In the avalanche of cookbooks that publishers release as the end of the year, “Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity” caught my eye. Not only does is it feature soup recipes from some of the biggest names in the food world today (Anthony Bourdain, Mark Bittman, Yotam Ottolenghi, Alice Waters, Ana Sortun) it is beautifully illustrated with photos of Syrians who are currently living in refugee camps in Lebanon.
“Soup for Syria” was born out of the inspiration of Barbara Abdeni Massaad, an award-winning cookbook author and photographer who lives in Beiruit, Lebanon. Barbara lives within an hour of one of the refugee camps that is housing some of the 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon who have fled civil war.
The winters are cold in Lebanon, and last year the local news had been reporting that children were struggling to survive in the thin, plastic tents where they sought shelter with their families.
Barbara went to see for herself. “The enormity of this humanitarian crisis hit me like a ton of bricks,” she writes in the introduction to “Soup for Syria.” “Why has the world abandoned the Syrian refugees?”
She resolved to help. So each week she has been loading up her car with pots, pans, and fresh vegetables from the market and driving to the camp to make soup. Lots of it. She now feeds close to 50 families, who all pitch in to help make a simple meal for many.
To expand her efforts, she approached Interlink Publishing with the idea for a cookbook whose proceeds would go directly toward food and essential foodstuffs for Syrian families in need.
“I thought it was brilliant idea from someone with a big heart. But I thought it was also an opportunity to make a big impact,” says Michel Moushabeck, publisher and president of Interlink. “I was convinced that if we could get celebrity chefs to donate a soup recipe we would have a larger chance of selling many copies throughout the world to turn this into an international movement to help the refugees.”
That is exactly what is happening. To date, Mr. Moushabeck says sales of the book in the United States and Britain have raised close to $300,000. And it’s only been on sale for month, with both press runs selling out almost immediately. Supporters have been hosting their own soup parties and selling the book, donating all proceeds to international relief groups that are supporting Syrian refugees, such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
“I didn’t hesitate for a minute I think it is great idea,” says Ana Sortun, an award-winning chef in Cambridge, Mass., who contributed a white turnip and hazelnut soup recipe. “The recipes in that book are all about comfort, they are all about deliciousness, warmth, nourishment. I feel like when you read the recipes, they are very simple and there is a beauty to that.”
I was compelled to make a simple Chicken Soup contributed by Helena Zakharia, who is a friend of Barbara’s and a cooking, baking, and cake-decorating instructor based in Lebanon.
A word of note about many of the recipes in “Soup for Syria”: They are simple but international in flavor. For instance, the chicken soup recipe I made calls for the juice of two lemons. I know from experience that would be too much for my tastes, so I dropped it down to the juice of one lemon.
“There is a lot of sourness in Middle Eastern cooking, they crave it – way more lemon than our culture! They like the acidity to cut through something thick like chicken broth,” says Ms. Sortun. But the citrus is also really good for you, she adds.
To learn how to host your own fundraising soup party, visit www.soupforsyria.com
Recipe from “Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity,” Collected and Photographed by Barbara Massaad
3 chicken legs, fat removed
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
Salt, to taste
2 zucchinis, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 tomato, finely chopped
4 to 5 tablespoons broken vermicelli
Juice of 1 to 2 lemons
1 small bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1. Place the chicken in a large pot with 8 cups (2 l) water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming off any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to simmer, and add the onion, cinnamon, allspice, and salt. Simmer gently until chicken is cooked, about 45 minutes. Continue to skim off the foam occasionally.
2. Lift the chicken from the broth and set aside to cool. Remove the bone, cartilage, and skin from the chicken and discard. Separate the meat into small pieces.
3. Add the chopped vegetables to the broth and cook until tender, about 25 minutes. Add the chicken pieces, vermicelli, and lemon juice. Adjust the seasoning and simmer for a few more minutes until the vermicelli is cooked al dente.
4. Serve steaming hot and topped with chopped parsley.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for me to be part of this amazing project. I enjoyed sharing my family’s soup recipes. What a blessing it was for me and my daughter, Maya, to be able to participate in such a worthy cause and to meet such amazing people.” —Helena Zakharia