A bold, traditional Lebanese garlic sauce used in shawarma and other Lebanese BBQ recipes. Easy to make in the food processor, whip up a large batch and enjoy Toum all month long.
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“I highly recommend the shawarma at Phoenicia Bakery” – Vince
With those words uttered in our tiny hospital office, my path to Middle Eastern cuisine began.
Five seconds after walking through the doors of this small mediterranean mini market in Austin, Texas, I realized a whole new cuisine was going to take center stage. Phoenicia Bakery, where have you been all of my life?
To the right sits an impressive display of Middle Eastern pastries, much to my husbands delight. At the time, the owners grandmother made all of the baklava. I believe she was in her eighties then. I don’t know if she is still making it or if someone else was apprenticed. Either way, it’s the real deal.
Straight ahead was an impressive stack of Middle Eastern flatbread, one of my favorite discoveries. I eventually learned how to make mana’eesh, a popular eastern Mediterranean flatbread that is surprisingly easy to make. The chewiness of the bite and the olive oil and za’atar flavors makes this one of my favorite flatbreads.
To the left are a few cramped rows of pantry ingredients, as a newbie to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, most of which I have never seen. The back wall is a long row of fridges and freezers. My first encounter with sopressata was in that fridge. Today it is still my favorite salami.
After about thirty minutes of perusing the aisles (the aisles are only about 30 feet long and I think there are only 3) I made it to the sandwich shop where I ordered my first of many shawarmas. I got hubby one too.
The robust garlicky aroma emanating from the white paper bag (I later learned the wonderful aroma was from the Toum sauce) was too much to ignore as I was driving North on Burnet Road. I pulled over.
Arriving home, with white paper bag clenched in my right hand, I raised it overhead as if it were a trophy and said to my husband, “You’ve got to try this!”
That is my shawarma story, what is yours?
What is toum?
Toum is an emulsified garlic sauce similar in appearance to mayonnaise. Made without eggs, the emulsification comes from the garlic. Oil, salt and lemon juice are added to the pulverized garlic and a creamy emulsion forms. Oil and liquid don’t mix so an emulsifier holds both molecules in suspension.
Toum originated in Lebanon but has spread throughout the area and beyond. The French and Spanish have their aioli version and the Greeks have skordalia. In some parts of Lebanon mint is added. Originally made with olive oil, the newer versions use a light flavored oil such as grapeseed, sunflower or canola.
Toum is mostly associated with BBQ meats such as shawarma wraps and shish tawook, a chicken shish kebab. It is a very veratile condiment that can be used in sandwiches, pasta or anything that would benefit from a punchy garlic sauce.
Typically this sauce is made in the food processor where the garlic can be easily pulverized and the emulsifiers release before adding the oil and lemon juice. You can go old-school style though and use a traditional mortar and pestle.
Tips for making a robust, thick and creamy toum.
- Use the freshest garlic possible, farmers markets probably have the freshest. Also, if you have the time and bandwidth for it, cutting out the center germ (the part that turns green in old garlic), will improve the taste of your toum sauce by reducing the bitterness.
- Using a light flavored oil allows more garlic-ness to shine through.
- Completely pulverize the garlic with kosher salt and a little lemon juice before adding any oil.
- Scrape down the sides several time in between pulses of the food processor in order to break down the garlic and release the emulsifiers.
- Once the garlic is broken down, slowly add the oil 1/2 cup at a time in a slow drizzle while processing.
- In between each 1/2 cup of oil, add 1 Tbs of lemon juice.
- Add the remaining lemon juice at the end and process one last time.
How to serve Toum Sauce.
- Drizzle over roasted vegetables such as sweet potatoes or brussels sprouts.
- Drizzle on oven-roasted chicken shawarma.
- Add to pasta dishes for a garlic punch.
- Use as a dip for samosas, borek or pakoras.
- Serve with Baked Curry Zucchini Fries.
- Use as a fry sauce.
- Slather on your next sandwich or wrap.
- Add to a quesadilla.
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What ideas do you have?