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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 15: Turkey and potato soup

Last weekend I hosted Orphans’ Christmas, or Friendsmas. For the past few years, a group of London-based friends share a festive meal together before most head off to spend the Christmas period with family.

Essentially, it’s an excuse to eat, drink, and be merry. Oh, and to wear silly paper hats and read out terrible Christmas cracker jokes.

The meal involved turkey, bread sauce, sprouts – all the typical British trimmings.

However, the turkey was huge. And despite there being 10 of us, and guests heading home laden with turkey-filled Tupperware, there was still quite a bit of leftovers to get through.

Picture of roast turkey

So, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone (excuse the pun) and search for French turkey recipes. Turkey is not very common in France, so my recipe is not exactly traditional. It’s also simple. In a way, I felt like I was cheating. But, in the name of using up my fridge contents and reducing food waste, who can complain?

My source recipe is named Soupe de pommes de terre à la dinde. I chose to reorder the name in English, calling it Turkey and potato soup.


Conflicting culinary terms and conforming to genre conventions (or not!)

One instruction gave me pause for thought:

Faites revenir les légumes avec du sel jusqu’à ce qu’ils soient dorés

(Word-for-word translation: brown the vegetables with some salt until they are golden)

This is problematic on two fronts.

Firstly, I believe that using both ‘brown’ and ‘golden’ in the same sentence is confusing. (The French term faire revenir doesn’t have this problem as it doesn’t refer to a colour.) Certainly, in English recipes you are more likely to see one or the other, i.e. ‘brown the beef’ or ‘bake the biscuits until golden.’

Secondly, the placement of ‘salt’ is unusual and results in an unidiomatic sentence in English. I’m still trying to work out quite why this is. Perhaps it is related to emphasis? To me, the syntax of the word-for-word rendering seems to allocate more importance to the salt than necessary. But I would welcome insight from any others here!

In the end, I changed the sentence around and ended up with the below. I believe that this sounds a bit more natural.

Add the vegetables and some salt and cook until golden

(NB: the step prior to this was to heat some oil in saucepan.)

Recipes are quite formulaic. Straying too far from stock phrases and standard cooking terms is a risky business.

On the one hand, it can cause confusion. For instance, in saying ‘cream the butter and sugar’, a recipe refers to a process, and to an end result. A habitual baker will know what this involves, and what the mixture is meant to look like. Using a different expression means they might not know what they are being asked to do.

On the other hand, it can also make a text feel as though it does not belong to the recipe genre. Often, this can be a sign that a text was written by a non-native speaker, or by someone who doesn’t normally use or write recipes.

Then again, as with all things translation, and indeed copywriting, all roads lead to the brief. If your recipe is to be included in some sort of punk recipe zine*, then maybe originality and making your recipe stand out is precisely what you want.

*does such a thing exist? If not, it should do…

To simmer, fib, or pamper = mitonner

This week, I came across the verb mitonner, which can mean any of the above, depending on the context.

In the culinary context, it means to cook for a long time, and can therefore be translated with ‘slow-cook’ or ‘simmer’

On a figurative level, it can mean to ‘plot’ or ‘cook up.’ Similarly, it can mean to make up stories or lie, and can therefore be translated with ‘tell tales’ or ‘fib’. Finally, it can be used as a high brow literary term for ‘cosset’ or ‘pamper.’


The cooking all went smoothly. I used leftover bread to create croutons which were delicious on top.

Picture of turkey and potato soup

The leftovers were also transformed into a Malaysian style turkey curry.

Picture of turkey Malaysian curry

Next time

I’d like to make another festive treat.

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