take care and I look forward to seeing you in my next post!

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Hand-Lettering Illustration: A New Way of Seeing Beauty

Hand-Lettering Illustration: Beauty is not in the face... | By Yaansoon Illustration

I grew up in between two worlds. At school, at home, and everywhere else, standards of beauty were pretty much external – placing much emphasis on certain body types, certain nose shapes, and a certain type of hair. But when I spent time with my grandmother, her standards of beauty were always about inner beauty, the heart, and character.

Although my grandma’s voice was the only voice emphasizing such qualities, time and time again life has taught me that the kind of beauty that really matters is that of the heart.

I created this hand-lettering illustration as a reminder to keep my focus on what really matters.

No More Fashion Magazines

Everywhere you turn, you find companies, brands, YouTubers, and people trying to cage us within certain definitions for what is beautiful. And most of these definitions are about looks, style, and image – and not about character, heart, or real inner beauty.

That’s why I stopped buying fashion and beauty magazines. They mostly fill our heads with such false notions about beauty, and they mostly make young women feel inadequate. And when they want to jump on the inner beauty bandwagon, they end up sending mixed messages, because a few pages later you are still faced with the same airbrushed beauty that the magazine is really all about.

A few days ago, I started a huge YouTube purge and unfollowed most of the beauty brands I have ever subscribed to. I felt a sense of true liberation, because now I will stop being bombarded with how-to’s and tutorials that require me to break the bank just to get my hands on the latest lip liner or luminous foundation.

I did keep a few YouTubers who shared their Natural Beauty secrets, but made sure to let go of all the brands that advertised heavy contouring, layers of foundation, and a specific standard of beauty.

Inner Beauty & Self-Esteem

From personal experience, my self-esteem and the way I feel about myself have improved in leaps and bounds when I took every fashion magazine (online and offline) out of my life.

Over the years, I have met many women who truly believed they were unattractive, when I knew for a fact they were very pretty both outwardly and inwardly. The problem they’ve faced all of their lives was that their kind of beauty was rarely represented in fashion magazines, therefore making them believe they were far from being on a par with the Photoshop-doctored images they see on magazine covers and advertisement billboards.

Flaws, What Flaws?

There is something seriously wrong with the world, and that is the fashion and beauty industries. They leech off people’s insecurities and make it their business to amplify them in a way that makes you want to “cover up your flaws” by using their products. The word “flaw” is closely associated with feelings of shame and inadequacy, and that is exactly what the fashion and beauty industries have been fueling the past few decades.

I say, don’t listen to them. Focus on what is within and your whole life will change to the better!

I hope you liked today’s hand-lettering artwork and post. Looking forward to seeing you in my next one!

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Container Gardening and My New Oil Painting Style

Container Gardening Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationThis is the first time that I share with you all one of my oil paintings. The truth is I have been creating artwork using oil paints on and off for a while now. But non of my earlier paintings really reflected my vision as an illustrator and artist… until I created this container gardening oil painting – which I think reflects what I truly love, in terms of subject matter and style.

The last time I posted anything on my blog was almost a month ago, and I have also been minimally active on social media. The reason for this mini social media cleanse is that I have been busy attending a self-initiated summer “art bootcamp,” where I made it a point to keep my interactions with the outer world as minimal as possible. I have been in search for my true voice in both illustration and fine art, and to achieve this I had to bring the noise and the distractions to a bare minimum.

Container Gardening Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationAs a result of this mini social media (and real life) break, I was able to regroup, and be very mindful and thoughtful of the art I created. I freed my mind from obligations and worries – like social media posts – along with it the need to impress, express, or talk when all I needed was silence and peace of mind. I needed to know who I really was as an artist without any of the external factors that could sway my judgment or affect my behaviour.

Solitude, Container Gardening, and Artistic Style

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that solitude is a powerful thing. It helps us tap into who we really are and frees us from a lot of mental, emotional and even physical clutter.

When I wasn’t illustrating or learning something new about art and illustration, I spent my time container gardening. I got so much into it that it helped me phase out from art itself, and also helped take my mind off my little quest to hone my style. I got so busy looking for pantry seeds to grow, watering techniques and ways to keep a healthy homemade tiny garden. And in the simple act of container gardening came my most powerful inspiration.

