Photo Credit: Ansamn
Soup Joumou: The Haitian Meal That Symbolizes Freedom
For Haiti, January 1st is more than just the start of a new year. It’s also the day that Haitian revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines declared the country’s independence from its French colonizers. One of the traditional rituals to observe this day is the preparation of soup joumou, an aromatic dish consisting of squash, beef, carrots, turnips, potatoes, macaroni, various vegetables, and fresh seasonings. More than just a nationally beloved meal, the soup has come to symbolize freedom.
“It was more so a representation of the Haitians getting the freedom from the French,” explained Chef Chris Viaud, “because the slaves were in charge of creating this soup for their masters but it was never something that they could enjoy. We get the scraps and the bones that come out of the soup pot. But once we gained our freedom we started creating the food for ourselves and putting our own love and soul and sharing it with our own community and families. And then from there, the recipes just get passed on from generation to generation.”
Viaud is the chef and owner of Greenleaf, a seasonally inspired farm-to-table restaurant based in Milford, New Hampshire. Viaud was also a contestant on Season 18 of Top Chef, Bravo’s culinary reality competition television series. The chef is the son of Haitian immigrants and remembers enjoying the savory meal for “breakfast, lunch, and sometimes dinner” on New Year’s Day as a teen. Even his earliest childhood memories include helping his mother grind herbs and spices for some of the braises and soups or making épices using a pilon (mortar and pestle). He would sit on the floor mashing the spices together to assist the process.
Recently, soup joumou was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List and awarded protected status. It’s a moment of pride for Viaud.
“To see that there is finally some recognition for something that we’ve been yearning for, for so long, and others are starting to respect our culture as something that is so unique, different, and important to society? It does create a large impact, and it helps provide the momentum and feeling that there’s more work to be done.”
Viaud admits making the hearty soup is a lengthy process. His family starts preparations from the night before — chopping vegetables and grinding spices. But no one minds because it’s an opportunity for a shared experience.
“We’re talking, we’re connecting, and just making sure that we’re having a good time sharing our stories.”
Viaud presents his culture through food at his other restaurant Ansanm, which serves authentic Haitian fare. He shared a recipe for soup joumou with Travel Noire’s readers.
Haitian Squash Soup Recipe
** This soup can be made as a vegetarian dish if desired or beef stew meat can be added.
Yields 8 Servings, 2 cups per serving
● 1 ½ pounds of beef stew meat (optional)
● 2 tbsp oil
● 1 medium yellow onion, diced
● 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
● 4 stalks of celery, diced
● About 2 pounds of butternut squash, peeled then chopped into ½ inch cubes
● 1 cup of leeks
● 2 large carrots, peeled then cut into small pieces
● 2 golden potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch pieces sliced thin
● ½ of a head of green cabbage
● 1 turnip, peeled, and cut into ½ inch pieces
● 2 stems of parsley
● 4 sprigs of thyme
● 6-8 cups of vegetable broth (can also use chicken or beef broth)
● Juice of 1 lime
● ½ pound of rigatoni
● 2 tbsp of butter
● Salt & Pepper to taste
● Cooking twine (to wrap the parsley & thyme together)
- Add the broth and squash to a large pot and bring to a boil.
a. Cook until squash is soft.
- In a separate pot, cook the rigatoni al dente (do not cook all the way through).
a. Make a bouquet with the parsley and thyme, tied with the cooking twine.
- While squash is cooking, in a different large pot, add oil and allow to get hot.
a. Add the meat and brown on all sides (add seasonings of choice).
b. Let cook for about 10 minutes.
c. Remove meat from pot and set aside, leaving oil in the pot.
d. **note, if not using meat, add oil to pot, and skip to step 4.
- Add onions, garlic, and leeks to hot oil and let cook until soft and golden brown.
a. Add the celery next, stirring frequently.
b. Add carrots and stir.
- Add the cooked squash to a blender or food processor and puree the squash.
a. Do not discard the water in which the squash was boiled (you’ll be using that
water in the next steps).
- Add the pureed squash to onion/leek/carrots mixture.
a. Add in reserved liquid from the squash to “thin” out the soup to your liking. (This
soup can range from thin to very thick so add in the liquid accordingly). If too
thick add more of the reserved liquid or some more broth.
b. Bring to a boil.
c. Add in the potatoes, turnip, and parsley bouquet.
d. Let cook for 6-8 minutes, then add in the cabbage.
e. Cover and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
- Add in the cooked meat, then stir (if not adding in meat, skip to adding the pasta).
a. Add in the cooked pasta and lime juice, then stir.
b. Let simmer for another 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
c. Add butter, then stir.