Finding verbs related to cooking

As you can see on the tabs above this post I have a list of verbs used in cooking, recipes, food and restaurants. Like many such lists I create these from all the lists I can find that other people make, consolidating many sources, some often wrong (spelling, definitions) and then looking words up in dictionaries, including the most authoritative until I think I have an accurate and comprehensive list. Needless to say this is a lot of work so if you look at my list you’ll see it’s mostly unfinished, but has a large number of verbs as candidates.

But is my list even complete? Even after combining all the sources I can find?

So in this post I’ll describe another way to find cooking verbs from original source textual material.

But first:

So I’ve wanted to get back and do more work on this blog, but alas for 898 days I’ve been almost totally occupied with trying to learn Spanish and it’s amazing that I never seem to have time to work on this blog, which, actually is more fun and potentially of benefit to others (my list of verbs is the third most referenced page on this blog; gradually my accumulated lists are being found by other people).

When I started this blog, with plan to build a portable app to decode menus in Spain, my sister said I couldn’t do that without learning Spanish. I was kinda sure that wasn’t the case (after all it is just solving a puzzle, don’t have to be able to speak or listen to do that). But I fell for her pitch and so got trapped in an almost endless cycle of all available time (really mental energy) going into learning Spanish. I won’t bore you with all that (or see other posts), but it is a trap, in that the more you learn, the more you forget and therefore have to do more drills to refresh your memory. Soon that becomes all consuming and thus other things fall to wayside.

Well, at least, as this exercise will show I got something from 898 days and over 200,000 individual drills. While my speaking is horrible and I can only understand clear and slow speech (and then only 70% of the words) my reading is not too bad. So I figure let’s use that a bit more to help with this blog.

I also realized, in previous tries at decoding menus, that actually one needs to know about the cuisine itself, the dishes, the ingredients, and how they are prepared. Even with words on a menu accurately translated there is more one needs to know in order to be able to order what you really want. And, duh, guess what the best way to do that is?

Read recipes in Spanish from Spain!

Now there is a trick to finding recipes in Spanish (as original language) but also for Spain (since food terminology in Latin America can be quite different). So don’t search with English queries! After a bit of experimenting I found

comida recetas en linea de espana

gets some good results (food recipes online from Spain, without the comida you get some strange results). So I’m going to spend a while with the results I’m getting from this but I want to start with a simple example.

Aguacates rellenos de pollo mechado (otherwise known as Avocados stuffed with shredded chicken). With simple word-for-word dictionary lookups of each word you might come close title (mechado as we’ll discuss is tough to understand) and this might sound good to try. (Question, are you eating some avocado or just using their skins as a bowel for the chicken? It there anything mixed with the chicken? Would you really want to order it?)

This just happens to be the first receta I picked (from RTVE’s recipe site (the public TV in Spain). So here is the preparation part of the recipe in original Spanish and with a Google translation I added.

Cocinamos la pechuga de pollo como más nos guste; al horno, a la plancha o cocida, y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores.We cook the chicken breast as we like best; Baked, grilled or cooked, and we mix it with the help of two forks.
Abrimos los aguacates por la mitad, retiramos el hueso y, con ayuda de una cuchara, vaciamos parte de su pulpa para poder rellenarlos con facilidad.We open the avocados in half, remove the bone and, with the help of a spoon, empty part of its pulp to be able to fill them easily.
En un bol, machacamos la pulpa del aguacate que hemos retirado.In a bowl, we mash the pulp of the avocado that we have removed.
Picamos las hortalizas en brunoise y las mezclamos con el pollo mechado, la pulpa del aguacate, el cilantro, el maíz y la mayonesa.We chop the vegetables in brunoise and mix them with the shredded chicken, the avocado pulp, the coriander, the corn and the mayonnaise.
Para hacer la mayonesa, en un vaso de batidora disponemos los ingredientes. Introducimos la batidora de mano y comenzamos a batir sin mover la batidora, pegada al fondo.To make the mayonnaise, put the ingredients in a blender glass. We introduce the hand mixer and begin to beat without moving the mixer, glued to the bottom.
Cuando observemos que la emulsión comienza a crearse, comenzamos a hacer movimientos suaves hacia arriba y hacia abajo con la batidora de mano.When we observe that the emulsion begins to create, we begin to make smooth movements up and down with the hand mixer.
Rellenamos los aguacates con esta mezcla y ¡disfrutamos!We stuff the avocados with this mixture and we enjoy!

