I am one of those people who does not believe in the concept of “too much garlic.” I use garlic in savory cooking the same way I use vanilla in baking: It just needs to be there, because without it there will always be a subtle emptiness—a perpetual nagging feeling, knowing that the dish could have been so much better if the cook didn’t hold back and followed their heart. There are times when I feel that even having “too much” garlic still isn’t enough garlic, and in those times, I make toum.
Toum is a spread/dip/sauce that comes to us from the Levant, and my personal obsession with the stuff began at a Lebanese restaurant in Brooklyn named Karam, whose shawarma has long been the stuff of legend thanks to the generous dollops of toum that bathe each succulent morsel of meat in a furious, pungent bite that invigorates your body and reminds you that life is indeed worth living. Toum is what aioli would be if it would stop chickening out on the garlic. In making toum, we don’t measure garlic by cloves—we measure by cups.
Though I can eat toum by the spoonful (and have), my husband is not a fan of such behavior. He claims I would “stink for days” whenever we’d order takeout from Karam, and would occasionally tell me “they were out” when our bag would arrive short two pint containers of creamy, garlicky bliss. I understand that there are people out there who have reservations about eating substantial amounts of whipped raw garlic; this is why, in my recipe, I’ve cooked most of the garlic in olive oil to mellow it quite a bit, but still allow for aggressiveness by leaving a third of the garlic raw. If you still think this is too much to handle, feel free to cook all of the garlic until golden. Conversely, if you’re a filthy animal like I am, leave all the garlic raw and let your mind be blown.
For making toum I buy the containers of raw, peeled garlic cloves you can find in your supermarket’s refrigerated produce section, not only as a time saver, but because I rarely find a single clove that has begun to sprout. If you’re using unpeeled garlic, keep an eye out for any cloves that have a little green shoot starting to grow out of them, as they need to be removed. As for the oil, you don’t need to break the bank by using 100% olive oil—a mixture of a fine tasting olive oil and a neutral unflavored oil like canola does just fine. Traditionally, toum is made with a mortar and pestle. At Karam, and in my house, it is made with a food processor, because nobody has the time to be pounding cloves of garlic for hours.
Once you’ve made your toum, let your imagination run wild. I like eating it as a dip with torn and toasted pieces of good pita, succulent chunks of grilled meat, or lots of simple roasted vegetables. You can use it in place of mayonnaise on sandwiches, and you can smear it under the skin of a chicken before roasting (I highly recommend that you try this at least once in your life). Toum is just like any other condiment, except that it’s better. Garlic is good for you. It will deter vampires. And yes, it will make you stink, but hot damn will it make you stink oh so good.
Golden Garlic Toum with Roasted Cauliflower
Makes approx.. 4 cups of toum; roasted cauliflower entree serves 4
- 1 1/2 cups large peeled garlic cloves (between 45-50)
- 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups good neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed
- Juice of 1 extra-large lemon (about 3 Tbsp.)
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
- 3/4 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
Put two-thirds of the garlic cloves in a small saucepan, then add enough canola oil just to cover. Put over high heat just until it starts to bubble, then drop the heat down to low and cook for 15 minutes until the cloves are soft and golden. Pour the oil from the saucepan into a large liquid measuring cup with the rest of the oil (both the olive oil and the neutral oil), and stick in the freezer for 10 minutes. This will help the oil thicken up a bit, which will help you make a smooth emulsion that will resist breaking.
Put the cooked cloves and remaining raw garlic in a food processor with the lemon juice, cold water, salt, and pepper. Pulse into a rough paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally to ensure there are no big chunks. With the processor running, slowly stream in 1/2 cup of oil, then once again scrape the sides and bottom of the food processor to make sure anything that’s solid isn’t sticking. Turn the processor back on, and slowly drizzle in the remaining oil. The toum should be smooth and thick, like a rich mayonnaise.
For the cauliflower:
- 1 large head cauliflower
- 1 cup curly parsley sprigs
- 2 small pieces of pita bread
- a bit of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut the core out of a cauliflower, then cut off the florets and cut the stems up into 1" pieces. Toss the florets and stems with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, just to coat, as well as a hefty pinch of salt. Spread the cauliflower out on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Open the oven and give the cauliflower a good stir to help let off steam, then roast for another 10 minutes until it begins to turn brown. Turn the oven to the broil setting; broil the cauliflower until it turns brown and crispy, the extent of which is entirely up to you.
Brush the pita bread on both sides with a tiny amount of olive oil and put it in the broiler for about one minute to toast, then flip and toast the other side until crispy.
Spread a few spoonfuls of toum onto four dinner plates. Divide the cauliflower and curly parsley evenly between each, then crumble pieces of toasted pita on top to serve.