The garlicky goodness that is toum

A few years ago, Chris and I were exploring the multi-ethnic (and multi-delicious) area of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, when we walked into a tiny little shop called Karam Restaurant. At the time, Karam had about three small tables and was really meant for takeout orders. Despite being a tiny store front, they had quite the variety of foods, both ready made and made to order, ranging from freshly roasted shawarma, wraps and sandwiches, savory pies, the equivalent of Middle Eastern style “pizzas,” and different types of baklava and other Middle Eastern sweets. We ordered one shawarma wrap, which was made to order, and we ate inside. While the shawarma meat and the wrap and all the vegetables inside were delicious, what really, really stood out to me was this incredible, thick, whipped, white garlic-aioli-like sauce that the wrap was generously slathered with. I had no idea what this sauce was called, but I immediately looked it up later to find out that it was a much loved Lebanese garlic sauce called toum. Toum is a simple sauce made of just four ingredients (fresh garlic, neutral oil, salt, and fresh lemon juice), blended and emulsified to create an airy, whipped, creamy garlic sauce, thick enough to slather on your favorite Lebanese roasted meats and vegetables… or really, anything that needs a bit of extra flavor or oomph. I was sold. It seemed so simple with just four ingredients, and I knew I had to make it.

But when I looked up recipes for it, I felt a bit deterred when I found out how finicky it actually was: toum had a tendency to become very bitter if you didn’t treat the garlic properly. And what I mean by that is: you need really, really fresh garlic for toum, like the freshest possible that you can find. The reason for this is if you do not, the inner part of the garlic, which if it’s old, can impart bitterness. You usually know if your garlic is a bit older if when you cut a clove in half, you can see a little green or lighter white sprout. So if you have access to just standard supermarket garlic like I do, you will need to go through the extra step of cutting every single garlic clove in half and manually removing the inner white/green part. That sounded like too much work, especially given you need at least half a cup of garlic cloves to make a decent amount of toum to store! And given I do not have access to garden fresh garlic, I was a bit hesitant.

But today, I decided to finally just cave in and make it. I needed toum as an ingredient to make the home version of “white sauce” for the halal style chicken and rice bowls I wanted to have for dinner. So I sucked it up, cut each clove in half, removed the center, and went on my way. I blended and emulsified the toum, and…. wow. Just wow. The sauce honestly tasted just as good as I remember it from Karam. It was SO GOOD — so intense, so garlicky, so singing with flavor.

Now, I’ve got an entire jar’s worth of this whipped white glory in my fridge that will store beautifully for the next four months. I can’t wait to find other things to use it for.


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