Cookbook review: Sour by Mark Diacono

I put Mark Diacono’s cookbook Sour: The Magical Element That Will Transform Your Cooking to the test by making two of the recipes: a tomato, crème fraîche and mustard tart and a Persian fish stew.

Find out how I got on…

Cookbook review: Sour by Mark Diacono

Author Mark Diacono lives the kind of life I fantasise about. He’s the brains behind Otter Farm in Devon, which he describes as “17 unique acres dedicated to flavour” and where, as well as the usual garden-variety veg, he grows the likes of Sichuan pepper, Chilean guava and Japanese quinces; he’s an alumnus of River Cottage and has written many cookbooks; he designs edible gardens, gives demos on food and gardening and does his own photography, too…

Mark’s new book is all about the zest, zing and palate-awakening effect of ingredients such as citrus, vinegar and cultured dairy, as well as more arcane souring agents such as amchoor (green mango powder), dried black limes, tamarind and anardana (dried pomegranate seeds). It’s also about that most trendy of kitchen pastimes: fermenting (sourdough bread, vinegar-making, kimchi and kombucha).

How good are the recipes?

If that all sounds a bit scary, rest assured it’s not. There are many simple recipes, from salads and soups to meaty mains and puds. I couldn’t resist Mark’s tomato, crème fraîche and mustard tart: a beautifully short, buttery pastry shell filled with mustard-spiked crème fraîche and topped with roasted tomatoes. I was a bit worried that, with no egg to bind the crème fraîche, the filling would be runny after the recommended 15 minutes’ cooling – and, sure enough, when I cut into the middle, it pooled onto the plate. It was no less delicious, but I’ll try mixing in an egg next time.

Next I had a go at Persian fish stew flavoured with cumin, cardamom, green chilli and turmeric, plus (the sour creds) dried black limes. The resulting piquant, gently spiced stew went straight onto my ‘make again’ list.

How’s the photography and design?

Mark’s simple photos focus on the food, while the cloth cover makes the book nice to handle. This is a book to use and cook from, not to leave sitting on a shelf.

Who’s the book suitable for?
Anyone who wants to know about fermenting and preserving will find plenty here, and it’s written in an approachable, not techy, way. But if you just want something good for dinner, recipes such as chicken adobo, pad thai, tamarind pork ribs and lime posset will fit the bill.

Verdict: 4/5

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