In a season of celebrations, MCC workers in Haiti share a local tradition of hospitality and generosity.
Dieujuste Saint-Surain stands in his field in Senk-Pòt, Haiti, holding up two freshly harvested joumou (Haitian Creole for calabaza squash). He hands one over with a smile. It is cool, smooth and surprisingly heavy for its size.
Haiti has seen two years of drought, and this culturally and nutritionally important food is becoming harder to find in local markets. With scarce and unpredictable rainfall, crops like joumou are possible only with access to irrigation, such as the local, MCC-supported canal.
“To me, joumou means life, it means independence and it means the dignity of feeding my family with the food I grow,” says Saint-Surain.
Food is more than a means to an end — more than just nutrition and filling empty stomachs. Food can be a symbol of who we are, where we come from and the values that define us.
And for farmers like Saint-Surain, who have been farming the same land for generations, the food they grow is a symbol of their heritage and a reminder of God’s blessings.
To me, joumou means life, it means independence and it means the dignity of feeding my family with the food I grow”
Following a long-fought independence from colonialism and slavery, Haitians developed a unique tradition of hospitality, celebration and generosity centred around a simple meal: soup joumou. This well-loved Haitian dish is a hearty squash soup with meat and local vegetables. Soup joumou is shared widely with friends and neighbours on New Year’s Day (Haitian Independence Day), for Sunday breakfast and in community celebrations.
As new MCC workers and new parents in Haiti, soup joumou has been a welcoming taste of our new home. Shared with new colleagues on our first day in Haiti, its spicy complexity was a reminder of how much we have to learn. Offered as an invitation from new neighbours to ring in the New Year, soup joumou was a reminder that food is always best shared. As a dish we now cook together for our guests, it is a reminder that home can come in many flavours.
Entering this holiday season, and as we celebrate a year in our new home in Haiti, we offer our version of soup joumou for you to make and share with those you love.
(Haitian squash soup)
Yield: Serves 6-8
Download a printable PDF of this recipe
- 1½ pounds beef stew chunks, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 medium onions, finely chopped
- 1 cup leeks, finely chopped
- ½ cup green onions or shallots, finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, washed and tied with twine
- 3 cups calabaza squash, seeded and peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces (can substitute butternut squash or pumpkin)
- 2 medium carrots, cut uniformly in small pieces
- 7 cups low-sodium beef broth (can substitute chicken or vegetable broth)
- ½ cup (half bunch) flat-leaf parsley, washed and tied with twine
- 2 Scotch bonnet peppers, whole (can substitute jalapeño peppers)
- 1 pinch cloves
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 turnip, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- ¹/4 head small green cabbage, thinly sliced
- Juice of 3 Key limes (approximately 1 regular lime), plus wedges for serving
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large soup pot, heat oil on high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the meat and brown thoroughly on all sides, approximately 5–10 minutes.
- Remove the meat from the pot, and set aside. Leave the oil in the pot.
- Add the onions, leeks and green onions to the pot. Cook on high for 10–15 minutes until they are soft and a golden brown.
- Add the garlic, green pepper and celery and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 minute more.
- Add the thyme, squash, carrots and beef broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook on low heat for 45 minutes, or until squash and carrots can be smashed easily with a fork.
- Remove the soup from the heat, remove the thyme bundle, and puree until it is a smooth texture. Soup joumou can be a wide range of textures, so thin with water to your preference.
- Return the pureed soup and thyme bundle to a large, clean pot and add the cooked beef, parsley, Scotch bonnet peppers, cloves and nutmeg.
- Bring the soup to a simmer on medium-low heat covered and cook for an additional 45 minutes.
- After 45 minutes, add the potatoes and turnip and continue to simmer for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes and turnip are cooked through.
- Add cabbage and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Remove the thyme, parsley and Scotch bonnet peppers and discard. Serve with salt, pepper, fresh lime juice and fresh parsley.
MCC photo/Brenda Burkholder