There are some recipes out there that seem easy, although they can be quite tricky. This one–toum–is one of those recipes. The first time I ever had toum was at a local, fast casual Middle Eastern restaurant. My chicken entree came with a tiny plastic cup of what appeared to be fluffy, creamy, white paste. It had a piquant aroma, and once I dipped a fork into the cup, the sweet, sharp flavor of garlic and lemon hit my tongue. That was when I knew I had to make this condiment on my own.
Now, I’ll be honest. My first attempt at toum was unsuccessful. And it was actually a couple of years ago. The raw garlic never emulsified, creating a separated mess in my food processor of puréed garlic and olive oil. With a deflated confidence and a pile of wasted garlic, I left toum-making to the professionals. Fast forward to this year, and it felt like the time to try again. Mostly because I had a batch of Za’atar Seasoned Saltine Crackers that needed an accompaniment. So I tried again. And my second attempt was equally unsuccessful. The result was another non-emulsified mess of liquidy garlic, loose enough to pour like water. Nothing like the fluffy, creamy, white paste I had eaten at many restaurants before.
For the final round, I tried a few things that seemed to do the trick. I made sure to use a super packed cup of garlic cloves, making sure they were absolutely at room temperature. I also used more oil, and this time, it was canola. I wanted this toum to be all about the garlic with no olive flavor at all. I also alternated between adding the oil and lemon juice to keep the emulsification process smooth. Finally, I used the plunger attachment on my food processor lid, so the oil’s addition would be evenly controlled by the mechanism and not my potentially shaky hand. Efforts combined, the final result was perfect fluffy, perfectly creamy, and perfectly white.
Although the main man here today is toum, I’ll share the recipe for those pickled shallots–Pomegranate Molasses Pickled Shallots, to be exact. They’re pleasantly sweet and sour, pairing well with the rich toum. They’re also great on a salad or served alongside chicken or white fish.
- 1 cup peeled garlic cloves, packed & roots trimmed, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Zest of 1 large lemon
- 3 cups canola oil
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Sumac, optional
- Pour the garlic cloves, lemon zest and salt into the bowl of a large food processor. Process the cloves and zest until it is very, very finely minced, scraping down the sides to break up any large pieces. After about 2-3 minutes, the mixture should begin to look puréed.
- Slide the food processor’s plunger attachment into the top of the lid, so the hole faces down towards the bowl. Slowly pour the first 1/2 cup of oil into the plunger, followed by 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Continue to alternate this process, going very slowly, until the mixture looks fluffy, thick and white, approximately 10-12 minutes.
- Transfer the garlic sauce to an airtight container. If it is warm from the heat of the food processor, cool to room temperature. Cover, and store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.
Pomegranate Molasses Pickled Shallots – Serves 4 to 6
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon whole cloves
1 cup red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 bay leaf
6 ounces small shallot bulbs, peeled and cloves halved
1. Pour the coriander seeds, yellow mustard seeds and fennel seeds into a small sauté pan. Toast the seeds over medium-high flame for about 2-3 minutes, stirring often, or until they smell fragrant and begin to pop in the pan. Transfer the seeds to a small bowl.
2. Whisk together the vinegar, pomegranate molasses, sugar and salt in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook just until the sugar and salt dissolve, then remove from heat. Add the bay leaf, and cool for 10 minutes.
3. Drop the shallots into a 10-12 ounce jar with a lid, then pour the warm pickling liquid into the jar. Cover, and refrigerate overnight. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks.