© 2016 Green Kitchen Stories yogurt_soup_1

Syrian Yogurt Soup + More Than Food

Today we are sharing the story of Suad and her family. As well as her recipe for this yogurt and rice soup. Suad is one of the 2,7 million Syrian refugees currently living in Turkey and this post is about bringing attention to their plight. I shared this story on instagram but wanted to take the opportunity to do it here as well.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the European Commission asked if we would be interested in meeting Syrian refugees living in and outside of camps in Turkey to bring home some of their stories, learn how modern food aid is working and explore the different aspects of food. It was doubtless the most meaningful request we have ever received and something we really wanted to do. Timing wise it wasn’t perfect as I had to leave Luise alone with the kids while she was 36 weeks pregnant. But she gave her blessing. So a few weeks ago, I went on this mission. I flew to Istanbul, Turkey on an early flight and then on to a domestic flight to Hatay, a few miles from the Syrian border. During my days there, I visited a refugee camp to see how it works and talked to some of the people living there. I got to know the WFP staff and was amazed by their compassion. I was also invited home to a few Syrian families living outside of camps. Their situation is often a lot more difficult than inside the camps, as they have more costs and less support but the families were incredibly friendly and inviting. We talked, drank tea, cooked together and shared food.

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Apart from Suad, I have also shared Emira’s story on instagram. As well as the story of Semira, who works as a Field Monitor Assistant for WFP and is one of the strongest and most loving persons I have ever met. I have also written about the E-cards that WFP have developed with help from the European Commission to support refugees and give them the ability to shop and choose food themselves. The trip was part of a initiative that WFP call More Than Food. Pauline and Rens will also be going on similar trips. Here is a short video that explains the project and the E-card a bit more.

It is very easy to look away from the horrible situation that is going on in Syria. But I hope that by reading these stories that do have bright moments in the midst of all the darkness, you will get a better understanding and openness towards the millions of Syrian people that have been forced from their homes and don’t wish anything more than being able to return to them one day. These people need to be heard. They are in my heart now and I hope they will be in yours too.

It was a very emotional trip and it affected me a lot deeper than I was prepared for. I am still trying to figure out what to comes next. Obviously, we want to continue working with recipe development and food photography as it is something we love doing. But it’s my hope and intention that we also will continue working more actively with human aid and support this cause any way we can in the future.

Enough about this. Here is Suad.

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(1/5) “I had everything before the war. My husband and I were the owners of a supermarket in Aleppo. We lived in a large and beautiful two-story house in a rural area. All my furniture was new – nothing was second hand – and we had many rooms. There was a big courtyard outside our house where the children played and rode their bicycles.“

*****

This is the story of Suad. She is Syrian and fled from her home together with her family when the conflict came to her town, 4 years ago. Suad is nine months pregnant and lives with her husband, their two sons Ahmed (10 years) and Muhammed (6 years) and their daughter Nurulhuda (12 years) in a small one-bedroom apartment in a rundown building in the old town of Antakya in Turkey, close to the Syrian border. Her parents and sisters live in an apartment one floor up. Her husband now works as a tailor so they can pay the rent. Even though they have lost everything, Suad is not broken. Her strength and pride really got to me. They can’t afford decorating their home but have instead made paper and textile decorations and drawings that are covering the walls inside, making it less a lodging and more of a home.
I had the honour to be welcomed into her home and I spent a day together with her and her family, listening to their story, drinking many cups of tea, going to the supermarket and preparing a dinner together.

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(2/5) “Back in Aleppo, we renovated our kitchen entirely when we got married. It looked very nice. It was a big, bright kitchen with a large marble countertop. The kitchen was the colour of cappuccino and some of the cabinets had glass doors. I used to place some of my finest colourful vases and glasses there, so you could see them through the glass.”

