. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Finding One's Culinary Tongue

????????? ?????: to dress a salad.

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The first time I stood in a Russian kitchen to make dinner, I had no trouble with the pots and pans, and gas range. The problem was that I had no idea how to describe what I was doing. I wanted to say, "You brown this and then mix in the other ingredients." Instead I said, "H?, ???? ???????, ?-?-?, ?????? ???, ?? ?? ?????, ? ????? ???????? ???? ??? ?????????." Which back-translates as, "Well, at first you, um, you fry but not much, and then you put in there everything else."

This didn't exactly fill my guests with confidence.

Actually, Russian culinary terms are simpler than their English counterparts -- how many of us really understand the difference between fricasseeing and stewing? In Russian, ???????? is used for any kind of cooking. ? ???????? ???? (I made dinner). For anything you cook in water or liquid, you use ??????; for anything you fry in some kind of oil, you use ??????; and for anything that is cooked in a pot with the top on, in the oven or on the stovetop, you use ??????.

All the subtleties get expressed with prefixes and a bit of further explanation.

For example, the sentence that stumped me might be better translated: "??????? ??? ???? ????????, ? ????? ??????? ??? ????????? ???????????." If a guest thinks you haven't cooked something long enough, they might say: "???? ??? ???????? ??????? -- ??? ? ??????" (You need to fry the cutlets some more -- they're still too rare). If you want to stew something over a low flame, you could say, ?????? ???? ? ??????? ?? ?????? ???? (braise meat with vegetables over a low flame).

???????? would mean to blanch something; ??????? is to boil it totally. ??????? ????????? ? ??????? is "to boil potatoes in their jackets" (?????? literally means a "full dress uniform"). You can bake potatoes in their jackets in the oven, too, and serve ???????? ? ?????? ????????? (baked potatoes).

If you want to dice something, you say, ???????? ?????????; to mince is ???????? ??????? ????????? (literally, "in very small pieces"); to cut something into julienne strips is ???????? ???????? (literally, "like a matchstick").

Be careful about "false friends" here: ?????? is the ubiquitous Russian dish of mushrooms with a white sauce and cheese. ????????? (to cut something up completely) is the verb you use when you're taking apart a chicken or filleting a fish. You can also say, ???? ????????? ? ????.

Once you're ready to serve, you have to do the final touches. "??? ?? ?????? ?????????? ??????" (How are you going to dress the salad?) At first I thought this was an odd verb to use (you use the same word to describe tucking your shirt in or filling your car with gas), but then "dressing a salad" is odd as well.

And then there's dessert (???????, ??????). When you are baking a yeast dough, you say: ????????/?????? ????? ?? ?????, ???? ??? ?? ?????? ????????? ?? ??? (knead the dough on the table until it doesn't stick to your hands). In Russian, dough doesn't rise, it "gets there"-- ????? ???????.

Once you get ready to serve your dessert, be careful with your language: there are a lot of false friends in the sweets category. ???? for Russians is more like a muffin than an American cake. ??????? is, alas, not a biscuit, but a sponge cake. And when you are enjoying dessert, if someone says: "??! ???? ???????!" -- it doesn't mean your coffee has sprouted legs and is dashing out the door. It means the coffee is boiling over.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.