Words by Alexandra C. Wood—
A native New Yorker and graduate of The French Culinary Institute, Alexandra C. Wood has sampled soupe joumou, the squash-based soup traditionally consumed to celebrate Haitian Independence on New Year’s Day, from Manhattan to the Marais. She shared her own variation on her family’s recipe from Haiti.
There’s no day of the year I feel more Haitian than on January 1st.
While most people recover from New Year’s Eve’s debauchery, Haitians worldwide are wide awake – standing over stockpots, chopping vegetables, and searing beef – to commemorate Haiti’s 1804 independence from France. When the aprons come off, steaming bowls filled with the dreamy winter soup called joumou are served in Haitian households from New York to New Zealand.
Soupe joumou—pronounced “soup ju-oo-mu”— is a hearty mix of beef, vegetables, and noodles swimming in a spicy squash base. Though local calabaza is traditionally used when preparing the stew, butternut squash has been the gourd of choice for a large portion of the Diaspora.
I can distinctly remember the first time I made soupe joumou. Ten years old and without a recipe, I worked from the memory of flavors past. Sage advice from my mother and grandmother guided me through the delicate steps, but in the end, I truly made the soup my own. With each passing January, I have refined my technique, tweaking spices and swapping out vegetables. I also tasted other family’s soups, being sure to note textures and flavors different from those in my own.
Over the years, I realized the true beauty of the soup was not just in its sheer deliciousness; it was in its ability to both connect a far-flung community and serve as a vehicle for self-expression. Making the soup proved to be introspective and set the tone for the new year.
I might not know where New Year’s Eve will take me, but I know one thing’s for certain – January 1st, soup’s on.
1 pound of beef, cubed
1 large butternut squash (approx. 5 cups cubed)
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
4 carrots, sliced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 parsnip, sliced
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup beef stock
1-2 habanero peppers, kept whole
1 packet of Goya Sazon
1/2 head of cabbage, cut into chiffonade
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp ginger, grated
1 cup of cooked ziti (optional)
Marinate beef with 1 tbsp oil, Sazon, parsley, and pepper and refrigerate for at least an hour or, preferably, overnight.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Carefully cut butternut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Coat with 1 tbsp oil and place on baking sheet cut-side down. Roast until tender (approximately 30 minutes). Set aside and cool.
Add a few pinches of salt to beef and sauté on high heat. Once beef is evenly browned, set aside. Lower heat and sweat onion, ginger, and celery in the same pot until translucent. Add garlic, carrot, and parsnip. Sauté lightly and then add beef to pot. Incorporate chicken and beef stocks, bay leaf, tomato paste, and habanero peppers and bring to simmer. Cook on low heat until beef is tender.
Peel cooled butternut squash and puree until smooth. Add puree to simmering beef and vegetables, and once flavors have melded, add cabbage and (optional) cooked pasta. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lime juice. Serve with toasted bread.