by Ellen Kanner
We all love to ring in the new year with its promise of new beginnings, but in Haiti, it’s especially cause for joy. New Year’s Day is Independence Day, the celebration of that New Year’s Day in 1804 when Haitians ended over a century of bloody rule by the French and were no longer colonial slaves but a free people in their own country.
Haitians celebrated by eating what had been forbidden them — meat, cabbage, and squash, the latter two grown on their own island. Haitian slaves had grown and cooked these foods for their French masters, while they themselves had survived solely on rations of salt cod and lemonade.
Soupe joumou sustains and is sustainable. It’s made from what is local and available. The Haitians adapted the soup from their French masters, heating it up with habaneros and ginger and making it their own. Some eat it on New Year’s Day for good luck. Others, like Marcel, eat and serve it knowing its history [read more about Kanner’s friend, Marcel]. It is his connection to place and to people, his source of sanity and serenity.
As with all things Haitian, there is some myth involved. The soup is said to honor Papa Loko, the vodou god of the ancient African spirit. Yellow is his favorite color, the one that summons him. Soupe joumou summons everyone. It’s belly filling and soul lifting all at once. It epitomizes for me the people of Haiti, who take what little they have, make it delicious, and offer it to you with all their heart.
Haitian Soupe Joumou
I have swapped traditional winter squash for sturdier sweet potato and have taken the meat out of Marcel’s soupe joumou. I have not, I hope, taken the heart. Great by itself or ladled over cooked brown rice.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
1/4 cup garlic, chopped (yeah, a 1/4 cup. Got a problem?)
1/4 cup ginger, chopped
1 jalapeno (or 1/4 habanero), chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons allspice
1 sweet potato, diced
2 carrots, chopped
1 bunch collards or callaloo, chopped into bite-sized bits
4 cups vegetable broth
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
juice of 1 lime
1. Heat oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, garlic and ginger and jalapeno. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, about 8 minutes.
2. Add allspice, diced sweet potato and chopped carrots. Add greens a handful at a time. Stir until greens just wilt, about 3 minutes.
3. Add broth and bring heat to high. When broth comes to a boil, add thyme leaves and bay leaf.
4. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for half an hour, or until vegetables are tender.
5. Squeeze in lime juice and season with sea salt and pepper.