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The situation in Syria has led many people to ask - what can we do to help? One woman answered that question by putting together a cookbook. It came out in the U.S. earlier this year and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Syrian refugees. NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us about "Soup For Syria."
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Barbara Massaad is a cookbook author and photographer who, like so many of us, is heartbroken by the plight of Syrian refugees. She lives in Beirut, Lebanon. So when winter approached and the weather got cold, she decided to visit a refugee camp nearby.
BARBARA MASSAAD: I just want to go and see what's happening. So I went, and I started taking photographs.
ULABY: As a mother of three, Massaad was particularly touched by the children there. She wanted to raise awareness, maybe by writing a cookbook about the food the refugees actually eat. But - let's be real - who wants to eat like a refugee? Then...
MASSAAD: A friend of mine called me one day. And she said, hey, Barb, why don't we make soups and we just give them out to refugees?
ULABY: They did - at a farmers market Massaad helps run in Beirut.
MASSAAD: We made, like, really hearty soups with beans and vegetables and pasta.
ULABY: The idea struck for a cookbook to benefit refugees, devoted entirely to soup. Massaad called on an all-star lineup of culinary celebrities for help.
MASSAAD: The first big name I got - I'm friends with Alice Waters. I contacted her. And of course, everything that has to do with humanitarian efforts, she was like, of course.
ULABY: And of course, Waters is famous for pioneering farm-to-table cooking. Other luminaries include TV host and writer Anthony Bourdain; the Israeli-British restauranteur Yotam Ottolenghi, who wrote the cookbooks "Jerusalem" and "Plenty"; and Mark Bittman, the best-selling author of "How To Bake Everything".
MARK BITTMAN: It's an easy (laughter) - it's an easy ask.
ULABY: Bittman is fond of food from Lebanon and Syria. And he says you feel connected to a place when you enjoy its cuisine, eating it or making it. Still, when it came to this cookbook...
BITTMAN: (Laughter) I gave them something that's quite the opposite. I gave them a Korean soup recipe. But they wanted to put together a cookbook that had an international flair to it, and it seems that's what they've got.
ULABY: With soup recipes like Armenian cabbage, Iranian pomegranate, Portuguese chickpea and Turkish black-eyed pea with lamb and noodles, Barbara Massaad wanted them to be easy to follow with easy-to-find ingredients.
MASSAAD: I didn't want to be patronizing, you know, with the recipes? And, like, you have a refugee, and then you have this expensive soup. So I did take that into consideration when I chose the recipes for the book.
ULABY: Something about soup bridges cultures, says Massaad. It's universal comfort food.
MASSAAD: It's special, soup. I think it was meant to be that it's a soup cookbook.
ULABY: So far, "Soup For Syria" has been published in the U.S., the U.K., Italy and the Netherlands. It's about to come out in Germany and Turkey. All proceeds benefit the U.N.'s work with refugees and other charities on the front lines of assisting them, like the Syrian American Medical Society that runs hospitals in refugee camps. And with very little attention or publicity, "Soup For Syria" has already raised more than $300,000.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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