There are two culinary masterpieces in Haiti that define this country for me. The first is side-street chicken, which I’ll describe in a future post. The second, is soup joumou, Haitian pumpkin soup. I’ve made this soup a few times, using a combination of ingredients grown in Haiti, as well as some that are imported and found in just about any supermarket on the island. It’s important to note, though, that the best soup joumou I’ve ever had can be and IS made solely with ingredients local to Haiti.
The dish deserves the qualifier as “Haitian,” to distinguish it from any other variety of pumpkin soup, for very specific reasons. On an aesthetic note, Haitian pumpkins are different from the ones we get in America. In the check-out line at the supermarket, a woman noticed two Haitian pumpkins in my shopping cart and my distinct inability to speak kreyol.
“Those aren’t American pumpkins,” she warned, with a distinctive American accent of her own.
“I know,” I replied with a smile, thinking well of course they’re not! I’m not planning on making jack-o-lanterns this week! Instead, I told her I planned to make pumpkin soup, Haitian style, which is the only style I know. She smiled and walked away.
But Haitian pumpkin soup is about more than just the type of pumpkin used. It carries with it a history and tradition that is uniquely Haitian and at the same time ties it to the larger history of the African diaspora.
Soup joumou for many years was illegal. That’s right; soup as contraband. During the time of French colonial rule, Haitians were permitted only a bland bread soup. It was not until independence that Haitians invented soup joumou as a symbolic meal to represent its freedom. Today, soup joumou is traditionally eaten in Haiti on New Year’s, which is also the anniversary of Haiti’s independence. It’s also a Sunday dish, served on special occasions and meant to be the highlight of such occasions.
Once more, I must qualify the recipe with the fact that it is my own take on soup joumou. It is not, by far, the best soup joumou there is to have in Haiti, it is simply my own experiment with a dish that I fell in love with. A more classic recipe can be found here.
- 1/2 Haitian pumpkin
- 5 cans chicken stock
- 1 whole white onion
- 1 whole garlic
- 2 peppers (scotchbonnet is preferred)
- 2 carrots
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons curry powder
- 1/2 pound of beef, chopped into cubes
- 1 lime
- salt/pepper to taste
- olive oil as needed
First, peel, de-seed, and chop the Haitian pumpkin into large sections, then boil on high heat in a large pot with 3 cans of chicken stock. While the pumpkin is boiling, drizzle some olive oil in a frying pan, and chop half the white onion, half the garlic, and one of the scotchbonnet peppers. Stir them into the frying pan on high heat until well-browned. Remove from heat.
Once the pumpkin is soft and can easily be pierced with a fork, remove from heat and let cool. Blend the pumpkin, chicken stock, and contents of frying pan until you have a smooth mixture. Add additional chicken stock as needed to ensure the entire mixture remains a good consistency (not too solid, yet not fully liquid).
Next, pour olive oil into a tall stock pot and chop the rest of the onion, garlic, and the second pepper (remove stem and seeds if needed to reduce the heat). Fry these in the pot on high heat, along with one table spoon of curry powder. Once well-browned, reduce heat to a simmer and add the contents of the blender.
Peel and chop both carrots, adding them to the soup.
Add one can of coconut milk, slowly stirring the contents into the soup.
Add salt and pepper as needed.
While the soup simmers, season the chopped and cubed beef with salt, pepper, and curry powder. Add to the soup and let the entire contents simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Taste , and add salt/pepper as needed.
Squeeze one lime into soup.
Serve hot. Makes 8-10 servings.
This recipe differs from traditional Haitian pumpkin soup in several ways. Most noteably: there’s no cabbage. Soup joumou traditionally consists of both carrots and cabbage as ingredients. Quite frankly, I don’t care for cabbage, so I don’t include it in my recipe. But, if you want to be traditional, add the cabbage.
I also opt for a more simple soup, as that I fear my soup becoming too busy by my inability to distinguish proper ingredient proportions. Proper soup joumou also calls for cubed potatoes and spaghetti. Yup, spaghetti.
Also, I’ve added my own preference for curry powder and coconut milk. Again, soup joumou doesn’t call for these ingredients. This is me trying to paint my own rendition of an already fantastic soup.
If you want the real REAL soup joumou, then make this recipe WITHOUT the curry powder and coconut milk, and add cabbage, spaghetti, and potatoes. It will take some time to get the proportions right, but it’s worth it.