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Celebrate Haiti's Independence with Soup Joumou, Haitian Squash Soup

Celebrate Haiti's Independence with Soup Joumou, Haitian Squash Soup

Haiti's history is truly remarkable. After hundreds of years of brutal slavery as part of the French colonial empire, the slaves on the French-controlled part of the island of Hispaniola (present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) rebelled and overthrew the French, creating the world's first black republic in 1804. On January 1st, Haiti celebrates that independence, and a central part of that celebration is soup joumou.

Soup joumou is a hearty squash soup with meat and local vegetables, shared widely with friends and neighbors on Haitian Independence Day, but also for Sunday breakfast and in community celebrations. According to tradition, only the slave masters were allowed to eat soup joumou in the pre-revolutionary era; afterwards, sharing soup joumou became a celebration of equality and freedom.

Shared with new colleagues on our first day in Haiti, its spicy complexity was a reminder of how much we had (and have) to learn. Offered as an invitation from new neighbors to ring in the New Year, soup joumou was a reminder that food is always best shared. As a dish we now cook together for our guests, it is a reminder that home can come in many flavors. Despite all the hardships that face this tiny island nation, the spicy complexity and heritage of soup joumou is a reminder of a strong people, and a proud history of incredible resilience and independence in the face of daunting odds.

Yield: Serves 8 as a main dish

Ingredients:

  • 1½ pounds beef stew chunks, cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup leeks, finely chopped
  • ½ cup green onions or shallots, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme, washed and tied with twine
  • 3 cups calabaza squash, seeded and peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces (can substitute butternut squash or pumpkin)
  • 2 medium carrots, cut uniformly in small pieces
  • 7 cups low-sodium beef broth (can substitute chicken or vegetable broth)
  • ½ cup (half bunch) flat-leaf parsley, washed and tied with twine
  • 2 Scotch bonnet peppers, whole (can substitute jalapeño peppers)
  • 1 pinch cloves
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
  • ¹/4 head small green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • Juice of 3 Key limes (approximately 1 regular lime), plus wedges for serving
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. In a large soup pot, heat oil on high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the meat and brown thoroughly on all sides, approximately 5–10 minutes.
  2. Remove the meat from the pot, and set aside. Leave the oil in the pot.
  3. Add the onions, leeks and green onions to the pot. Cook on high for 10–15 minutes until they are soft and a golden brown.
  4. Add the garlic, green pepper and celery and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute more.
  5. Add the thyme, squash, carrots and beef broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook on low heat for 45 minutes, or until squash and carrots can be smashed easily with a fork.
  6. Remove the soup from the heat, remove the thyme bundle, and puree until it is a smooth texture. Soup joumou can be a wide range of textures, so thin with water to your preference.
  7. Return the pureed soup and thyme bundle to a large, clean pot and add the cooked beef, parsley, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves and nutmeg.
  8. Bring the soup to a simmer on medium-low heat covered and cook for an additional 45 minutes.
  9. After 45 minutes, add the potatoes and turnip and continue to simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and turnip are cooked through.
  10. Add cabbage and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  11. Remove the thyme, parsley and Scotch bonnet peppers and discard. Serve with salt, pepper, fresh lime juice and fresh parsley.
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