If she follows tradition, on Jan. 1, Westbury’s Sherley Cadet will be consuming pumpkin soup as her only meal throughout the day, specifically soup joumou, a hearty creation of pumpkin or squash, beef, potatoes, plantains and other vegetables such as cabbage and celery and seasoned with salt, spices and, perhaps, some macaroni.
Joumou symbolizes Haiti’s freedom from the French in 1804, after a 13-year revolution leading to the establishment of the first black republic in the world, and the second nation in the western hemisphere (after the United States) to win its independence from a European power. The story goes that during the colonial era, the French traditionally ate soup on New Year’s Day. In fact, there was a law forbidding slaves from eating soup. So what better way to stick it to the former masters than to enjoy the banned delicacy. Says Bernaden Demesyeaux, the vice consular of the Haitian Consulate in Manhattan, “This kind of food was very powerful; we made it for them but weren’t allowed to eat it.”
Cadet was born in Port-au-Prince and came to the United States when she was 19 to join her mother in Westbury. The two bought a house and here today Cadet is raising her three children—Reggy, Marlie and Fabrice.
Cadet received a degree in speech language pathology from LIU Post and a masters in behavior analysis. She provides early intervention services to children on the autism spectrum. She has been very involved in PTA and this year was elected to the school board. One of her school board assignments is to act as liaison between the principal of the Powells Lane School and the board.
Haitian cuisine is a blend of the cooking styles and practices from the various ethnic groups that populated the country: French, African, Taino, Spanish and Middle Eastern. The flavors are bold and the base of much Haitian cooking is epice, a sauce made from cooked peppers, garlic, green onions, thyme and parsley. Epice is a basic condiment for rice and beans and is also used in stews and soups. It figured predominantly in the red snapper dish, the star of the table. Snapper, purchased at the Westbury Fish Company on Drexel Avenue, was soaked in salt water and vinegar, cleaned and slow-cooked with water, tomato paste and epice.
The epice was also used to flavor legume, a stew of eggplant, spinach and crab. Another popular Haitian dish was griot. Chunks of pork shoulder were marinated in citrus and Scotch bonnet chilies, then simmered until tender before being fried crisp and brown. It was served in typical fashion with smashed, fried plantains.
There were two types of rice—simple white rice and black rice. With the white rice we had sos pwa, a bean puree wherein black beans are boiled until tender, blended and seasoned with salt and garlic. To make the black rice (djon djon), dried Haitian mushrooms are reconstituted and boiled in water. That water is used to make the rice, giving it a dark color and particular taste.
Rounding out the feast—all prepared by Cadet, her mother Anne-Marie Jean Noel, and their neighbor Pauline Georges—was a salad plus corn, broccoli and cauliflower. There was no room for dessert.
To prepare sos paw (bean puree):
Boil black beans until tender; blend as much as you wish to have it completed smooth or with some pieces of the beans; season with salt, pepper and garlic. Serve over white rice.