The final and the most important installment of this set of recipes (for Part 1, click here; for Part 2, click here) is unique – where else do you see a dish that symbolizes liberty? On January 1st, Haitians celebrate not only the beginning of a new year, but first and foremost, the beginning of their country’s independence, and they celebrate it by eating Soup Joumou – the pumpkin soup, or yellow soup, as they call it.
The Statue of the Unknown Maroon (runaway slave), by Haitian sculptor A. Mangones, proudly stands in front of the Presidential Palace in Port-au-Prince as a symbol of the Haitian slave revolution that won Haiti her freedom in 1804 and thus created the second independent nation after the United States. No wonder this unique historical event is celebrated by a unique dish, a combination of soup and stew, but more on the stew side.
“Soup joumou is everything. For Haitians, it really is our freedom soup,” said Nadege Fleurimond, who runs a catering business in New York. “If you speak to a Haitian in Paris or a Haitian in the Bahamas, the soup is going to come up if it’s January 1. Even if you don’t make it, you’re trying to find who made it so you can go eat it.” (http://www.epicurious.com/recipes-menus/haitian-independence-soup-joumou-recipe-article)
We hear about Toussaint Louverture, a self-educated former slave with a brilliant military mind called The Black Napoleon, the first revolutionary general who was cruelly deceived by Emperor Napoleon’s “expeditionary force” dispatched to restore the French rule. The leader of the force was given strict orders “to wage a war to the death with no mercy and all of Toussaint’s followers to be shot when captured” (J. Perry, Arrogant Armies Great Military Disasters and the Generals Behind Them, 2005). Meanwhile, Louverture was sent letters promising, “Have no worries about your personal fortune. It will be safeguarded for you, since it has been only too well earned by your own efforts. Do not worry about the liberty of your fellow citizens” (Ibid.) Eventually, he was captured and brought to France where he perished in prison.
But the plantation owners “who have been expecting the Haitians to happily go back to being their slaves as they believed it was natural for blacks to be the slaves of whites were stunned to learn how much the Haitians hated them for wanting to reduce them back to a life in chains” (Ibid.) had another thing coming as Jean-Jacques Dessalines stepped in to take the leadership role. Born in slavery, he served in the revolutionary army under Toussaint Louverture, demonstrated his own military brilliance, declared Haiti an independent nation in 1804, and thus became its first native-born ruler. Dessalines is considered the founding father of the country that assumed its original Taino name Haiti (Ayiti in Kreol) – “land of the mountains.” According to a local legend, it was his wife Marie-Claire Heureuse who made the first Liberty Soup on January 1, 1804.
Unfortunately, I can only show you a trailer to this incredible award-winning documentary by D. Alexis, as the entire film is not available for sharing. “But the story behind it is, blacks and slaves were not allowed to drink the soup” says Alexis, “It was a delicacy—something reserved for French slave masters. When Haitians threw out the French, they vested this previously forbidden food with new meaning. The soup became a symbol of Haitian independence and freedom.”
The main ingredient is, of course, joumou, from French giraumon, which is winter squash, or calabaza. But if you can’t get it, butternut squash will work just as well. Before you start cooking the most “forbidden to slaves” ingredients of the soup, you have to prepare the Haitian flavor base – epis. Traditionally, it is made by using onion, garlic, parsley, and different colors of bell peppers, grinding them together into a paste by mortar and pestle. You can use your trusty food processor and achieve the same result. Mix the paste with lime juice and marinate beef chunks in it for about 30 minutes. Peel your pumpkin, deseed it, cut it into chunks, and simmer it together with chunks of beef (marrow bones add thickness and flavor). Meanwhile, get your veggies ready.
Once your pumpkin chunks are soft, fish them out, puree them, and throw them right back. Add water, add epis, and add all the rest of the veggies: potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, celery, leeks, cabbage, parsnips, cloves, hot pepper, and generally anything else you can think of or find in your fridge. As if there aren’t enough carbs already, you can also add some penne or rotini pasta. Season it with salt and pepper, add some olive oil, a splash of lime juice, and some sweet red wine, and simmer until the vegetables are very soft – for another 30 minutes. Give it a stir once in a while, to make sure the pasta doesn’t stick. Then add another splash of lime juice and simmer some more until beef is so tender, it melts in your mouth.
To make sure that yesterday’s hungry slaves eat their full, Liberty Soup is served with yet another luxury – crusty French bread. Garnish it with a fresh sprig of parsley or thyme. As you make this incredibly filling delicacy, think of hardworking people in a proud little country, the first and only slaves in history who fought for and won their independence.
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 lb beef for stew cut into cubes
- 1 pound marrow bones
- 1/2 red onion
- 1/2 red pepper
- 1/2 green pepper
- 1/2 yellow pepper
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves
- 3 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons sweet red wine
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 medium calabaza or butternut squash , peeled, cut into chunks
- 1 large potato, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
- 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 small green cabbage, sliced
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 leek, chopped
- 2 parsnips, chopped
- 1 green Scotch bonnet or habanero chile pepper
- 1/2 cup uncooked penne or rotini pasta
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 small bunch of fresh parsley
- 1 thyme sprig to garnish
- Soak beef in vinegar, then rinse with water.
- Make epis by processing onion, garlic, bell peppers, parsley, 1 tablespoon of lime juice, and a pinch of salt to a paste. Marinate beef in epis for at least 30 minutes.
- Add squash to marinated beef and bones, cover with water, bring to boil, then simmer until squash is soft, 20–25 minutes. Remove squash, puree until smooth. Return to pot and bring to a simmer.
- Add potatoes, carrots, cabbage, celery, leek, parsnips, hot pepper, pasta, cloves, and remaining water to 6 quarts. Bring to boil and reduce to simmer until pasta and vegetables are soft, 30–35 minutes.
- Add oil, wine, and remaining lime juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until beef is very tender, 15–20 minutes more.
- Garnish individual servings with a sprig of fresh parsley or thyme, serve with crusty French bread.