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Haitian Holiday Soup Dishes Up Cultural Connections

A traditional soup, and the sounds of friends who are there to enjoy it



The LaFleurs ring in the New Year with traditional soup.

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

Every New Year’s Day, Judy and Ricardo LaFleur’s house is filled with two things: the savory scent of Joumou, a traditional Haitian soup, and the sounds of friends who are there to enjoy it.

Judy and Ricardo were both born in Haiti and moved to the East Coast as young children. There, they belonged to flourishing Haitian communities. “I’ve never met a person of Haitian descent or recent Haitian migration who doesn’t cook Joumou on New Year’s Day,” Judy says.

The golden soup — full of butternut or acorn squash, root vegetables like parsnips and carrots, beef and sometimes pasta — is made on New Year’s Day to celebrate Haiti’s liberation from France on Jan. 1, 1804, which was also the first time that slaves revolted and successfully formed their own nation. “As soon as I smell it, it takes me back to the generations of people that have come before me,” Judy says.

She and her husband have served the dish to their two daughters, Gabby, 7, and Anissa, 2, and have explained the cultural significance to their oldest daughter. “Both my husband and I make it a point for her to recognize where she’s from and who her people are, and what they’ve been through,” she says.

The Haitian community in Seattle is substantially smaller than on the East Coast. There, Judy says, it was expected that on New Year’s Day, friends and relatives would stream through the house all day. To recreate that feeling of a community celebration, the LaFleurs invite as many people as they can to their South Seattle home. “It’s a great thing to share with my children, who don’t have the connection — they weren’t born there, they haven’t visited,” she says. “What they know is basically the cuisine: Their palates are Haitian palates.”

For more family holiday traditions check out  Seattle's Child Holidays.

Judy LaFleur's Soup Joumou

2 lbs. of Calabaza pumpkin (or Acorn squash if not available), peeled and cut into 3inch cubes

3 lbs. total of equal parts beef cubes and beef short ribs

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 scallions (minced)

2 shallots (minced)

1 tablespoon of salt

6-8 cloves of garlic (minced) 

2 tablespoons of freshly chopped parsley 

5-7 cloves 

1 Maggie bouillon cube or any bouillon cube

1 small yellow onion chopped

1 tsp. ground black pepper

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 celery stalks (cut into 1 inch diagonal slices)

½ small cabbage cut into quarters

2 large carrots (cut into 1 inch diagonal slices)

1 parsnip (cut into 1 inch diagonal slices) 1 potato (cut into quarters)

1 batata or Japanese sweet potato (cut into quarters)

Juice of one lime

habanero pepper (or a milder pepper) 

½ cup of pasta (spaghetti or penne)

3 quarts of simmering hot water (to use as needed).

Season the meat with garlic, parsley, ground black pepper, scallions, bouillon, shallots, yellow onion, salt, and cloves. (This can be prepared 1 hour to 1 day ahead, for best flavor).

In a large pot, add seasoned meat with 4 cups of cold water. Cook on medium heat for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, rub the pumpkin with olive oil and place on baking sheet. Bake at 400 F for 35 minutes.

Add celery, cabbage, carrots, and parsnips into the large pot with meat. Cook on medium heat for 15 minutes.

Puree the baked pumpkin with 6 cups of simmering water (set aside).

Add 8 cups of simmering water, potato, batata/Japanese sweet potato, thyme and the pureed pumpkin into the large pot. Allow to simmer on medium to low heat for 15 minutes.

Add another 2 cups of simmering water, pasta and habanero pepper.

Allow to simmer for 15 minutes and remove habanero pepper. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.

This recipe serves 8 people.

This is my recipe, some ingredients may vary.

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