Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

My failures attempting to make toum have been catastrophic.  Ever couple of months I’ll make a Lebanese style dinner, which inevitably involves some form of grilled or baked meat, an assortment of side dishes and fresh pita bread, and yet another failed attempt at making toum.  Yet hope springs eternal, and so it goes that I try again…and fail again…and try again…and fail again….

If you have never had toum before, it is a rich sauce/spread that is intensely garlicky and creamy.  In texture, the closest popular spread to compare it to would be mayonnaise (it’s thicker than an aïoli), and at it’s best toum is light,  fluffy, lemony and almost spicy with fresh garlic.  At it’s worst — and believe me, I know all about it’s worst — toum is runny, loosely curdled and suspicious looking.

To make toum you pulverize fresh garlic, slowly drizzle in a bucket or so of light oil and add freshly squeezed lemon juice until the mixture is emulsified, thick and stable. My first attempt, I tried what seemed to be the easiest technique, and I slowly, painstakingly drizzled the oil and citrus into my food processor.  It didn’t emulsify, and after 10 minutes of effort, slowly pouring in just the tiniest addition at a time, I had what looked like curdled caesar salad dressing.

For my second attempt, I opted for the old fashioned mortar and pestle approach.  Look, you already know how this one is going to turn out, so please don’t make me dig too deeply through memories that are better off  buried.  What I will say about the mortar and pestle is that it planted the seeds for future carpal tunnel syndrome, and after about 45 minutes I finally gave up on my runny garlic sauce.

At that point, I learned from my mistakes! I decided not to wing it, I would consult The Very Reliable Internet.  On said internet, I discovered “the potato trick”, whereby you add a small amount (1/4 – 1/2 cup) of floury mashed white potato to the olive oil in your food processor.  The potato is supposed to give your toum volume and stability.  Sadly, this was possibly my greatest failure to date.  At the very least, my past toum fiascos could sideline as salad dressings or marinades.  However, a mass of lumpy, greasy garlic and potato soup has no place on my table.

The last time that I tried to make toum I used the restaurant trick of beating in a single egg white while the sauce was emulsifying.  That miscarriage of an attempt became an excellent binder for vegetarian rice stuffed peppers.  It should have worked, I know that in principle, it just….didn’t. Not for me at least; not that time.

For my dinner of shish taouk (Lebanese grilled chicken skewers), which were just crying out for rich, garlicky toum on the side, I tried one more time.  I vowed that this time would be my last, and if it didn’t work out then forevermore I would just fold minced garlic into mayonnaise and feign a choking fit if anyone suspiciously asked me what it was.  This time, I did everything right.  The light safflower oil was drizzled in ever so slowly.  I painstakingly monitored the additions of lemon juice, alternating a tablespoon of juice for 1/4 cup of oil.  I added the egg white 3/4 of the way through the process and salted near the end, just to be on the safe side.  For the sake of posterity and emulsification, I even TIMED the bloody blender and let it whir away for exactly 1 minute between each addition.  After all this care and attention to detail, in the end, I had a blender full of greasy white particulate suspended throughout a runny sauce.  AGAIN.

When your toum separates, there is generally no coming back.  Just accept that it’s time to give up the ghost and start again.  Ergo, I resigned myself to yet another batch of glitchy garlic salad dressing when all of a sudden The Big Magic happened.

To thin the dressing out somewhat I started adding cold water, about a tablespoon at a time.  The mixture instantly began to thicken into a full bodied, creamy mass.  Delighted by my new discovery I added a little bit more, and a bit more….yes, you know where this is going.  My glorious, fluffy white toum had reached critical mass and started to deflate and thin out in exactly the way that a mayonnaise would.  Although I do like my toum a little bit fluffier, this was thin enough to use as a dip for cruddite but thick enough to slather and spread on pita bread.  If I hadn’t added that last splash of water, this would have been perfect toum.  Yes, perfect. And that’s saying a lot for a sauce that just moments before had failure written all over it.

