Toum is the buttery garlic sauce from Lebanon. It goes great with grilled meat and French fries ?. What I am trying to say is that it is very versatile- use it to make meat marinade, as part of salad dressing , as a spread and so on. If you have had shawarma, chances are you have gotten a taste of it. You get the garlic taste but in an intriguing way a bit like mayo with a kick.
You have the garlic , oil and lemon juice plus a pinch of salt. These ingredients get transformed into a fluffy spread that I personally love with French fries. We spread this liberally on a pita wrap. I will slather it on chicken and make garlicky roast chicken.
Here are a few reasons I love toum.
- Vegan – I can safely leave it on the counter for the little monsters to munch on and not worry about food poisoning.
- Versatile – Add a few herbs and slather on french bread and toast. Voila , you have garlic bread !
- Mix herbs and spices and use a garlicky marinade for roasts – potatoes roasted with these sauce are absolutely delicious.
- Fun to make – especially with kids. Watch them go from “gross garlic” to “ummm that’s yum” 🙂 .
These are all the ingredients that go into this sauce – garlic , water , lemon juice, oil and salt. This here is your vegan alternative to mayonnaise. It spreads like mayonnaise, but with quite bold flavors.
So why is a garlicky spread under cook with kids ?
Here is why – Toum is essentially an emulsion. You have ingredients that are not at all similar – liquids that don’t mix and a solid. There is no cooking involved and yet you end up with a fluffy spread that seems nothing like the ingredients you started with.
Transformations like these capture the children’s imagination, and it is something different f rom decorating cupcakes or making sugary treats.
What is an emulsion ?
An emulsion is essentially a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible (unmixable) – think oil and water. To get a stable emulsion, that does not separate out immediately one needs something to bind the different types of liquids together. This “something” is your emulsifying agent. It creates a chemical bond with each liquid and becomes a bridge between them. And in this case it is garlic.
The fluffy sauce in the picture does not look anything like the ingredients that go into it. To get to this texture we have to use the ‘mayonnaise method’ ?. Essentially we mix the liquids so much that the molecules are spread randomly within each other. In this case the lemon juice molecules are trapped by the oil with the garlic acting as the emulsifier. Think of it this way – the oil and lemon juice want to separate , so they try to repel each other while the garlic tries to keep them together. All that opposing forces gives it the fluffiness and the binding forces of garlic gives it the stability.
Yes it is science !!! For those with active imaginations – two other commonly used emulsifying agents are egg yolk and mustard. May be you can find a way to make a less garlicky version of toum??
How To Make Toum
What we attempt to do here is to make an emulsion by suspending the water and lemon juice in oil. Since water (or lemon juice) does not mix with oil we have to introduce it to the oil slowly making sure that it gets incorporated well before adding more. The emulsifier , garlic in this case, has to be ready to bind both liquids together. So here is how it is done –
- Grind garlic and salt into a smooth paste.
- Add oil to the mix slowly until a smooth mix forms .
- Slowly start introducing water/lemon juice to it. Add more oil if needed.
- Go slow the mix will turn fluffy after a few minutes.
So here are some shots on of toum being made. This one was made with cold pressed (extra virgin) olive oil, as I was looking for the olive and garlic flavors in it. As you can see the color is pale yellow. If you use canola or other neutral oils the toum will be white.
Here is the olive oil toum on pita bread. The flavors go well here – as I was pairing it with grilled meat and veggies and olive oil flavors were quite a nice addition . If I were to add french fries to the warp I would have preferred the all white version.
Some things to remember :
- Remove any green parts from the garlic. Slit the garlic and remove any green shoots from the inside as well. The green garlic turns the sauce bitter.
- The color changes depending on the oil used. With cold pressed olive oil (EVOO) you get a pale yellow toum , which I love. For the snow white variety use canola oil or vegetable oil.
- Do not let the contents heat up. This is where the cold water becomes beneficial.
Here is a secret – Toum can be made with only garlic and oil ! Why ? because garlic has water and the emulsifying agents are released when the gralc is ground to a paste ! So essentially garlic alone will suffice ! The water and lemon juice tones down the pungent garlic flavors.
Did you know that Toum was traditionally made using a mortar and pestle ? No I am not even going to try that ! But if you need another challenge in your life – go ahead try it with mortar and pestle ! As for me I am happy with my blender.
Here is the recipe for Toum.
- 1/3 C Garlic Cloves peeled
- 1/2 - 3/4 Tsp Sea Salt To taste
- 1 C Oil Notes
- 2 - 3 Tbsp Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice To taste
- 2-3 Tbsp Ice Water Optional (Notes)
Prep the garlic
- Peel and slice the slice the garlic cloves in half lengthwise. Remove any green parts from the garlic.
- Place the garlic in a food processor or blender jar and process until ground fine. Stop and scrape the sides in between.
- If the machine has a spout that allows you to introduce ingredients while processing slowly drizzle about 1 tsp of oil into the garlic. Other wise open and add 1 tsp oil and blend. Scrape the bowl. Keep repeating the process until the garlic is creamy.
- Start adding more oil alternating with few drops of water or lemon juice until the fluffy emulsion is formed. Go slow and wait for it to take effect. Taste and add few more drops of lemon r water as desired.
- Use any neural oil such as canola or safflower for the classic white sauce.
- I would recommend using the ice cold water in this recipe. It seems to mellow the flavors and keep the sauce from heating in the blender.
- Remember to remove any and all the green parts from the garlic.
Important: Values are only estimates. Actuals vary depending on ingredients and serving size.
Want to know more about the science of emulsions ? These resources might help .