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Recipe: Lebanese Garlic Sauce (Toum)

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Garlic Sauce

If you have been to Zankou Chicken or one of the many other Lebanese and Armenian restaurants in Los Angeles, you're likely familiar with toum, the fluffy, creamy garlic sauce that often accompanies grilled meats and kebabs. Over the years I developed the habit of always ordering an extra little tub of garlic paste, which I'd carry home to slather on bread, roasted vegetables, and more. Eventually I realized that I could simply make it myself and have this bold, garlicky condiment any time I wanted.

There are lots of different methods for making garlic sauce. "Toum" literally means garlic in Arabic, and the simplest recipes call for lots of fresh garlic cloves and oil, pounded with a mortar and pestle (or a food processor) to form a paste. Some cooks include additional ingredients like egg whites, cornstarch, potatoes, yogurt, lemon juice, or citric acid. I like the simplicity of the recipe below, which uses garlic, salt, lemon juice, and oil. (My go-to oil is grapeseed oil from Trader Joe's. It's inexpensive, neutral tasting, light bodied, and expeller pressed without chemicals.)

In order for the sauce to emulsify properly in the food processor, it requires a rather large volume of garlic and oil. Fortunately, this keeps for quite a few weeks in the fridge, or you can spread the joy and give a jar to all your garlic-loving friends.

Lebanese Garlic Sauce (Toum)
Makes about 4 cups

  • 1 cup peeled garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups neutral oil such as grapeseed or sunflower
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

Examine the garlic cloves and remove and discard any green sprouts, which can make the sauce taste bitter. Place the garlic and salt in a food processor and process until the garlic is puréed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.

With the machine running, add 1/2 cup of the oil in a very slow, thin, steady stream. Gradually add 1/2 tablespoon of the lemon juice in the same manner. Repeat this process until all of the oil and lemon juice have been incorporated into the garlic. It should take around 10 minutes. If at any point the mixture separates, stop adding oil/lemon juice and continue processing until the mixture comes together. The sauce should have a mayonnaise-like consistency.

Transfer the garlic sauce to an airtight container. If the sauce is still warm from the food processor, wait until it cools to cover the container.

Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks.

Serving suggestions:
• Serve it with roasted or grilled chicken
• Spread it on roasted or grilled vegetables
• Pair it with French fries or potato wedges
• Use it as a dip for pita bread
• Slather it on sandwiches
• Use it to make garlic bread
• Mix it into salad dressings and marinades
• Add a dollop to hummus or baba ghanoush
• Swirl it into soups

Also, check out our great recipes for baklava and tabbouleh. You can get all of KCET's recipes here. 

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