*****

I was invited into Suad’s kitchen to assist her in dinner preparations. There were no marble countertops. And no glass doors. But she still placed her best looking glasses and plates on the shelf above the sink, hiding the rest behind a curtain her husband had sewn. Due to the small space, we did all chopping and preparations while sitting on the living room rug. The family laughed at my difficulties sitting with my legs crossed on the floor doing the chopping and they kept telling me that the tomatoes needed to be more finely chopped for the tabbouleh. Her mother also pointed out that I had very thorough knife skills (meaning slow).

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(3/5) “My mother-in-law taught me most of these recipes in Aleppo, as she was living in our house. And cooking this reminds me of our life there. Now, my mother lives in the same house as us, so I am actually passing these recipes on to her and my daughter as well. Food means sharing to me – with my neighbours, friends and family. Before the conflict, we were a couple of families that took turns inviting each other over. We baked sweets, cooked food, ate and sang together. Now, the most important thing is to make sure my children aren’t hungry, but we still share food with our neighbours, even if it just is a small plate or the smell of our cooking. When we first arrived, we didn’t have any money to buy ingredients and therefore we had to eat whatever food was provided for us. But after we were approved for the e-food card we were able to buy our own ingredients, so now I can cook food that reminds me of home.”

*****
We prepared a Syrian version of Tabbouleh with cucumber, tomatoes, lemon, lettuce, fresh parsley, fresh and dried mint, pomegranate syrup, tomato paste and a finely textured bulgur. We also did a delicious yogurt, rice and mint soup called Lebeniyye, a fried eggplant dish with tomato sauce called Mutabbaqa and a vegetarian version of Kepse, which is a flavorful long-grain rice dish topped with toasted almonds and walnuts instead of meat.

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(4/5) Me being a man, a stranger in their house and also a foreigner, I was aware that my visit would be an awkward situation and a difficult environment for everyone to be relaxed in. And the first hours of conversation were quite honestly very polite and trembling. But something happened when we started cooking. Once we gathered around the ingredients and Suad started explaining the dishes we were making, she suddenly began smiling. In the complete sadness of their situation, food definitely brings out a spark of joy. It connected us. In-between exchanging chopping boards and mincing vegetables, they suddenly started asking me questions about how we eat in my country, how my kitchen looks and how we take care of the elderly in our families in Europe (her father gave me a disapproving mutter, when hearing my response). We started sharing photos of our children and all of a sudden, we weren’t strangers anymore.

We finished preparing the last recipe just as it got dark outside. Nurulhuda placed all the food on a large tray on the rug in the living room. Suad invited her children, parents, all her sisters and even the driver of our car to join. And with one spoon each, we all shared from the same plates. It is a very intimate way of eating, sitting on the floor, dipping our spoons into the same bowls of soup. They also ended the meal with a traditional Arabic saying: “Now that we have shared bread and salt, we are like relatives”.

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(5/5) “My story is the story of every Syrian”

*****
The Syria conflict is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis since World War II. There are currently over 2,7 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Only about 10% are living in refugee camps and have guaranteed access to food, shelter and basic needs. The rest are living off-camps – in small apartments, basements, garages and even caves.

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Lebaniyye – Syrian Yogurt Soup
Serves 4 

I was particularly intrigued by Suad’s Yogurt Soup as I had never tried anything similar before. Since I got back, I have now been cooking it a few times. Warm yogurt might sound awkward but I found its tanginess really tasty when combined with the mint and rice. Suad served it more as a starter (traditionally I believe it is served with meatballs) but I have taken the liberty to add a bit more topping to make it even more nourishing and flavourful. Suad also cooked the rice and yogurt together from the start but I found that if you don’t stay focused and stir continuously, there is a risk that the yogurt will curdle. So I instead cook the rice until it’s almost done before slowly stirring in the yogurt mixture. Make sure to check the cooking time for the rice. Our rice cooks in 30-35 minutes, but some are pre-steamed which would half the cooking time for the soup.

