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A conversation with Angél Roy

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Angél Roy works as an inside sales manager for an aircraft-refurbishment company, but her other calling is as soup chef for the Bulgarian Macedonian National Educational and Cultural Center. The West Homestead nonprofit hosts Soup Sega ("soup now") on Saturday mornings, selling a variety of prepackaged homemade soups as a fund-raiser. Soups can be purchased 9 a.m.-noon each Saturday through April (449 W. Eighth Avenue, West Homestead. 412-461-6188).

 

This is the center's seventh year selling soup, so it's been successful.

The very first Saturday seven years ago, we had prepared and cooked, and we thought we had enough soup. We had about 300 quarts and we were sold out by 11 a.m. We all looked at each other and thought, "What do we do now?"

 

Do you just offer Bulgarian soups?

We started out with 15 soups -- all Bulgarian recipes -- but a lot of them are common to many cultures, like chicken soup and lentil soup; everyone has their own little twist on it. For the most part, they're pretty universal soups, but we market them by Bulgarian regions: That's why you see names like Strandja lentil, Pirin white bean, Dobrudja tomato mushroom.

 

What are some things that distinguish Bulgarian soups?

Bulgarian soups and stews are very well seasoned -- not necessarily hot -- but spicy and flavorful. Mint is used a lot, and so is dill. And the farina dumplings that we make for the soups are much lighter; they're not like the heavy German dough dumplings.

 

Which soups are most popular?

Our biggest seller is the chicken and dumplings. Cabbage and tomato is another big one.

We had a sauerkraut-and-bean soup that was very Bulgarian, but just a few people really liked it. We had two different zucchini soups we tried, and they just didn't go over. But most of the soups have been here from the beginning; the newer ones are the bean soup and the wheat soup.

 

Wheat soup?

It's a bulgur wheat, little round kernels, the cracked wheat. That one's a little spicy.

 

I see you offer Spicy African Yam. That doesn't sound very Bulgarian.

About four years ago, I wanted to branch out into specials and feature a soup from another culture. So I did a lot of research to find recipes. Now I make one special soup for each month, and that has been extremely popular. But then I think people are coming not because it's Bulgarian soup, but because it's soup. It's homemade, it's a whole meal in one bowl, it's convenient, it's nutritious, low fat. We don't add a lot of salt or use any preservatives. And, I do let people know which soups are vegetarian, which ones are vegan -- and also which ones are gluten-free.

 

Are you of Bulgarian descent?

Not at all. I'm completely Western European -- Irish, French and German. But I danced with the Junior Tamburitzans when I was little, so that's how I got into the whole folk thing. I moved back to Pittsburgh in 1989 and became involved again -- first with the dance ensemble, then with the board, and then the soup idea came up. I've always loved to cook. I'm not professionally trained -- I learned from my mother and grandmother, and just figured it out on my own.

 

Do you cook the soups all in one day?

I start cooking in mid-August, and stocking up to get ready for September when we open. Which is quite fun: You're cooking five pots of soup and it's 90 degrees outside, and it's 110 in the kitchen! We package the soup in quarts, and freeze it. Then, once sales start, I keep an eye on my stock levels and remake what we're short of.

 

Do you have to look for soup recipes that will translate well to a 10-gallon pot?

Yes. There are certain soups that don't freeze well, so I've got to keep away from very creamy soups. I have to use ingredients that aren't wildly expensive -- I'm not going to make lobster bisque -- and that are accessible. But that said, trying to find more unusual ingredients has been half the fun, like going to an Indian store for curry leaves. I just made a black-eyed pea soup with the curry leaves. I'd never used them before, but they added a wonderful aroma.

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