Toum is a garlic-based spread and dip devised from the Levant. It serves as a wonderful, versatile accompaniment to vegetable dishes, grilled meats, bread, fries, and shawarma, among other meals. Toum is an emulsion of oil and lemon, heavily comprised of garlic, lemon juice, and neutral oil. I recommend that you work with a well-dried food processor and utensils (as to not intervene with the emulsion process); a rubber spatula helps to push the mix back down the sides of the processor. I learned about Toum while studying in Oman and learned how to make it from watching this Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yn7CFFVtJz8 – this post is derived from his recipe and here I will talk through my own making.
- Garlic (30 Cloves or about roughly 2 heads)
- 3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
- 3 Cups Vegetable Oil (or another neutral oil)
Place garlic cloves and a few pinches of salt in the food processor. Start the processor for approximately 30 seconds to begin breaking down the garlic.
Next step is to add the vegetable oil and lemon juice. Binding these two liquids – liquids otherwise not miscible – should be a very slow, gradual process. Switch between adding the lemon juice and oil so they can simultaneously bind with the garlic. Essentially, you want to add the liquids teaspoon drop by drop. Any more than this will lead you to break the bind. Give the processor time between each pour to do its job.
As the contents emulsify, the Toum will gradually thicken and grow in size.
Note: I have now made Toum a few times and continue to learn from my mistakes. I have also made an edit about the salt – 1 tablespoon for others was way too salty and I have only been doing it pinch-by-pinch since my first try making this.
I did not pour in the ingredients slow enough the first time, making the Toum almost gelatinous. The second time, I added the ingredients much slower. The first time, I stopped the blender too many times to push the contents down because I thought this was important! The second time, I stopped the blender only three times to push down the contents or give it a quick mix and I believe this made a world of difference. Be patient.
How I serve and eat Toum:
I have most recently served Toum with chicken skewers (a simplified version of Shish Tawook), caramelized onions, Za’atar roasted potatoes, and pita. Before putting the pita in the oven, I smothered the top with Toum, creating a garlicky, aromatic crust.
Toum is a wonderful addition to a wide variety of meals: Serve with vegetables, grilled meats, Arabic bread, spread onto Shawarma, and so on. Sometimes, it’s the star of my breakfast – I simmer chili flakes in butter before adding my egg to fry. I slather the Toum on a slice of bread and toast it for a few minutes. Absolute Heaven.
Where did I come across this recipe?
While traveling in Oman, I tasted Toum for the first time at a Lebanese restaurant called Automatic. I remember how insanely elevated my senses were, and this created such an incredible memory being surrounded my friends as we tried some new meals together. This was one of those moments I thought to myself, “I have to remember the name of this, so I can take it with me forever”. Well, I always remembered it, but not until now have I thought about making it for myself!
Looking back, most eating experiences across the Middle East evoked such happy emotions. Often I would be laying on the floors of the private eating rooms, barefoot, with food all over my face. Not a care in the world because who was there to watch, anyway? No eating experiences have ever compared since. This is likely because they were so immersive, as I ate with my hands until I was too full to lift them anymore, laughing and taking my time, taking in a region and culture I’ve grown to love so much over the years. After years of thinking about the pleasure Toum has provided me, I’m happy that I took the plunge to make this dish to share with my family and with you all today.