Each month we profile a different Canadian Food Blogger who is part of the FBC community. This month we meet Waseem who believes the Arab cuisine is very vegan-friendly, and loaded with wholesome plant-based options.
Name: Waseem Hijazi
Blog name: Plant Based Arab
Where were you born? I was born in Jordan.
Where are you living now? I moved to Halifax (Canada) 15 years ago, and have been living here ever since.
Why did you start your blog?
I’ll first answer with a fun fact: My blog wasn’t born vegan. It started as an idea to share the recipes of the food I was taking with me to work. My coworkers would smell it while reheating in the microwave, and gather around to ask about today’s dish and how it’s made. Eventually it became a ‘meeting spot’ for taste-testing, where I would invite them to give it a try. Years down the road I figured, why not share the recipes publicly so that they (and maybe others) can make their own at home!
It was just before the pandemic hit. I made a “New Year’s Resolution” for 2020 to make it a year focused on improving my health and wellbeing. To hold myself accountable, I decided to focus on one aspect each month by creating a 30 Day Monthly Challenge, documenting my journey on Instagram through summary posts.
One of those challenges happens to be a 30 Day Vegan Challenge. It was so inspiring that I started looking deeper into the benefits of Plant Based eating, and how that might affect my eating habits/cultural foods. After almost two years since first launching, I decided to rebrand from demeals to Plant Based Arab.
How did you decide on your blog name?
When it first launched, it was under the name “demeals” (Delicious Easy Meals). Which is what I felt suited the type of recipes I was sharing at the start. As I dug deeper into the vegan Arab cuisine, I rebranded to Plant Based Arab. I wanted the name to best resemble what I do and what people can find on the blog.
What do you blog about?
Everything around the vegan Arab cuisine! Most of what I share on the blog (and social channels) are recreations of traditional Arabic recipes, with a plant based twist. I also create content showcasing the naturally-vegan Arabic dishes (read this article for 6 of my favourite recipes). Often creating video tutorials on “How to’s” and tips around the kitchen.
Is your blog your business, your hobby or something in between?
While I am not currently monetizing from my website (through ads), being a content creator is my full time job / business. I’m fortunate to be able to create digital content through sponsorships with trusted brands that I use in my recipes anyway.
It’s a way to introduce new products to my viewers, while providing them with valuable content and recipes that they want to try. With the addition to joining affiliate programs, to recommend other products/equipment I use regularly in my kitchen. Finally, I offer recipe eBooks with organized information to help make cooking a little more fun and easier.
What post on your blog most encapsulates you and why?
So many recipes are special to me. But Yalanji has an extra special place on my blog! Stuffed Grape Leaves. It’s my all-time favourite food, ever. I share about that in my post by talking about the vine leaves we grew in our garden back home. I share the different variations that I grew up eating when we ran out of the leaves. How they take forever to make. And so much more!
It’s truly a food that’s always made with love. And I think I wrote that post feeling the same way.
Which post do you wish received more love and why?
This addictive dessert definitely deserves more love. Simply because it’s so easy to make. A Coconut Semolina Cake called “Hareeseh” (amongst many other names). It has the perfect amount of sweetness, with a fun combination of texture. Soaked in a delicate rosewater simple syrup with an almond on top. Pair it up with a hot cup of tea for the most irresistible treat!
Which post’s success surprised you and why?
I would have to say Makloubeh (Palestinian Flipped Rice). It’s a cultural dish that’s made in a large pot with layers of vegetables followed by rice. All cooked together then flipped upside-down (hence the name). A famous centrepiece that’s always served to a crowd.
I first shared my vegan recipe on the classic Makloubeh, using a homemade ‘meat’ replacement. It gained popularity within the community when I first posted it (almost two years ago). Especially the video recipes I published across social channels. It still gains attraction today. There have been multiple remakes on the dish, with satisfying positive feedback!
I think it was a surprise to me because I wasn’t sure how people would respond to a “non-authentic” meat version of the traditional national dish. Especially seeing as I used a mixture of tofu, chickpeas, and walnuts in the recipe. Not surprising though, there was some criticism over it. But that’s the internet!
What’s your biggest challenge as a blogger?
