Elliott Bay Book Company event coordinator Rick Simonson first met Barbara Abdeni Massaad when she was in Seattle to help Wassef Haroun prepare to open the restaurant that would eventually become Mamnoon. The Mamnoon crew would meet for planning sessions over coffee in Elliott Bay’s cafe, and eventually they came to be fixtures at the bookstore. Massaad even attended Elliott Bay’s exclusive, invite-only 40th anniversary party — “she had come farther than anyone for our party, from Beirut,” Simonson recalls.
Massaad eventually began collecting recipes from her native Syria and self-publishing them as collected cookbooks. Soon enough, a Massachusetts-based publisher of Middle Eastern books, Interlink, offered to publish her work. When Syria became a focus of international attention, Simonson explains, Massaad and Interlink decided to help as best they could, and the idea for Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity was born. Massaad recruited 80 chefs to contribute soup recipes for the book — contributors include Anthony Bourdain and Mark Bittman — with the proceeds benefitting Syrian refugees.
The book has been a labor of love since the beginning. Elliott Bay teamed with Mamnoon to host a sit-down dinner with recipes from the book to benefit Medecins Sans Fronteras and MercyWorks. Now Massaad’s good work is inspiring “Soup Parties” around the country, in which people open their home to friends, cook recipes from Soup for Syria together, and raise funds to send to Syrian refugees.
Soup for Syria has been on Elliott Bay Book Company’s bestseller list for some time now. “It’s been our best-selling cookbook this season,” Simonson says. At first, he explains, large west coast book distributor Ingram only had “40 or 50” copies of the book in stock, but interest was so high they now carry more than 500 copies of the book at any moment, to keep up with interest. “The first printing has already sold out,” Simonson says, shaking his head. It’s crossing over from “popular” into “phenomenon” territory, a book that appeals to foodies, to people who want to helpl Syrian refugees, and to anyone looking for a good bowl of soup to fend off the dark Seattle winter. In other words, it’s pretty much the perfect holiday gift book.