Most New Year’s Day food traditions are meant to bring good luck into the new calendar year. For example, the custom of eating collard greens and black-eyed peas on the first day of the new year has come to symbolize a future of prosperity and good fortune.
But in Haitian households, the traditional dish served on the first of the year, isn’t as much about looking ahead as it is looking back.
“Everyone eats soup joumou on the first,” says private chef and nutritionist Vicky Colas about the Haitian custom to start the year with this specialty pumpkin and meat soup. “I was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and ever since I could remember, soup joumou has always been a meal we enjoyed as a family.”
For many, January 1st simply marks the start of a new year, but it’s also the anniversary of Haiti’s independence. According to Colas, eating soup joumou is a long-held, widely-recognized celebration of that date in 1804 when Haiti became the first Black republic in the world.
“In the history books, we learned that the soup was prepared by the slaves for the slave owners,” says Colas, who co-owns Pro Kitchen Hub, a commissary kitchen and event space in Sunrise, Fla. “Since it was forbidden for the slaves to consume it, it became the national dish of Haiti to celebrate its independence.”
The hearty dish, which she says likely combines French and African influence, historically calls for a variety of meats, such as cow’s feet, beef cubes and chicken, along with potatoes, pasta and calabaza (a winter pumpkin/squash grown in the West Indies). However, Colas prefers to make a more contemporary version of the recipe, which omits less-fashionable ingredients like cow’s feet and reduces carb load in place of more vegetables. The effect is still a tasty, easier-to-make play on the tradition that all generations of Haitians can stand behind.
“My three boys have embraced such tradition and love this soup,” she says. “Beside the great taste of this soup, eating such as dish with so much history attached makes it extra special.”
Chef Colas’s Soup Joumou
4 tablespoons of canola oil
1 medium onion, diced large
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
4 medium-size carrots, diced
1 3-pound calabaza pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced into ½-inch pieces
(you can use the butternut squash puree also)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 whole chicken cut into small pieces
2 pounds of cubed beef
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
4 sprigs of thyme
2 sprigs of parsley
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs of oregano
5 cloves garlic, whole
1 scotch bonnet pepper, whole
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
¼ teaspoon of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Sazon complete seasoning “No MSG” to taste
Onion powder to taste
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large russet potatoes, finely chopped and parboiled
½ small green cabbage, very thinly sliced
½ small carrot, chopped
2 small turnips, finely chopped
Directions: Heat canola oil in an 8- to 10-quart stock pot. Sauté carrots, celery and onion to make mirepoix mix. Add diced pumpkin or squash (if using pureed squash, do not add). Cook all ingredient until golden, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add tomato paste, chicken and beef. Remove chicken and beef from mirepoix after 30 minutes (continue to sauté in separate pan, until fully cooked). Add stock (and puree if using puree) to mirepoix. Make a bouquet garni (bundle of herbs) with thyme, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, garlic and scotch bonnet); enclose in cheesecloth sachet. Place sachet in pot; bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium; cook until pumpkin is very tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Discard the sachet. Working in batches, purée soup in a blender until smooth. Return soup to pot; add lime juice, nutmeg, salt, pepper, Sazon and onion powder. Simmer until slightly thick, about 4 to 6 minutes. Add back in cooked beef and chicken. Ladle soup into bowls or shot glasses and top with garnish.
For garnish, heat butter in pan. Sauté parboiled potatoes, cabbage, carrot and turnips, about 5 to 6 minutes until tender. Remove from heat. Spoon into bowls or glasses of soup, topping with parsley.