Yogurt Soup
1 cup / 200 g wholegrain rice or brown rice

5 cups / 1,25 liter vegetable stock (or water)
1 garlic clove, grated or finely chopped
4 cups / 1 liter full fat yogurt (we use Turkish yogurt)
1 egg
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tsp salt
black pepper
 
Garlic & Chili Oil
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tsp chili flakes 
 
To serve
2 cups /  500 ml cooked puy lentils (or chickpeas)
1 large handful fresh spinach
1 large handful fresh mint
1 large handful fresh parsley
Rinse the rice and add it to a large, thick-bottomed sauce pan along with vegetable stock and garlic. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down slightly until it simmers. Meanwhile, add yogurt and egg to a mixing bowl and whisk rapidly until combined and smooth. After the rice has cooked for about 20 minutes, add the cornstarch to the yogurt and then use a soup spoon to ladle some of the warm stock into the yogurt mixture while using your other hand to stir (this is to slowly heat the yogurt and prevent it from curdle when mixed with the rest of the stock and rice). Then pour the yogurt mixture slowly back into the large saucepan with rice and stock while stirring. Add mint, salt and black pepper. Keep the heat on low/medium, so it just barely simmers and keep stirring slowly but frequently. When the rice is cooked through and the soup has thickened slightly, it is ready. Taste and adjust the flavours to your liking (I find that it needs quite a bit of salt to balance the tanginess). Remove from the heat and prepare the Garlic & Chili Oil.
Heat oil in a small sauce pan on low/medium heat. When warm, add garlic and chili flakes, let sauté for about 45 seconds and then remove from the heat. Let steep while you ladle the soup into bowls and chop the spinach and herbs.
Top the soup with a generous scoop of lentils, chopped fresh spinach, mint, parsley and a drizzle of the Garlic & Chili Oil.

41 Comments

  1. Posted 17 Oct ’16 at 19:48 | #

    I studied abroad and lived in Syria for a year, so this is really wonderful to see. I love that bloggers are now reaching out to inspire, educate and change. x

  2. Sam
    Posted 17 Oct ’16 at 23:51 | #

    Loved this!
    Incredible story and that soup looks magical.

  3. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 01:00 | #

    Thank you thank you thank you. I’ve no words to describe how moved I’ve been by all of these stories and your photographs, as well as the recipe, which makes it seem so tangible and real. I struggle sometimes with how to comprehend and how to react to what I know is happening in the world, feeling so utterly powerless to change anything, not knowing whether to cry or scream in frustration and anger sometimes. Stories like this bring me back to the reality of what it is all really about: somebody else’s life as precious to them as mine is to me, their struggle to live well in the face of every kind of trouble. In these stories, although they don’t hide from how terrible the situations are, I was able to find an element of hope and inspiration. Thanks again.

  4. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 10:17 | #

    This is a wonderful post and don’t you just love this yoghurt soup? I am an American chef and food blogger living in Beirut and am working with various refugee groups here in the hope that they are able to take their culinary skills and make a living with them. I am continually struck by the cheerful nature and hope that resides within all of these people – most of whom have lost everything and have no home to return to. What I love the most is how it seems when food is involved many of the existing sectarian and political barriers are broken down and we’re all just human beings again. Thank you for your beautiful post and I hope you continue to share these stories.

    • Posted 21 Nov ’16 at 08:18 | #

      I absolutely agree how the table can bring people of all backgrounds together. Congrats to you for helping to empower refugees with a trade that makes a difference.

  5. Maria Morena
    Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 10:30 | #

    First of all, that soup looks spectacular. I have never heard of yogurt soup before but am very intruiged to try it. Secondly, I loved reading Suad’s story, it is so important to talk about this. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 10:39 | #

    Thank you so much for sharing this touching story.. I was really moved by your description and the connection you’ve established there. Thank you for bringing a bit of their culture with this recipe! Do you think this would work with plant-based yoghurt?

  7. Vera
    Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 10:47 | #

    Dear David, today I am only able to say: God bless you and your Family! And also whoever has it in his/ her heart to be moved by this (very real) story. Regardless of “what” God is to you, what religion you follow and, in this case, perhaps especially if your God is different from mine, may we always be able to reach out to any human being, any living creature that needs it. :)

  8. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 11:03 | #

    This such a sad and yet uplifting story. When I cook in my little kitchen at home, I feel so truly happy, our dog watching me from his bed and the radio playing in the background.