Why does a tiny splash of cold water make such a difference?  I don’t know.  Just go with it, because it works. Don’t give me too much credit, though. I was all ready to crow gleefully across the internet with my new discovery, but someone already beat me to the punch…and has much nicer pictures, to boot.

One more thing – if it isn’t already painfully obvious, this is a spread that is best served to and eaten with your beloved.  You know, the one who loves you no matter what, even when you cough and your breath causes all the leaves fall off of a maple tree, or your kitchen tiles slowly start to rise and peel back.  If you’re not a garlic lover, spare yourself the pain and pretend that you never saw this post.  If you are a garlic lover, however, come into my parlour. I think we’ll be fast friends.

Toum

Makes 1+ – 1.5 cups, depending on airiness of finished product

  • 4 cloves garlic *
  • 3/4 cup safflower oil **
  • 1-1.5 lemons (1/4 cup juice)
  • 1 egg white, chilled
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons ice water, at your discretion if the mixture doesn’t bind

* Toum recipes can call for anywhere between 2 cloves to one whole bulb of garlic for a single batch.  I love garlic, but anything more than 4 cloves is overkill to me.  You should be overwhelmed by garlic, true, but you should also be able to appreciate the creamy mouth-feel of the spread and enjoy the tangy, lemony flavor.

** Olive oil is too heavy for toum and it will also make the color a darker pale yellow.  Mind you, I have limited experience with successful toum, so perhaps when your toum is fluffy the olive oil is irrelevant?  I do know, however, that safflower, sunflower and grape-seed oils are all used commonly to whip into toum, but olive oil rarely makes an appearance.

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

Have all of your ingredients measured out in pourable containers and ready to go before you begin.  This will make it much easier to add installments without turning off the blender.

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

Start by pureeing the garlic cloves with a tablespoon of olive oil.  It should be very fine and paste-like, because you don’t want any garlic chunks in the finished toum.

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

Very slowly drizzle in 1/4 cup of oil with your blender running at a medium speed.  When the oil is incorporated and the blender is still running, slowly drizzle in one tablespoon of the lemon juice.  Repeat this process two more times (you should have 1/4 cup oil and a splash of lemon juice left) before adding the egg white and salt.  Let the blender whiz away for another minute with the egg white before you add the final addition of oil and lemon juice.

This should be a slow process (about 5-7 minutes) that requires a bit of patience, because if you add either the oil or lemon juice too quickly the sauce will seize and separate.

For example, please see below. Sigh.

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

But huzzah!  Remember, we still have our secret ingredient at hand….ice cold water!  With the blender still running, add a tablespoon of ice water to your gloopy sauce and watch the magic happen.

Do you see how the sauce instantly thickened and lightened in volume and color?  Brilliant.  Just brilliant.  I am absolutely chuffed, I am!

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

Scrape down the sides of your blender to incorporate all the separated solids back into the mass.  Add more water a few drops at a time, stopping when the toum is thick and holds together like a fluffy mayonnaise, or you have a texture that you like.

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

Toum is generally liberally dolloped on the side of your entree if you have a grilled meat like shawarme, kafta or shish taouk.  I like toum simply spread on pita bread with a few slices of cucumber and fresh red onion (much to the chagrin of anyone sitting beside me, I’m sure), but it’s also popular as a meze dip for cruddite or fresh small pitas, served right along side the garlicky hummus and baba ganouj.

“Hhhhhhhhhey hhhhhhhoney!  Whyyyyyyyy don’t you come hhhhhhhere and give mama a kiss?”

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

The long weekend was a race against the clock to eat as much toum as possible before I had to detoxify and go back to work.  Even so, was I sweating out garlic at my Tuesday morning meeting?  Probably.  Was it worth it for succulent spiced chicken kebabs with a pungent, kicker of a garlic sauce?  Absolutely.

