Soup – it’s the comfort food of the world. And it’s about to live up to its power to heal, warm and, yes, comfort with more than just sustenance.
“Soup for Syria: Building Peace Through Food” (www.soupforsyria.com) is a new cookbook written with the more than 4 million refugees in Syria’s ongoing humanitarian crisis in mind. The project intends not to make money for the publisher and author, but to contribute profits from sales to U.N. refugee agency UNHCR to help fund relief efforts.
Food writer and photographer Barbara Abdeni Massaad bet on the power of soup to inspire a cause. A resident of Beirut who has lived in the United States, Massaad is a founding member of Slow Food Beirut and author of the award-winning cookbooks “Man’oushé,” “Mouneh” and “Mezze.”
“My role is purely humanitarian,” Massaad said in an email from Beirut. “Feed the body, feed the soul.”
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By the time she finished the “Soup for Syria,” Massaad had collected recipes from some of the world’s A-list cookbook authors and chefs: Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (“Jerusalem”); Paula Wolfert (“The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean”); Claudia Roden (“A Book of Middle Eastern Food”).
And from a farmhouse with a wrap-around porch near the little foothills town of El Dorado came a recipe from chef Carolyn Kumpe. Her recipe for creamy apple parsnip soup will share company with soupe pistou from Anthony Bourdain and carrot soup from Alice Waters, among many others.
“Hundreds of recipes were donated from all over the world,” Massaad said. “We tested all the recipes to see which ones were the best and that’s how the selection was done.”
Kumpe said her inclusion in the book came as a surprise.
“I don’t consider myself a celebrity chef,” she said in her small, well-designed kitchen equipped with a Blue Star stove and metro shelving. “I’m more like a food fanatic. To be in the presence of these authors – wow, I have all their books. These people are my masters.”
Kumpe first cooked professionally while a journalism student at the University of Kansas. Day after day at a French bistro, she produced croissants and pain au chocolate using Julia Child’s recipes, and pizza dough and French sauces.
Arriving in San Francisco, she was experienced enough to land a job as lunch chef at Il Fornaio. From there she cooked at Rosalie’s with chef-mentor Rosemary “Rick” O’Connell, then at Zuni Café, Foreign Cinema and Bizou.
Once settled in Placerville with her then-husband, she opened Charlotte’s Bakery, which closed in 2006. Not long after that she sold restaurant equipment at East Bay Restaurant Supply in Sacramento, running the store’s cooking school and calling on Sacramento chefs as teachers.
These days, Kumpe tends chickens and a herd of goats on 5 acres. From her foothills base she develops recipes for wineries, websites and restaurants. She also styles food for photography. In addition, she’s executive chef of Vendage & Co., which caters corporate and private events.
Kumpe’s “Soup for Syria” story began on her farmhouse computer. She was on a quest for Aleppo pepper. Paprika wouldn’t do. “Aleppo was super trendy,” Kumpe said.
It’s a deep, red pepper in a flaky grind with the medium heat of an ancho chili, and with a slow-moving kick. It takes the name of the ancient international city famed for its own cuisine in Syria’s now-volatile north.
Kumpe ordered it online.
“At the bottom of the page was (a list of) people who also bought this item,” she recalls. That’s when her gaze fell on the name Barbara Massaad.
“I knew nothing about Syrian or Lebanese food, so I bought one of her books and started following her blog,” Kumpe said.
The blog, “My Culinary Journey Through Lebanon,” is where Massaad showcases her food writing and photography. When Kumpe checked out the site, she “fell in love with her writing.”
Then she saw the call for soup.
Kumpe is no stranger to recipe requests – or contests. And winning them. She’s taken $1,000 prizes with sponsored recipes spotlighting peanuts, barbecue and watermelon. When money wasn’t the prize, she’s won two espresso machines, Rachel Ray cookware, 15 pounds of chocolate and a year’s supply of canned blueberries.
She understood that submitting a recipe to “Soup for Syria” was a donation, but Kumpe says she knew little else about the book, or that perhaps the globe’s hottest chef, Israel-born Yotam Ottolenghi, would be first to step up. “I just thought it was a fabulous project,” Kumpe says.
Her first submission was pumpkin soup with her new favorite spice – Aleppo pepper. Massaad rejected it, saying it was too difficult and that she was looking for simpler recipes that could feed 20 or so people. Kumpe’s creamy apple parsnip soup fit the bill.
Kumpe can taste and formulate recipes in her head. Coming up with a complex union of savory leeks, sweet-tart apples and earthy, nutty, parsnips, Kumpe made a sub-floor for upper notes from the cider vinegar, then a light touch of the baking spices cinnamon and nutmeg.
“It has an unctuous, creamy texture that soothes the soul and satisfies the tummy with, I think, just the right amount of fat to round out the palate,” she says.
For garnish and contrast against the pale background, there’s a choice of chives, chervil, scallions, bacon bits, sour cream or crème fraîche, freshly grated nutmeg or chopped parsley.
She was notified by email that her recipe would be in the book.
“Here I am, this crazy goat lady, out in the middle of nowhere,” Kumpe says. “… I had no idea that what started out as a simple cause, a wonderful vision, a gesture to help the Syrian cause has turned into this global cry for help.”
It wouldn’t have been the same if the book had, for example, focused on side dishes for Syria.
“Every time my son comes home and smells chicken stock, he says ‘Soup!’” Kumpe said. “Soup takes a long time to cook. You can be pensive. It makes your house smell good.”
Then Kumpe remembered a maxim from German composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
“He said only the pure of heart can make good soup.”
Soup For Syria
Release date: Tuesday, Sept. 15
Info: Pre-orders available at Interlink Publishing; www.interlinkbooks.com; 800-238-LINK
Creamy apple parsnip soup
2 tablespoons safflower, sunflower or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 medium leeks, green part removed, chopped and washed, or 2 large sweet onions, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
1 bay leaf
1 spring fresh rosemary, thyme or sage
6 cups chicken broth
1 pound parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 large Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 sweet-tart apples, such as Fuji or Granny Smith, peeled, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup hard cider
1/2 cup heavy cream
Additional freshly grated nutmeg, for sprinkling
Optional garnishes: minced chives, chervil, scallions, bacon bits, sour cream or crème fraîche, chopped parsley
Heat the oil and butter in a large soup pot on medium-low heat, until butter melts. Add the leeks (or onions) along with a pinch of salt. Cook on low until the leeks are soft, about 8 minutes. Add the honey, bay leaf and herb spring. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Pour in the chicken broth. Add the parsnips, potatoes and apples. Cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes, or until pieces are tender. Discard the bay leaf and herb sprig.
Allow soup to cool.
Puree cooled soup with a stick blender, food mill or food processor. With soup back in its original pot, stir in the apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, nutmeg and hard cider. Stir in cream. Season with salt and pepper. Set soup on low heat, warming gently. Do not allow the soup to boil.
Ladle into soup bowls. Sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg and optional garnishes of choice.