Toum is traditional with middle eastern food, especially chicken. But it's also great on pizza or pasta, or as a dip for vegetables. Or use it to flavor rice dishes. Heck, try it with cardboard!
I first had toum (ثوم) at zankou chicken, where they call it "garlic sauce". Not knowing the name made it tricky to find a recipe, but I persevered. Here's what I've settled on:
- 3 heads of garlic, peeled (about 36-42 cloves)
- 2 tsp salt
- 2-3 Tbl lemon juice
- 9 oz vegetable oil (soybean works well)
Peel the garlic and combine it with the salt and lemon juice in a blender. Work it into a fine paste. Add the oil a little at a time, building up a white, creamy emulsion. Use a little less lemon juice for a thicker texture, like whipped butter. Use more lemon juice if, like John Cleese, you like it runny.
Refrigerate for an hour or two before using, so the lemon juice can work on the garlic. Makes about a pint of garlicky goodness. Keep it refrigerated in a sealed container. Keeping toum in a condiment squeeze tube can be a lot of fun: apply garlic anywhere, anytime, with pinpoint precision.
You may be tempted to try olive oil instead of soybean. Don't bother: it doesn't emulsify very well. I think this is because of the chemistry of the fatty acids involved, but I don't even play a chemist on TV. Avoid canola oil too, because it makes the toum taste funny.
Emulsions have a reputation for being finicky, but this one seems pretty reliable for me. Just watch out for hot days or overworking the blender. Heat breaks down emulsions pretty easily. So does freezing. If you cook with toum, the heat will break down the emulsion. Sure, it'll break down into garlic and oil, and you might say you haven't lost anything. But why did you bother getting out the blender and making toum, if all you wanted was garlic and oil?
Some toum recipes call for extra filler: potato or breadcrumbs, etc. Feel free to try that. You can also try mixing in herbs or spices. Or just sprinkle whatever you feel like on top of your plateful of yum.