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread

Toum: Lebanese Garlic Spread
  • http://www.daveylouisjones.com Davey

    I can not lurk any longer… I’ve been reading your site for over a year now (Thank you DamnHellAssKings for Tina’s link!!) and made many of your dishes (homemade pitas and hummus=Yum!). Now I need to explore Toum and all of its garlicky goodness! That looks absolutely delish! Thank you. You’re the best!

    • Eric

       I have been making this for years and just found out it is called Toum! I asked a waiter years ago at middle eastern restaurant in Dearborn, MI and he told me to use garlic, lemon, salt, raw potato and light oil. Has worked very well for me but I have had my failures too. I recently asked a gentleman at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor and he told me he did not use the potato, just oil and garlic water, salt and lemon. I tried it this way tonight and failed. Adding the raw potato gives the emulsion structure and I will probably stick with this method. I have learned that if it fails to thicken just add more oil and yes, air plays a key role! I do not think I will try any egg since I think it keeps better without it.

      Enjoy Garlic Junkies!!!

  • http://www.tasteofbeirut.com tasteofbeirut

    I can relate; I had years of failed attempts with toom until I finally got the right recipe; love it.

  • http://www.journeykitchen.blogspot.com Kulsum@JourneyKitchen

    Oh my! I used to have the same problem until a year ago and then a Iranian friend suggested i use ice cold water. It does do wonders. I never tried it without the egg white, never can master the patience!

    I love toum way too much. And someone pointed out in shish taouk post it was sexy. I tell you what, may be the kebabs are but don’t have toum even days before a date. Toum is not sexy. it lingers on for a long a real long time :)

  • http://apricotta.wordpress.com April G.

    Ooooh. This sounds like the heavenly garlic sauce at Zankou Chicken in LA! Every once in a while I crave it like crazy. I’ll definitely try this!

  • http://colette2008.blogspot.com Colette

    As I said on twitter, we had this for dinner today (along with shish taouk and homemade pitas). My sister actually made the pitas and the marinade for the chicken. I made the toum & cooked the chicken. They all turned out very well.

    I think the secret (or part of the secret) with the toum is keeping the blender on the highest setting (like with making mayonnaise). That’s what I did, and I had no problems at all getting it to thicken. I might have gone a little overboard with the lemon juice – careful measuring is not one of my best skills – so I’ll cut that down a little next time.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Davey – THANK YOU for de-lurking!! We LOVE comments (good, bad or suspicious…it doesn’t matter!) and learning more about the people who drop by our site. So glad that you enjoyed the pita and hummus recipes! I’ll put up a traditional baba ganouj (as well as the grocery store version) soon, I promise :) Thank you again for your comment, that just makes my day.

    Taste Of Beirut – thank you for letting me know that chronic toum failure is not uncommon! I agree – the right recipe is what makes all the difference in the world.

    Kulsum – yeah, there is NO MAKING OUT for at least 24 hours after eating garlicky shish taouk with toum. Maybe even longer. Also, that whole concept of, “Well, if we BOTH ate the same thing….” doesn’t really apply. And yet….it’s just so darn good……

    April G – please do try it and let us know how it turns out!! I just googled Zankou Chicken….and it looks really good, especially their tabbouleh (perfect ratio of parsley to bulghar) and the spreads.

    Colette – That’s just great that you and your sister made this meal and enjoyed it!!! Warms my cryptic little heart, it does! Great tip to keep the blender on high. I’ve heard differing reports on what the blender speed should be (and as this was my first great success I have difficulty commenting) so I say that if it worked for you just go with it!! Thank you again for your comment, and we’re so pleased that you enjoyed this!

  • http://www.aperfectversionofmyself.wordpress.com Tara

    Mine turned out really, really, really thick…until I added the water. I should have followed my instincts and left well enough alone.

    I don’t own a blender though, so I used a magic bullet blender thing. There was garlic and oil EVERYWHERE but it was so worth it. My aunt stole what was left to take home and put on her pork roast for Sunday dinner!

  • El

    Wow that cold water really works!