Now since it turns I can “read” (at least parse the sentences and know enough vocabulary) I’ve marked all the verbs, which is the point of this post, i.e. how to find verbs related to cooking. I think you should be able to do what I just did when you reach about the A2 level (basically one year of high school Spanish). To skip to the chase here are all the verbs (infinitive) that can be extracted from this receta:

abrir batir cocinar comenzar crear disfrutar disponer gustar hacer haber introducir machacar mechar mezclar mover observar pegar picar poder rellenar retirar vaciar

Of these verbs the ones marked would be likely in cooking prose and many of the others are either common verbs in Spanish (hacer, gustar, haber, poder) or used in many contexts other than cooking. IOW, if one is trying to accumulate a list using this approach (analyzing an appropriate corpus) you need to apply some human intelligence, which, thus as my sister claimed, requires some amount of fluency in the language. Of the verbs I marked, all are in my list at this blog, but finding them used in context can be helpful to focus on the translation most relative to comida.

In fact picar is a good example as the primary dictionary definitions are to sting, to itch, but in culinary context it is to chop, or as I have mentioned in previous posts in a restaurant setting the to peck (like a chicken) fits because this describes basically snacking finger-food appetizers. So context matters and dictionary lookups can be misleading (or what you learn in Spanish course that might be more likely to teach the more common meaning)

The Google translation is pretty good (given my ability to read the Spanish and compare) with just a couple of bad choices: while hueso has bone as primary translation, it is also pit which fits the context, The other two, pegada (stuck) and crearse (create) are a bit more subtle and I’ll cover those later. And vaso de batidora (blender glass) really takes some analysis as GT translation is very literal and not very helpful (we’ll cover this later as well)

Now I also marked a couple of words that are either not verbs or being used as verb in the context: for instance, in the first line ” con ayuda de dos tenedoresayuda is a noun (help), but it is also the third person singular present conjugation of ayudar (to help). Given subject pronouns are often omitted in Spanish, he helps would be translated just as ayuda. So how do you know whether it’s help the noun or help the verb? Context, which means some fluency in Spanish.

Another example is batidora, which is a case of making a noun from a verb root (IOW, knowing just verbs gives you a shot at guessing nouns). Most of the time a word ending in -dora is some kind of tool to do the action implied by the verb part, i.e. computadora, a tool that computes (computar), or in this case a tool that beats (batir).

con el pollo mechado and pegada show another common construct in Spanish. The past participle of a verb, for instance cocinado (cooked) from cocinar (to cook) can often be used as an adjective. Since the participle ends in -o, which is usually masculine, it becomes cocinada (feminine) when used with a feminine noun, which is why it’s carne asada and pollo asado, from asar (to grill). While mechado follows this pattern and gets translated (accurately) by Google as shredded, mechar is a bit mysterious to produce shredded. And pegada, used here as adjective, is really tricky, with -a there is dictionary entry of ‘punch’ (no fit in this context), but pegado is stuck or glued, from the verb pegar (to hit, to paste). So Google translated this as glued, which is kinda right, but this is referring to a mixing bowl and that one wants to have firmly “stuck’ to a surface so you can mix the stuff inside without the bowl spinning all around or sliding over the surface.

The point of a lot of these details I mention is that you can’t just grab a Spanish dictionary (in paper or on your phone) and type in a word and get a definition and, often, get a meaning that really tells you something. That’s why reading lots of recipes could help a lot to them reading menus. Menus don’t usually contain cooking instructions BUT they do often contain derivatives of verbs (as adjectives or nouns) to do tell you something.

So learning a selection of verbs, like from my list if I ever finish it, can help a lot in reading a menu.

And knowledge of Spanish help to figure out something like hemos retirado. Again, you might guess retirado is a past participle (and guessing it’s regular, thus the verb is retirar). Guess what, that’s right! retirar (to remove) is directly used in the instructions as the conjugated form retiramos, which (again missing subject pronoun, but deduced from conjugation is ‘we remove’). It’s interesting the style of writing this recipe used we do xxx a lot, which is a polite form of language (instead of the imperative, commanding you (the cook) to retira (if being familiar and addressing you as ) or retire (if being formal and addressing you as usted). This is also a good example of false cognate (not so obvious with retiramos, but you might guess retirado is retired and it’s not). Now hemos is the present we conjugation of haber, or we have. As in English this is one of the “moods” in Spanish (the perfect as calls it or Pretérito perfecto in Spanish). So I have removed and I removed (retiré or retiraba, which gets into the messy distinction between imperfect and preterite (both for action in the past) are different in Spanish, just as in English and have slightly different meanings.

