First we must ask ourselves: what does it mean to cook in a language? Often when I cook, I don’t even use language. I just add the ingredients in the right order and do the right things to them and make something delicious. Of course the part of our brain that evolved for language is still used for this - the way I categorize words in english and the way I categorize spices are the same. But is this cooking in English? Or is it just cooking?
When cooking from a cookbook, it’s useful to have visuals. Cookbooks without words and only pictures have been made, so language isn’t needed for teaching cooking. However, language is a very valuable supplement to facilitate pedagogy in cooking (it helps teach cooking). So instead of thinking of a toki pona cookbook as a proof that you can cook using only written instructions, perhaps a toki pona needs pictures to be most effective, and that’s okay! So do cookbooks in other languages.
Second we must ask ourselves: what does it mean to cook at all? Does making toast count as cooking? Does making instant ramen count as cooking? Does opening up a yoghurt container count as cooking? What if you add a teaspoon of jam? What if you make your own jam and add it to store bought yoghurt? I’m sure everyone will draw the line differently, or not at all, but we need to remember this is all in the context of toki pona.
So what is cooking, in toki pona? Here’s my answer: cooking is something you do to make food. It’s a type of pali. Or perhaps a type of seli. Or some other toki pona word. But broadly, if you’re doing something that will lead to you eating, it doesn’t matter if it counts as cooking or not for a toki pona cookbook. For this reason, cookbooks don’t have to follow any anglophone concept of what “cooking” is. One recipe could be how to make stir fry from scratch, and the next recipe could be suggestions for what toppings to put on instant oatmeal. And something in-between might be baking a pie with a store-bought crust, or pancakes from a store-bought mix.
toki pona values the day-to-day, so a toki pona cookbook would describe what cooking might look like day-to-day. It wouldn’t be a book you pull out once every few weeks when you need to impress guests—it would be a book you learn from until eventually you can cook on your own. Its goals would be to be useful to the person using it, offer recipes from a perspective of healthy variation, and incorperate elements of cooking from around the world. For example, instead of measurements, it would describe the function of each ingredient, and the cook can learn how much of each ingredient they like. Or for baking, it would use ratios by weight.
I am Jewish, and I’m a heritage Yiddish speaker. One Yiddish phrase that comes up a lot in my life is “shit arayn.” “shit” means “put” and “arayn” means “in,” so this phrase literally means “put in.” But, similar to most Yiddish phrases that survived in non-Yiddish-speaking Jewish communities, such as my family, shit arayn has another meaning. My grandmother’s grandmother would scold my grandmother with “shit arayn” whenever she pulled out the measuring cups. Just put it in, don’t use measurements. Shit arayn. This is because in order to make delicious food, you don’t need to measure. In Jewish cooking, unless you’ve cooked it a dozen times already, every time you cook a traditional dish, it’s an experiment. Your chopped liver might come out a bit eggy, and you might like that! Your matseballs might be too firm to your liking, and you’ll know what you need to do to change that next time.
I’ve talked to lots of people from around the world, and while not universal, this “shit arayn” method of cooking is very common. It fits my experiences of day-to-day cooking, and I think it’s a good basis for a toki pona cookbook. Here is a list of design goals.