    Id like to add a little bit of my own trick that worked like magic.
    Along with the cold water add a couple of ice cubes to the mix. The blender will chop it up anyway and works like a charm!

    I also added the egg at the very end. not sure if it makes a difference but it works!

    Happy toum eating!

  • Brian

    Have beensearching for years for this! Have asked at all local Arab restraunts without sucess (family secret I guess). Thank you thank you. Headed to kitchen right now to try this out. Already have lamb shank in oven just waiting for the garlic paste addition.

  • http://bethkan.blogspot.com Bethany

    Wow, I tried this tonight and it really worked for me! My husband has been hinting that I learn toum ever since I learned shish taouk, and now, armed with this awesome recipe, we’re ready for barbecue season! Great technique, thank you!

  • luna

    the biggest trick is to make it in a large/tall glass jar (good as there’s nothing else to wash if you store it in the jar), measuring cup, or bowl and use an immersion (stick) blender. you can pick one up for under $15.

    first smoosh your garlic and a bit of coarse kosher or sea salt in a mortar and pestle, or just add chopped garlic to the glass container with the salt. pour in a bit of light oil that is fresh and without even a hint of a bitter/stale note or aftertaste and blend till smooth (it worked for me adding some fresh lemon juice at this time too). now start adding more oil bit by bit and blend after each addition -keeping the blender pressed to the bottom of the jar, angled up a bit, or lifting it up through the mixture will all blend in slightly different ways -play with it. this is basically like making mayo, keep going with the oil until it is as thick as you can get -at this point add your egg white if needed (i tasted for salt, lemon and such just before that). now using the stick blender (with the upward motion to incorporate some air and get it fluffy) mix some more -this should give you a fluffy product that may get too thick for your blender to handle!

    at this point taste again and adjust salt, lemon, even add a wee pinch of sugar if you want (or mint or dried pepper flake or dill for fish or whatever). remember that it will keep getting more garlicky in the fridge if you don’t eat it all immediately! that said, at this time stir in some more minced or pressed garlic if you need it -just use a fork or whisk to mix it in.

    if you want to avoid eggs you could also add the drops of ice water at that point instead of egg white.

    but the KEY is using the handheld immersion blender (if not just doing pure old-school mortar, pestle and/or whisk). you will never get as good of a result in the upright blender/food processor.

    good luck!

    p.s. you can mix some leftover sauce with some fresh grated hard aged cheese like asiago or parmesan and spread on sliced french or pita bread (any bread is great) and then bake or broil ’till this topping is bubbly and barely golden brown (you could also add a thin slice of fresh tomato and herbs before heating) to make an amazing italian-influenced second meal (with a salad) or appetizers. yum!

  • deepa

    Hi

    I was looking for this one since long. And tried it yeaterday as per ur instruction but didn t come out well. it was watery and i tried and tried with the electric mixer,but in vain. Where would ve i gone wrong? is it my mixer? ooo i wish i could make this one.

    Pls help.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Hi Deepa,

      Okay, let me try to help. There are a few things that could have gone wrong. First of all, make sure that the egg white and the water are really, really cold. The water should be hand stinging with iciness. When you’re adding the ingredients, try adding them slower, just dripping or very lightly and slowly drizzling them in. If you just pour things together, it will not emulsify. Going back to the water for a minute, you also don’t want to add too much. Just add a few drops at a time with the blender running constantly on high and stop when the toum is fluffy. If you add too much water then the sauce will collapse again.

      In terms of the mixer, are you using a stand mixer or hand held beater? If so, put them away…..a blender is really your tool of choice. With the power of the blades and the shape of the blender bowl there is a cyclone effect and more air is incorporated into the mix, which you want for volume.