And finally I’ll show off a bit more of 898 days of studying Spanish to explain poder rellenarlos. poder is used a lot in Spanish and basically means ‘to be able’ (aka ‘can’). But the -los on rellenarlos is one of those things that defeats looking up derivative words in a dictionary. The -los is for an indirect object pronoun, in this case, them, which we affix to the verb infinitve rellenar (to stuff). There is quite a bit of this in Spanish and it can be confusing.

For instance dámelo is three words stuck together (the accent just shows it’s not pronounced with the same stressed syllable as normal). is the imperative polite ‘you give’ (a command to you (usted) to give) from dar (to give); me is just me as the indirect object, and lo is just it (the object), IOW, give it to me. So, of course you can figure out that estas manzanas, dáselas is ‘those apples, give them to them’, right?

So why am I “showing off” so of what I learned and pretending I could teach you some Spanish. Instead of that interpretation what I am showing is how knowledge of the language does facilitate reading. Even if you don’t know all the root words in a piece of text (like cooking instructions) all these little bits of Spanish grammar and conjugation and sentence construction can let you find the words that really tell you something.

And for this post my lengthy discussion also demonstrates how to get a really good verb list – go through lots of recipes in tedious detail, finding verbs in context and then with a combination of the not-too-bad but often flawed Google translations and the rest of the context you can build up a reasonable corpus, i.e. the infinitive form of a verb and its (possibly multiples) meanings you extract from the translation and deduction.

So I’ll finish with something basic in this recipe, from its title; pollo mechado

mechado is the past participle (so -ed in English) of mechar. But a dictionary lookup of mechar (several good online dictionaries) doesn’t yield ‘to shred’. Instead you get to stuff, or to throw into, neither of which fit shredded very well. There is an additional meaning to lard that is intriguing (certainly sounds like a cooking term).

In fact from an excellent source I mention on my cooking verbs page, The somewhat crude Google translation yields this

At the time of wicking , holes are opened in the selected piece, and then they are filled, introducing in them foods that compensate for this tendency to dry out, usually bacon or bacon type fats , these are called wicks. Likewise, you can add elements that help make the piece tastier once cooked, such as aromatic herbs , vegetables, dried fruits, etc.

If you’re familiar with cooking, this is a description of the process of larding. Excellent, got it, but how does this get to shredding. The closest match in the dictionary (under culinary contexts) for ‘to shred’ is cortar en tiras (cut into shreds) or triturar (to grind).

Now in the past when dictionary searches fail to reveal a clue, I do just ordinary searches. Why try mechado , you’ll find a Filipino dish. So the best I could find, which fits this recipe is (from a user contributed site, just like this, attempting to explain Spanish phrases, but therefore often wrong)

Carne mechada is “pulled meat”…generally it is pork shoulder meat slowly cooked and then “mechada” (pulled) with a fork…like the pulled pork you put in a bun. Mechas is slang for hair threads….

It’s the ” y la mechamos con ayuda de dos tenedores ” in the first line (btw, that la before mechamos is not ‘the’, but an indirect pronoun it, which in this case precedes the verb, not affixed to it). So I guess. I have made pulled pork before, when the pork was too hot to shred by hand so I used forks, but wow, this one is tough. Given the “slang” is not used in Spain, presumably this must be a Latin American recipe.

All this work and now to summarize it all into a corpus and then do it a few hundred more times and I might be able to build a really good page that meanwhile a fluent Spanish speaker attending culinary school could create from memory.

p.s. In a little proof reading I notice I forgot to discuss nos guste (in the first line) so I’ll leave this as an exercise for the reader to deal with verb gustar and how to say you/someone/we likes/liked/will-like/would-like in Spanish. Hint it involved the rarely taught in beginner Spanish subjunctive mood conjugation, but the often taught reflexive form.

te gustarás esta entrada de blog, sí

and you will say, por supuesto, excelente, me encanta.