Around about now, I should have been taking my Grade 6s on a trip to the supermarket to shop for ingredients to make the Haitian food they would have researched. Today we’d go shopping, tomorrow, we’d have cooked 3 or 4 dishes and sat down to enjoy a meal together. I’ve done this activity in various guises every year for the past 10 years (see this post for my first every foray into Haitian cooking!).
Instead, this year, I’m teaching them from my home office, with them in their home workspaces, feeling kinda sorta connected but also, so very apart. When it came time to deciding what work to do with them, I made a deliberate choice to try to salvage some of this unit they’d started working on just before March Break. Firstly because it’s something familiar in all of this unfamiliar territory we are charting right now. Secondly because, I can’t imagine a better activity for people to be doing when they are at home than cooking. Specifically, this soup.
La soupe joumou/ giraumon is a Haitian specialty – a soup that the boys were excited to learn you didn’t need much French to order if you were in Haiti. Chef José Andrès in his excellent documentary, Undiscovered Haiti (which we watched at the start of our unit) tells us that no matter where we are in Haiti on a Sunday, we can go and say “la soupe s’il vous plaît” and we’ll get something along the lines of this:
(this is exactly what Neil and I did and this is what we were served in Cap Hatien when we visited in December 2018).
This pumpkin-based soup has a little bit of everything in it – typically beef but sometimes other meat, different kinds of pasta and vegetables – and it’s the perfect soup to make these days as we rely on pantry and fridge staples. It’s said that the slaves were not allowed to eat this soup (or these ingredients) so when they gained their freedom on January 1st 1804, they celebrated by making exactly this – the “forbidden food”. Nowadays, it’s a soup made and served to celebrate not only New Year’s Day but other occasions (it’s also eaten on Sundays) and it seems that every family has their own version of the recipe.
In previous years the boys have found SO many different versions of the recipe it’s been a bit confusing to find a “definitive” version – each year I choose a couple to work with and we go from there. This year, we’ve done comprehension activities using this video and this recipe but there are SO MANY versions (and none of them “definitive”). Since I want the boys to make this recipe at home, I’ve adapted it slightly for them to make it more accessible so no, it won’t be the most authentic but I hope they can understand the concept as they make it. And since I want them to have success, I made this recipe on the weekend, to double check it works the way we’ve adapted it (I used this with last year’s Grade 6s and also made this for a dinner party Neil and I hosted and it was a huge success). And because it’s so good, I’m sharing with you today!
It happens to be a great recipe for these “stay at home” times as well because there is a lot of chopping to keep little hands busy.
Squash is chopped, cooked and mashed…
- 1/2 small Butternut squash (approx. 450g), roughly chopped in cubes
- 450g stewing beef, cut into small cubes (approx. 2cm)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1 lime
- 1 spicy pepper (use Scotch bonnet if you like spice!), chopped finely
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon clove powder
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh parsley
- freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 carrots (approx. 200g), peeled and sliced into rounds
- 1 leek (approx. 250g), rinsed clean, patted dry and thinly sliced
- 1 onion (approx. 200g) finely sliced
- 3 celery stalks (approx. 170g), finely diced
- 2 potatoes (approx. 400g) peeled and cut into large cubes (3cm)
- 1 litre chicken stock (plus up to 500ml extra for adding with the pasta)
- 10 cabbage leaves, finely sliced
- 100g macaroni pasta
- 50g spaghetti, broken into thirds
- Fresh parsley, finely chopped for serving
- Start by marinating the beef in a bowl with the lemon and lime juices, the pepper, garlic, spices, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes while you cook and prepare the squash.
- Place the squash cubes in a large pot of water and bring to the boil. Cook until the squash is “fork tender” (it’s easily able to be mashed on the side of the pot with a fork). Drain the squash, put it back in the pot and mash with a fork or a potato masher.
- Heat the oil in a large pot. Brown the beef (and the marinade) over medium-high heat (around 5 minutes).
- Add the carrots, leek, celery and onion. Mix well and cook, stirring occasionally for around 6 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and the squash purée, mix well and cover. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for around 20 minutes.
- Add the pasta, the potatoes and the cabbage leaves. Stir well and cover. Cook 10-12 minutes or until the pasta and potatoes are cooked through. *You might need up to 500ml extra stock here as the pasta will absorb the liquid.
- Serve the soup sprinkled with fresh parsley.
*Note: If you will be serving this soup later in the day or the next day, leave the extra stock until you are re-heating and serving the soup.
Adapted from Soupe Joumou on Recettes Haitiennes
Note that this recipe will require extra liquid (stock) the longer it sits in the fridge – the pasta will absorb any liquid. I just add some extra stock when I am reheating (use beef or mushroom or something with a strong flavour so as to not water down the other flavours).
So there you go. In the strangest of times, I hope to have managed to salvage some of our Haitian food unit for my students. I hope they make this with their family and I hope they sit around a table and enjoy it together. Cooking and eating together are a great way to connect away from screens (something I am realising is SO important these days) and I truly hope this provides some delicious relief from screens 🙂
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