Container Gardening Oil Painting by Yaansoon IllustrationOne day I got out my canvases, brushes and oil paints and started sketching and painting away. It was so effortless, honest and direct. It felt like the time was ripe for my style to come to fruition and become a reality. Something inside of me became more “flow-y,” less controlling, and more at ease.

I can’t help but feel like gardening had a lot to do with my growth as an artist. When we first plant a seed in the little bit of soil we have, we need to give the seed the “solitude” it needs in order to grow. It needs to “hide” inside the soil for a while, meanwhile receiving the water and the kind of nurturing it needs before it “appears” in the world. A seed sprouts in its own time. I grew a handful of legumes the other day and noticed how each grew in their own time. The little green stems appeared in varying times above the ground, which I think is a powerful metaphor for our growth as people. No two artists are alike, and no two people are the same. We all bloom to our own rhythm, and there are no rules to when we will find our “voice” or “style” or even the kind of career we want to follow.

I hope you have enjoyed today’s post, and I do look forward to seeing you again in my next one!

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Illustrated YouTube Video: How to be Beautiful Inside Out (Part 2)

Living mindfully and training ourselves to monitor our own senses is crucial in today’s overly cluttered world, filled with so much noise and random hustle and bustle.

Today’s post is more or less a rehash from my previous post titled, “Illustrated Infographic: How to be Beautiful Inside Out.” I created this video (above) using elements from the aforementioned illustration, and also expanded on the topic by creating a few more illustrations around the topic of “inside-out beauty.”

We need to make sure that we are in charge of our senses, which are the channels by which we communicate with the world around us, to be able to feel beautiful and live a happy and fulfilled life.

Here’s a flat lay of the contents of this video. Thanks for stopping by and I do hope to see you in my next post!

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Travel Illustration: 10 Things to Pack When You’re Traveling to Morocco

Travel Illustration: 10 Things to Pack When You're Traveling to Morocco | By Yaansoon IllustrationEverything about Morocco is exquisite and special! Its architecture, home decor, food, local fashion and traditions, are all a delight to the senses. Rich with colour, motifs and patterns, Morocco is not like any other country. This North African gem is steeped in tradition, yet very hospitable and welcoming of visitors from all corners of the globe. To make sure you are prepared to experience the Moroccan culture, here are a few fundamental packing tips to help you pack.

The following suggested list includes the very basics, but you can always build on it. It’s also a list for the ladies, as I am sure men have different needs that I myself wouldn’t know very much about :)

  1. Souvenirs: Bring along a few light-weight souvenirs that reflect the culture of your country, but make sure nothing in there is too controversial or culturally offensive (I drew a Dala Horse in my illustration above, assuming the traveller in question is from Sweden). Moroccans are very hospitable, so don’t be too surprised if a total stranger insists on inviting you over to a family meal at their own home. Be prepared with a few interesting trinkets as a thank-you gesture.
  2. 1 pair of sneakers: You will need them for hikes and long walks around Morocco’s beautiful souks and markets.
  3. Socks
  4. 1 pair of flip-flops
  5. 1 pair of loose-fit jeans: Baggy jeans are your best bet as they won’t attract unnecessary attention in public souks. Since it can get very hot during the summer, a loose-fit will also help you stay cool. The general etiquette in Morocco for Women usually involves modest clothing.
  6. At least one long-sleeved shirt, that is also loose-fitting: If you’re planning to visit one of Morocco’s beautiful Mosques, you will need modest clothing for the occasion.
  7. A scarf: Having a scarf on hand is a great idea, especially if you happen to pass through a religious corner (Zawya) or district.
  8. Sunscreen: The sun in Morocco can be very intense during summertime. You will most probably get a tan by just walking down the street during daytime!
  9. Your mobile phone
  10. Your charger + adapter

My enchantment with Morocco began as a little child. Back then I had no idea I actually had Moroccan ancestry from my mother’s side. I found out relatively recently that I have a great great grandfather from Morocco, and then one of his descendants married a Moroccan lady. I couldn’t be happier knowing I actually had roots in a culture I so admired and found to be so inspiring and resourceful.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s illustrated post. I look forward to seeing you in my next one!

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