    To think that could all be taken away from me, through no fault of my own is heartbreaking. I cannot begin to imagine what it has been like for Suad and her family. Thank you for sharing her story and her recipes. Will you be sharing the one for the tabbouleh? It looks amazing.

  9. Sophie Cutler
    Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 12:07 | #

    Thank you for sharing. It must have been a giant leap out of your comfort zone, but it’s always those steps that are the most rewarding :) I will stay tuned with what you guys will be doing RE food aid etc.
    Much love x

  10. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 12:56 | #

    What an inspiring, moving story, especially after watching a disturbing report yesterday on the anti- regufee stance of a particularly vocal griup in Denmark( echoing of course the same stance we hear in the US from some politicians.) What I loved was the magic that came from cooking together in the kitchen. Thank you for making the trip and for sharing. By the way, there is a yogurt diup in South Adian cuisine as well. Thanks again!.

  11. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 14:27 | #

    Remarkably moving. I’m left speechless, as what words can do justice that injustice? Love that you two are able to bring this story to the forefront through the blog and cooking. You guys are my favorite. <3

  12. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 14:47 | #

    This is so heartfelt and beautifully written. Thank you for talking about this.
    Making this soup today. <3

  13. Sharon
    Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 15:02 | #

    What a moving story. Thank you so much for sharing. We can argue about whether to be vegan, gluten free, etc. But so many people have no choice. In this world full of hatred (and as an American I can say that during our presidential race one of our candidates is filled with hate) your story is like a beacon of light.

  14. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 17:08 | #

    Thank you for bringing this story (which represents so many, not only in Syria but around the world) to a larger audience. Your words and photographs are beautiful, inspiring and give a glimpse into a life unknown to most. Prior to my corporate career and life as a food blogger, I worked for the UN in Afghanistan. I lived in Kabul for a year (2005-2006) during a very tumultuous time, helping with reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts to stabilize the country. Today, 10 years later, those experiences are forever imprinted on me and profoundly shaped the person I am today. I imagine they’ll be the same for you. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  15. Posted 18 Oct ’16 at 21:00 | #

    Fantastic, important blog. Thank you for sharing this. We need more stories like this, about what unifies us rather than divides us.

  16. brigitte
    Posted 19 Oct ’16 at 13:32 | #

    Good Morning,
    A practical question: could greek yogourt work with it?
    the consistency matters I suppose..
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post!

  17. Posted 19 Oct ’16 at 16:07 | #

    what can my family do to help?

  18. Lena
    Posted 20 Oct ’16 at 11:44 | #

    Thank you so much for this!

  19. Posted 20 Oct ’16 at 14:52 | #

    First I Need to tell you it is so nice to see something different to try out new things in the kitchen. The other Thing is that you are really Special to share the Story of These lovely People here.

  20. Posted 20 Oct ’16 at 15:29 | #

    Wow, what a great article. I was looking for recipes but didn’t expect something as powerful as this. Well done you!

  21. Camille
    Posted 23 Oct ’16 at 10:54 | #

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful moment. That’s exactly what we need in this terrible time of wars and violence.

  22. Posted 23 Oct ’16 at 16:35 | #

    Wow, this article really struck a cord within me. It really shows that there can be positivity anywhere in the world, even what seems like the most impoverished and darkest places. Suad seems like such a beautiful human being, inside and out.

  23. Posted 23 Oct ’16 at 23:56 | #

    This is an exceptional experience and story. Thank you for bringing it to a larger audience!

  24. Mona
    Posted 24 Oct ’16 at 12:20 | #

    So happy to read about your experiences in Turkey and grateful that you took your time to give these people a voice. It makes all those talks and discussions in Europe completely stupid and senseless! No-one flees without absolutely having to! The Syrian yoghurt soup tasted amazing, by the way. I just told my friend about your story and we decided to cook this that evening. We were quiet skeptical to be honest and only made this as a starter. Warm yoghurt? Really?? But it was delicious! I made it already a second time since and told my mum about the recipe too. We topped it with spinach, mint, spring onion and chickpeas. Thank you and all the best for Louise!!!

