Learning, perfecting the art of Haitian cooking
Sun Sentinel | August 14, 2008 | By Joan Lipinsky Cochran, Special Correspondent
Step into Michele Jessica Fievre’s Pembroke Pines apartment, and you step into Haiti. It’s a world of paintings of men and women in bright clothing as well as richly decorated handicrafts, flower pots and earthenware bottles.
Then there’s the food.
A native of Port au Prince, Fievre takes her Haitian cooking as seriously as she does her job teaching French and English to students at Nova Middle School in Davie.
It wasn’t always that way. In fact, Fievre didn’t learn to cook Haitian food until coming to the United States six years ago to attend Barry University.
“I didn’t learn to cook because my mother did all the cooking. I watched, but didn’t really challenge myself until I came here,” she says. She used to call home for recipes. “I could never find any that met the taste of hers. I kept experimenting because she couldn’t give me any proportions, and I had to figure it out myself.”
Haitian cooking tends to involve more spices than American. It’s all about personal taste. “There’s no standard recipe. The recipe will be the same in one family, but vary from household to household. The main ingredients are the same but the proportions vary.”
As with many young cooks, Fievre, 27, began trying Haitian recipes after leaving home, but became more involved after her marriage to Hector Lominy, an agent with American Airlines. “It’s unusual for a man in Haiti to know how to cook, but I got lucky,” she says. Hector also learned to cook from watching his mother.
Lominy gave Fievre cooking tips and helped familiarize her with spices and find stores that carry the right ingredients. Now, when friends visit, Lominy does the barbecuing while Fievre prepares such traditional Haitian dishes as griot or fried pork, and chiquetaille, a highly spiced ham or fish dish.
Soup Joumou, a traditional pumpkin or squash soup, is one of Fievre’s specialties. The soup is served at Catholic wakes and on Sundays before or after church.
It is also made on Jan. 1 to mark the date in 1804 when Haiti became the first black republic to declare its independence. Previously, according to Haitian legend, slaves were forbidden by their French masters to eat soup.
In Fievre’s family, the bright yellow soup was made on Jan 2, a date when most family members would come to her parents’ home for a traditional dinner. She remembers her mother using her best dishes and cutlery for the meal. And everyone, including her father and three sisters, helped with the meal.
Fievre, who authored children’s adventure stories in Haiti (jessicafievre.com) and is currently working on a master’s degree in fine arts at Florida International University, doesn’t have the time for cooking that her mother did. So she takes short cuts like using frozen pureed winter squash rather than cooking and pureeing pumpkin or the butternut squash she needs for her Soup Joumou. She says she’s tried making it both ways, and thinks it tastes the same.
Fievre creates both a Dry Spice Rub and a Mojo Marinade for the short ribs, applying both with her hands, then she refrigerates the meat for a few hours or, better yet, overnight. Because short ribs contain marrow and are more heavily marbled than stew beef, they create a richer soup. But you can use either.
Once the soup is about done, Fievre adds macaroni to create a hearty, bright yellow soup with a surprisingly creamy consistency. She serves it with buttered toast or baguette.
When making Soup Joumou, give yourself at least two hours because of the amount of chopping and stewing involved. Since stove top temperatures vary, you should also test the meat for tenderness before adding the vegetables and squash.
Those who don’t like their food too spicy can omit the habanero pepper or take it out after a half hour of cooking. You don’t want to break the pepper’s surface because, while the exterior adds flavor, the interior is very hot.
[Joan Lipinsky Cochran is a freelance writer from Boca Raton.]
ENTREE: Soup Joumou
Serve with buttered toast or sliced baguette for dipping.
Dry spice rub:
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
3 pounds beef short ribs or
1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat
1 teaspoon seasoned salt (Lawry’s brand recommended)
2/3 teaspoon powdered garlic
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/4 cup mojo chipotle or mojo criollo
1/4 cup bitter orange marinade or lime juice
1 (1.41-ounce) package Goya Salad and Vegetable Seasoning
1 whole habanero pepper with stem attached, optional
6 cups water
4 sprigs thyme
1 large sprig fresh parsley
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 large carrots, sliced
2 ribs celery, halved crosswise
2 (12-ounce) packages frozen butternut squash
1 pound all-purpose potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 cups elbow macaroni
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
Juice of 1 or 2 limes to taste
To make rub: Grind the garlic, thyme, salt and pepper together in a mortar with a pestle or in a mini food processor. Rinse the meat and pat it dry. Rub the spice mixture into the meat with your hands.
To make marinade: Combine all ingredients. Dip each piece of meat into the marinade and then use your hands to rub the marinade into the meat. Place the meat in a nonreactive dish and pour the remaining marinade over the meat. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Remove the pepper in one piece at this point if you don’t want the soup to become quite spicy. Add the thyme, parsley, onions, carrots, celery and frozen squash. Bring to a boil and cook until the squash defrosts. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
Add the potatoes and macaroni and bring to a gentle boil 10 minutes. If you’re using short ribs, remove the ribs and cut the meat into bite sized pieces; discard the bones and return the meat to the stew. If you left the habanero pepper in the stew, remove it now in one piece. Just before serving, swirl in the butter and the juice of one or two limes, to taste. Makes 6 servings.
Per serving: 504 calories, 17 percent calories from fat, 10 grams total fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 60 milligrams cholesterol, 71 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams total fiber, 11 grams total sugars, 65 grams net carbs, 35 grams protein, 852 milligrams sodium.