Michelle Schoffro Cook’s The Cultured Cook

the cultured cook

As someone who’s Hapa, and had a childhood rich in fermented and pickled veggies (mmm, mustard egglplant), I’m a huge fan of all things cultured.  So when this book dropped into my lap, I was stoked.  A way to make my own?  This might just break me of my H Mart addiction… Or more likely it’ll be a nice way to make kimchi, and other fermented yummies at home, saving me a trip or three.

But first a word.  While most people think dairy when talk swings to cultured foods, this cookbook is vegan. Completely vegan, including the yoghurt. Yep. Vegan yoghurt. The recipes are also gluten free, which helps folks like me, who have friends who are suffering from celiac disease. Hello, potluck recipes!

But beyond chronic illness, did you know that approximately 70%of the immune system is in the gut? It’s not “natural medicine mumbo-jumbo” either, as I found out. So I decided to look at this as more than a book of recipes.  Luckily, that’s easy to do.

Lots and lots of talky talk. Chapter one is a lengthy discussion of what fermented foods are, what she’ll be delving into in the other chapters, how to use fermented and cultured foods to promote health, and how those foods perform in our bodies. After 10 pages, I was ready to hop to the meat (er, TVP) of the book. But I read it all, because I’m a professional. And while I was looking forward to digging into the How-to, I have to admit that the Why was fascinating. I was especially thankful for the “probiotics vs prebiotics” section, because all I know about probiotics is what I learned from Jamie Lee Curtis. Chapter one includes with several lists of healthy non-cultured foods that can help with eating healthier.

As I went from chapter to chapter, noticed Cook was just as adamant about getting the Why out to her readers. Why yoghurt? Why cheese? Why pickles? Why fermented veggies and fruits? As someone who likes to know how things work, each breakdown of these items was a welcome look at how they work on our bodies. I’d go as far as to say that you could read just her information before each recipe section, and still walk away making a positive health change.

But those recipes. Make your own Booch! Vegan kefir! Miso vegan cheese! My Nisei mother may be rolling in her urn at that last one, but I love the idea of that tangy umami taste combined with cheesy goodness. And while Cook’s recipes are vegan, there are lots of ideas for incorporating regular probiotic dairy products into your diet, including sections on how to shop for the best type of yoghurt and ingredients in dairy products that should be avoided if possible. I’ll be remembering that info the next time I’m at the store.

“I’m certainly not claiming that fermented foods are cures for whatever ails you…”. I like a nutritionist that knows what things can do, and what they can’t. Her statement that these foods aren’t a panacea is refreshing. What I like best about this book? It’s not scary. I like to keep my scares in my fiction reading, thank you. Each recipe is easy to understand, with less than ten ingredients per item – most with five or less – and the instructions are simple. I tried the Basic Sauerkraut, and it turned out beautifully. (Tip: DO NOT skip the juniper berries! They’re tough to get a hold of in regular supermarkets, but the taste is worth it.) Next up, I’ll be trying the Blackberry Cheesecake. I love the idea of using dates and coconut oil rather than butter! Mmm, coconut and dates…

Speaking of ingredients, most of the dairy substitute recipes require a probiotic supplement to get that sweet sweet culture action. But hey – probiotic (vegan) smoked cheese! Huzzah!

So if you’re looking for a cookbook that’ll teach you how to eat while showing you the Why? A book that has a lot of yummy but easy recipes? Check this one out. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the kitchen, chopping up some bok choy…


(New World Library, 2017)


Denise Kitashima Dutton has been a reviewer since 2003, and hopes to get the hang of things any moment now. She believes that bluegrass is *not* hell in music form, and that beer is better when it’s a nitro pour. Besides GMR, you can find her at Atomic Fangirl, Movie-Blogger.com, or at that end seat at the bar, multi-tasking with her Kindle.