When Prior Lake blogger and writer Lisa Soldo-Johnson’s late mother, Lorraine, was diagnosed with dementia, Soldo-Johnson began desperately trying to save scraps of their time together.
“I felt an urgency to capture on paper the recipes she had stored in her memory and had yet to teach me,” Soldo-Johnson writes in her new cookbook, “It Begins at the Table.”
The cookbook, which was released earlier this year, combines what Soldo-Johnson learned in her mother’s kitchen with more than 100 recipes from the kitchens of 11 chefs from seven nations — all friends and colleagues of Soldo-Johnson’s who have immigrated to the United States over the years.
Soldo-Johnson’s time in her friends’ kitchens learning how to make Syrian, Iranian, Israeli, Russian, Chinese and Mexican food brought a “revelation about the power of food and the power of love,” she said in an interview.
“What I found most unique about their stories is that they actually cook from the soul,” Soldo-Johnson said. “They cook from the nostalgia that came from their mothers’ kitchen.”
Nostalgia turns out to be a great ingredient.
Maya Pugachevsky and her daughter Natasha Baig came to the United States from Kiev, Ukraine. Pugachevsky wrote that their recipes for stuffed peppers, salad olivier and baked cod represent generations of simple home-style Russian cooking.
“We try to cook from our heart,” she said.
Suheyla Kerkinni brings stuff grape leaves, lentil salads and kebabs to the table. She wrote that her recipes try to capture her nostalgia for her childhood home among the mountains in Midyat, Turkey.
“Our home was filled with savory smells of traditional cooking and memorable aromas of fresh herbs and spices,” Kerkinni writes. “It was like a messenger carrying good news through the air.”
Soldo-Johnson said she spent two years working with each contributor to translate the recipes they learned through touch and taste into accessible, concrete instructions. The book also includes quick recipe shortcuts and substitutions for cultural staples that might be elusive in Minnesota grocery stores.
“I teach the reader to cook and connect with the world around us and to look beyond our differences and celebrate what unites us,” Soldo-Johnson said. “That’s really the heart beat of the book.”
Soldo-Johnson has written about food and travel at her Culinary Butterfly blog, culinarybutterfly.com, for more than a year. Her cookbook is available on her website and on Amazon.