Dear online recipe authors: cut to the chase!
Overly lengthy preambles are the bane of many an online recipe. I need to voice my frustration.
When writing a recipe there are certain things that are vital if the meal is to be successful for everyone. A clear ingredient list is essential. A list of required equipment is desirable. And of course, a straightforward, well planned step-by-step instructional guide is imperative. But online recipe authors take note: 500 words about where the recipe idea came from, why you put spinach in it, and how your kids loved it when you cooked it for them last week is not necessary.
Take a look at this dahl recipe, for example. There are 937 words before the author gets to the step-by-step tutorial. This preamble is almost long enough to qualify as an Homeric Epic; you could be mistaken for placing this recipe among the great Russian novels of the eighteenth century; the recipe begins by telling us that this can be prepared in '25 minutes' – is this calculated to include the enormous amount of reading time required before we can even dice an onion?
What, I hear you ask, could possibly fill 937 words of preamble? Well, there's discussion of when is best to cook it (weeknights, apparently), reviews from other users (curated by the author, so more or less redundant), some info about the tweaks the author has made over the years (how does this help me, again?), a reminder that this can be 'on the table in 30 minutes' (5 minutes to get the cooked food onto the table? How big is the author's house?) and so much more.
It just keeps going. Weight Watchers points. Vegan. Dairy-free. Coconut milk. Chilli optional. When will this end?
Finally, we reach the subheading we've been waiting for: 'HOW TO MAKE RED LENTIL DAL ON THE STOVETOP (STEP BY STEP TUTORIAL)'.
This is followed by:
'This daal is really easy to make. If you can spare a bit more time, then I’d suggest you slowly cook the onions for about 10 minutes until soft but not too brown. Then also simmer the daal a little longer.'
WHEN WILL THIS FILLER END??
Finally, we get to the step-by-step, and it comes to a grand total of.... 99 words. That's right, 937 words of introductory waffle for a 99 word recipe. This is madness.
But the worst part? This is normal. There are so many recipes online that follow this same format. The only reason I can think of is to boost SEO (Search Engine Optimisation), but the user experience suffers so much in the process that it makes the recipes all but useless.
If I'm scrolling through a recipe online it's usually because I need some quick information. Rarely do I cook a recipe start to finish; I'm much more likely to dip into one or two, just borrowing techniques when I realise that, for example, I've no idea what the correct hydration of taco dough is, and I don't know how to cook the orzo I've found in the back of my cupboard.
Therefore, I want a recipe no more than: a clear list of measured ingredients, maybe a list of equipment and a clear, well laid out step-by-step.
I've noticed HelloFresh and other meal kits don't have these preambles on their recipe cards. Maybe this is why people say that they make cooking so much quicker, easier and hassle-free: no endless scrolling about how your gran passed the recipe down to you as a child!
So I beg of any author of online recipes: give us what we need, and no more! And if you must impose your personal touch onto a recipe, do it below the actual recipe: tips and tricks only make sense once we've read the recipe anyway.