The power of sour

“Sour: The Magical Element that Will Transform Your Cooking” by Mark Diacono
“Sour: The Magical Element that Will Transform Your Cooking” by Mark Diacono

Our brains may be wired to gravitate toward sweets, but we all crave a little tartness for balance — maybe more than we think.

That could explain why, as I was coming down from the sugar high of the holiday season, I readily latched on to "Sour: The Magical Element that Will Transform Your Cooking" by Mark Diacono (Quadrille, $35).

“Where sugar (and salt to a degree) is all lustful, instant gratification, sour is more quietly, deeply rewarding,” writes Diacono, the author of several award-winning books in the UK who cooks, gardens, photographs and teaches at his acclaimed Otter Farm in East Devon, England.

The more you understand how sourness works, he maintains, the better you’ll appreciate its ability to sharpen and amplify the flavor — and even alter the structure, consistency, and color — of just about any dish or drink you set out to make.

Diacono devotes the first section of his book to souring skills, such as making sourdough starters, tart dairy products, vinegar, sauerkraut and fermented drinks. A chapter titled “Small Things” offers creative ways to put them to use, such as by making Red Grapefruit and Radish Kimchi, Kombucha Mayonnaise, and a wonderfully simple, rustic Soda Bread made with buttermilk and three types of grains. Other chapters cover every course from salad to dessert, plus a tantalizing selection of mouth-puckering drinks.

I’ve made several life-affirming meals off his recipe for Winter Tabbouleh alone: a refreshing yet hearty mélange of bulgur wheat, nuts, fruits and sturdy vegetables tossed in a tangy pomegranate dressing. Pork ribs glazed in tamarind-spiked sauce, saffron-scented rice studded with dried cranberries and pistachios, and mussels steamed in sour beer are slated for upcoming meals.

“Gradually falling in love with sour,” Diacono writes, “is like realizing the friend who’s been standing so close all along is actually the one for you.”

I’ll mull on that, maybe while sipping a Mint Kefir Mojito.

Susan Puckett is a cookbook author and former food editor of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow her at susanpuckett.com.

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