In the spirit of my new year, new discovery theme, I have found a new favorite condiment: toum.
Used in Lebanese cuisine, it is an alchemistic mix of oil, garlic, lemon and salt whipped to a creamy fluff that has the lightness of whipped cream or egg whites. It mimics the best of mayonnaise or aioli but without the raw egg issue.
The flavor knocked my socks off, and I have so far used it as a dip for veggies, a condiment on sandwiches, a salad dressing, a way to finish steak, a topping for fish, tossed in pasta, mixed into tuna salad, and slathered on avocado for a light lunch.
In short, it is the greatest.
I found this Holy Grail at Condiment, Reading Terminal Market’s custom sauce and condiment merchant, where it is made fresh. It is also available online, but that is a jarred version and may not have the robust flavor of freshly made toum. It is also possible to make your own, although the process requires a precision that is not my favorite way to cook.
But in the spirit of the new year and new discovery, I gave it a whirl. I researched several recipes, and the key seemed to be a powerful blender or food processor and a very slow, gradual addition of oil and lemon juice in alternate drizzles.
The results were meh. When you are blending vast quantities of garlic with salt, oil and lemon, you are going to produce something that is tasty and useful — even if the texture lacks the ethereal lusciousness of the toum I bought. And that’s what happened.
The flavor was great — again, with the ingredients, that is a given — but the texture was not. My toum “broke.” In other words, the emulsification process that results from the precise and slow introduction of the lemon and oil failed. Undoubtedly this was due to human error and the fact that my blender is on the fritz. I might have had greater success with a food processor.
But the good news was that, even as a failure, the subpar toum was a great marinade — which I used on grilled chicken — and salad dressing, which I tossed on arugula, tomatoes and cucumbers.
Would I try it again? Maybe. If so, I would use a food processor, and time the process more carefully. And knowing that the failure is still pretty darn good, I won’t fret about the outcome.
Here’s the technique:
Makes about 1 cup
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup canola, vegetable, or grapeseed oil
Place the garlic and salt in a blender and puree it into a smooth paste. Scrape down the sides to ensure even consistency.
Add a sprinkle of lemon and a teaspoon of oil in a very fine trickle, and blend.
With the blender running continuously, alternate teeny drips of lemon and teeny drips of oil.
The entire process takes about seven minutes and the result, if successful, will be a fluffy, light white mass that looks sort of like homemade whipped cream. If the emulsification process did not work, the result will look like salad dressing that has separated, which is not a catastrophe. Just use it as salad dressing or marinade.