Celebrate Haitian Independence Day with Soup Joumou!

December 23, 2021
A pot of soup joumou, Haitian pumpkin/squash soup. The soup has a thick yellow-orange broth, with potatoes, yams, and beef. A ladle dips into the pot to take a scoop of soup.

Soup Joumou is a traditional dish eaten on Haitian Independence Day, celebrated every January 1st since 1804. This soup is deeply meaningful to the people of Haiti and symbolic of the Haitian Revolution. In fact, soup joumou is so important to Haitian culture that in 2021, UNESCO added it to its list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity." During the period of French colonial rule over what was then called Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), only slave owners were allowed to eat this soup, which was prepared by enslaved Haitians. After Haiti gained its independence, Haitians reclaimed soup joumou for themselves. Today, it is seen as a symbol of freedom, independence, and dignity. 

Every January 1st, soup joumou is served starting in the morning and continuing throughout the day. Haitians also enjoy the hearty soup on other major occasions.

This recipe serves a crowd. Remember, “manje kwit pa gen mèt”—literally, “cooked food has no owner”; it is meant to be shared.

Ingredients: 
1 large Caribbean pumpkin, or 2 medium squash–Look for squash with good orange flesh and hearty flavor. Kabocha works very well and can often be found in Asian markets. Butternut is also acceptable.
7-bone chuck roast, cut into pieces
“epis” marinade (mash of garlic, leek, parsley, a little habanero pepper, and bouillon cube/salt)
fresh lime juice

Seasonings:
Vegetable oil
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 large chicken bouillon cube
Handful fresh parsley
Small handful sorrel leaves
8 whole cloves
12 crushed peppercorns or plenty of freshly-ground black pepper
1-2 habanero hot peppers, also known as Scotch Bonnets – leave whole
salt to taste
1½ Tbsp olive oil
1½ Tbsp butter
Couple dashes mace
Couple dashes thyme
Knob of fresh ginger, or couple dashes ground ginger

Vegetables:
1 small onion, chopped
2-3 small leeks, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped, with leaves
5 carrots, chopped
3 purple-top turnips, peeled and cut in chunks
1 small cabbage, chopped, or ½ medium cabbage
5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
½ bag/box cannelloni or penne (optional)

Directions:

  1. Rub the pieces of meat with lime and marinate overnight, refrigerated, in Haitian “epis” mix, lime juice, and salt to taste.
  2. Chop squash and cook in salted water until tender. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Scoop cooked squash out of the skin. Set aside about ¼ of the total quantity in chunks. Mash the rest, using some of the water it was cooked in.
  3. Heat some vegetable oil in a large skillet and brown the meat, adding tomato paste and crumbling in the bouillon cube.
  4. Meanwhile, boil about 6 cups of squash cooking water in your largest pot, adding additional water if needed. Add the remainder of the seasonings and vegetables, with the exception of the potatoes.
  5. Once the soup is boiling, add browned meat and mashed squash. Simmer for at least 1 ½ hours.
  6. As the meat is getting tender, add chopped potato. When the soup is almost cooked, add pasta.
  7. The soup is done when all ingredients are tender. Carefully remove the habanero pepper and the knob of ginger (if using). Stir well, adjust seasonings, add reserved squash chunks, and thin with squash water if needed. Serve with slices of soft white bread and butter.  

Note: If you can find good-quality true yam (African yam), replace some of the potato with yam. Some cooks also add flour dumplings.