Managing my time *efficiently*. I used to be known as the organized guy around my friends and colleagues. I work well while following systems, but it’s been challenging to build one for myself.
There are lots of hours spent behind a screen (for research, editing, writing, publishing, etc.), or in the kitchen testing recipes and filming, and more. No matter how organized I try to be, sometimes things can get all over the place.
Running my own business and balancing life can get difficult at times. But every now and then, I find myself looking for new ways to improve my workflow. And I’m slowly getting there!
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a blogger?
A break from creativity can create a lot of inspiration. Take time to unwind and recharge. You can’t do everything. You can’t make everyone happy. Stay focused on you and don’t compare yourself to others. Rather, learn from them and cheer them on, and you’ll find yourself being cheered by others.
What has been your biggest success as a blogger so far?
Above all, every time I see a remake of one of my recipes I count it as a big success. Not because my recipe was made and enjoyed by someone. But because someone trusted me to try one of my recipes.
Professionally speaking, partnering with Pinterest has been my biggest success. Catching the eyes of someone who works at Pinterest, where they reach out and ask if I’d be interested in collaborating by creating a recipe that celebrates my culture, is definitely the highlight of my blogging career. The content ended up being featured on Global News, during a Pinterest interview.
Share a couple of your favourite food blogs to read. Why do you like them?
- Nadia’s Healthy Kitchen: If you have a sweet-tooth, and want simple recipes to enjoy for a quick treat, you have to check out Nadia’s blog. She mostly shares dessert (and snack) recipes that are made with a handful of ingredients. Besides, her food photography is just thumb-stopping worthy!
- PlantBasedRD: Catherine is a vegan registered dietitian that shares an array of plant based recipes. Always incorporating her nutritional tips in easy digestible matter (no pun intended). Her content helped me greatly with my plant based journey, even before deciding to make the full switch. She shares simple vegan and balanced recipes that'll hit the spot every time!
What are you working on next for your blog?
It’s been a long time coming, but I will start a Newsletter soon! I’d like to connect deeper with my community, and reach out to the current subscribers from my mailing list. As well as focusing on improving my SEO to have better rankings and reach a wider audience. Plus a few other projects are in the works (stay tuned)!
What else should we know about you that may or not be in your “About Me” page?
Living far from home, I find myself turning to food more and more to bring me closer to family and culture. For a while though, I struggled to get a handle on keeping up with my home cooking for a balanced diet. Especially during my university years juggling a full-time job at a famous fast food chain. It was hard to pass on the free meals 5 days a week..
Now, I enjoy cooking and feeding people more than eating the food I make. Sometimes it feels the same when sharing recipes online with the community at PBA!
I’m fortunate to have a platform that motivates me to continue creating dishes that take me back home.
I wrote my ‘About Me’ page in a story-like format. It’s my special way of introducing myself to new readers and sharing about my background through snapshots of my journey. Check it out and give it a read here, if you’re interested in learning more 🙂
What makes your blog unique?
Many people around the world are enjoying classic Arabic food on the daily, not knowing that they’re naturally vegan. Take Hummus for example. An essential dish that everyone loves. My blog sheds light on the fact that the Arab cuisine is loaded with vegan options, and can easily be veganized.
I think what makes it unique is the way I try to find alternatives (or make my own at home) to recreate traditional meat & dairy based dishes, but vegan. Especially when incorporating foreign ingredients to the cuisine (like tofu) to mimic chicken or beef. It’s crucial that my recipes resemble the closest version of the authentic traditional food I grew up eating, without compromising on taste or texture.
How do you cultivate a sense of community around your blog?
I connect with the community at PBA directly through DMs, surveying the audience via Instagram Stories, and replying to every comment I receive on my post or blog. It’s one of my greatest joys to interact with friends online and chat about food and culture. I also encourage the readers to leave a review (or ask any questions) about the recipe they’ve tried, and give it a rating, so that I can learn about their experience and improve my content for them.
What part of the FBC site do you find most useful?
I often visit many of the tools under the Blogging Resources section. There are lots of helpful articles on how to improve my blog as a business. My favourite would likely be the Blogging 101 articles. I find them very refreshing to reset my focus on the basics every now and then!
Follow Waseem and Plant Based Arab on Social Media