  25. Posted 24 Oct ’16 at 16:43 | #

    Just to poke my nose in again here – this is such a fantastic article and it deserves as much conversation around it as possible. A few people have asked following this article what they can do to help with the refugee situation. This is something that has consumed me also – a friend who has been helping at the Calais ‘Jungle’ refugee camp recently wrote an article for my blog with some practical ideas on how we as the public can alleviate some suffering. Please do have a read if you have a chance:
    http://rebeccastonehill.com/guest-post/notes-from-the-calais-jungle-how-can-we-help/

  26. Posted 25 Oct ’16 at 05:00 | #

    This is really amazing. It’s good to see bloggers really reaching out to the community.

  27. Posted 26 Oct ’16 at 16:09 | #

    Most of the time, we only hear news about the air strikes in Syria but stories of survivors are not put on the spotlight. Thank you for sharing Suad’s story.

  28. Posted 26 Oct ’16 at 17:40 | #

    It was heart warming to read about Suad’s story and how despite the ordeal she has been through, she still has a passion for food. This article conveys the huge emotional stress of the situation beautifully.

  29. Posted 31 Oct ’16 at 03:18 | #

    Lovely looking recipe … hope the Syrian people have this nightmare of a conflict end soon!

  30. Claudia Zäch
    Posted 1 Nov ’16 at 19:00 | #

    Finally I subscribed!!
    Besides my work as a cooking teacher here in Bavaria, I am very involved in helping refugees in our village. Just a year ago, I started a new series of courses, where germans and refugees are cooking and sharing recipes together. It is such a joy, to see people, who have no common language yet, being able to communicate over food. We are sharing african, syrian, afghan, east-european delicacies, techniques and stories. Everyone has a great time and proudly presents their own masterpieces when we all sit down and feast at the end of each evening.
    One of the many positive aspects of the refugees coming to our countries is that we will all be influenced by their wonderful food!
    Thank you for the story and the wonderful recipe!

  31. Posted 2 Nov ’16 at 01:04 | #

    Love your post, and entire blog! :)
    Keep up the great content.

    XOXO Tia
    http://www.Skinnyfit.me

  32. Posted 2 Nov ’16 at 21:50 | #

    It looks so tasty , yummy :-)
    Visit me :-) http://www.mecooks.com

  33. Posted 5 Nov ’16 at 13:04 | #

    What a wonderful story. Thank you so much for sharing. That’s something we would like to think about while we are complaining about our lives forgetting what those people have to do to survive everyday.
    Great experience and I’m glad to found your blog.

    thebrunettetofu.blogspot.pt

  34. Danielle
    Posted 8 Nov ’16 at 20:03 | #

    I volunteer on a weekly basis to teach Syrian refugees in my area English. They always make delicious meals and treats for us out of their gratitude. I greatly appreciate this post and its ability to remove stigma, fear, and irrationality. If only people would see how powerful love, kindness, and food are in this world!

  35. Posted 9 Nov ’16 at 14:27 | #

    Love the recipe and this touching story! Thank you so much for sharing them!

  36. Johanna Wüschner
    Posted 13 Nov ’16 at 15:39 | #

    A really heart warming story. I´m moved and thank you for sharing Suad´s story. I helped in a refugee camp and learned much from these strong and brave people. Sadly most peolpe live their easygoing life and don’t think about the sad and hard life these refugees have to live.

    Greetings from Germany where the situation isn’t that bad anybody thinks.

  37. Posted 14 Nov ’16 at 10:56 | #

    It looks so delicious.

  38. Posted 21 Nov ’16 at 08:20 | #

    Thank you for sharing this experience and recipe. Your post was both touching and beautifully written.

  39. Posted 30 Nov ’16 at 00:37 | #

    Wonderful recipe with a great story behind it, Thanks for sharing!

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