      Finally, don’t give up!! Try it again, make sure things are really cold, add slowly, use a blender and mind your water. I’m sure your second try will be a hit :)

  • Alyssa

    I dont know why you’ve had so many problems, and why your recipes are so complicated and fiddly. Your toum probably hasn’t worked cause you’ve overcomplicated things – even in your final recipe, your toum looks like its on the watery side, doesn’t seem like you can dollop it even :/

    http://thefoodblog.com.au/2010/04/fast-and-easy-toum-the-best-lebanese-garlic-sauce-recipe.html

    I’ve been using the above recipe many many times now, and it has always worked – quick and easy. Even when I’ve been lazy/ not thinking and my sauce has turned either super watery or too oily, or even almost curdled, ive been able to save it by using a bit of common sense and adding more oil/egg white/water. It never takes more than 5 minutes or so.
    But adding the little bit of water is, I agree, magic.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Hi Alyssa,
      You linked to a great recipe for toum. I am in absolute agreement that the one you use has good technique and I think you’ll find that it is actually quite similar to this one, which is why I provided the same link in my article. I do appreciate your feedback about this recipe. The intention was not to make toum “fiddly and difficult”, it was to provide information and troubleshooting tips so that everyone can enjoy the fluffy and garlicky dip that we both love. Glad to hear that you have always had such a great success rate with toum using one of these recipes. It is truly a delicious dip!
      Tina

  • KonkaDoodle

    Toum – I had this at a Lebanese restaurant months ago as a side with a kebob. Beautiful, light ,garlicky, perfect. I went home, went to the internet and made myself a batch which I used in the place of mayo on my sandwiches, etc.
    Truthfully, the recipe I first used was not yours, and the fail-safe to success was to add another egg white should you be a bit watery or flat.
    Your recipe was great – I did not need the ice water, or another egg white. Volume was nice, light and fluffy. Me happy! Thanks so much.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      KonkaDoodle – we’re so glad that you have as much affection for this potent spread as we do!!! Thank you kindly for your comment, and we’re thrilled to hear about your toum successes with our recipe and others!

  • guest

    In order to emulsify the oil you need egg *yolk*, not egg white.  1 (or even a half) yolk, 1 tbsp water, and then drizzle in the oil and whatever else (garlic, etc.) while whisking and you get mayonnaise (a suspension of oil, egg yolk, and liquid).  The rest (potato, egg white, chilled egg white, pestle-beaten egg whites) are superstitions.
    Read Ruhlman (http://ruhlman.com) for more.

  • Inga

    I know this is sacrilege but we make a quick and fail-safe Toum using Mayo. Mayo is really just egg, a touch of vinegar and oil blended together, right. Skip the oil, egg and the blending process. Everything else is the same. It turns out reasonable well, just a little more tang from the vinegar in the mayo. If the people that you serve it to are unfamiliar with Toum them they’ll never know the diff. We serve this concoction with Shish Taouk chicken and most everyone likes it. If they don’t it’s usually because they don’t like the strong garlic taste, not because they are Toum purist.

    • choosybeggarmike

      There is no sacrilege if people enjoy it!

  • Norma derbas

    Use a food processor instead of a blender:

    1 garlic bulb
    2 cups canola oil
    Few teaspoons lemon juice
    Teaspoon or so of salt
    I whole egg

    Make sure your food processor is completly dry no water at all! Pulse the garlic with the salt then slowly add alittle oil once you turn on the processor do not turn off, add egg then slowly drizzle oil then alittle lemon juice then oil and so on oil should be poured in thread like it does take a while so you have to be patient this recipe always works for me it has been passed down from my mum

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Norma – thank you for our technique. That’s a great tip on making sure that the blender is completely dry!

  • Lisa

    I just tried making Toum for the first time (hand blender and all), but it had separated similarly to your experiences. Knowing a little bit about the process of emulsification I wanted to add a bit of water but I wasn’t sure, so I Googled it and found your post.Thank you! It worked like a dream.

  • Pearl

    I havent tried your shish taouk n toum recipe but they’re on top of my “to do cooking” list…….n I really liked the way u narrated your experiences …..learnt a lot from this and from other comments n most of all enjoyed the learning :D……thanks for your consistent efforts n sharing this awesome secret ingredient.