Is it me, or do you think that every time you want extra condiments like hot mustard in a Chinese restaurant or some extra Toum in a Lebanese restaurant, the servers think they are serving gold? I must admit that I will be consuming massive amounts of this stuff with my food, but I can’t be alone. Actually, I know I’m not alone! When I bring home a tub of Toum, it’s a fight to the finish with my daughter and three sons over who gets the last teaspoon. The only viable option to satisfy my family’s insatiable appetite for this garlicky delight would be to figure out how to make our own. So I set out to do what turned out to be no less an arduous task. How do you go about asking the owner of the restaurant we frequent to tell you his secret recipe while assuring him that he won’t lose our business? You do not.
So I turn to the Internet in search of a recipe that will satisfy the palate of the family. After reading recipes, tips and ideas, and countless YouTube videos, I came to the conclusion that it was a simple process and that I would put a spin on it. During this process, one of my son’s friends who used to work at the Lebanese venue we patronized found out about my efforts and decided to offer me a tip. Apparently this fine establishment whose garlic sauce I loved used mashed white potatoes to thicken the Toum, a strategy I read about in a recipe or two I found online. So, I sent the wife to gather the necessary ingredients, a bulb of garlic, salt, lemon juice, vegetable canola oil, and of course a nice big white potato. Armed with these ingredients and a blender, I couldn’t help but create a huge craving for what was sure to be a hit in the family. I pressed the garlic into the blender, added a teaspoon of salt, a cup or two of oil, and turned on the blender, slowly adding the lemon juice as instructed. Next, I took the peeled and boiled potato and threw it into the mix. Man, this looked good, and we couldn’t wait. What happened next can only be described as “MISSION SCREWED”!
I resigned myself to having to buy several tubs of the product at the local restaurant, until on a fateful walk to the farmers market with my sister, we decided to have lunch at the Lebanese-style restaurant located inside the market. My God, this guy’s Toum was off limits. I eat a whole tub with just rice. On my way out I noticed the owner was looking at my sister so we went to have a little chat as I’m still trying to get her married. While flirting with her, I thought to ask her about her amazing Toum. I started her conversation by telling her that the place on the east end that I loved used potatoes to thicken her garlic sauce. She quickly answered her, in a strange way, suggesting that she didn’t use carbohydrates in hers, that the only ingredients were oil, lemon juice, a little salt and egg white. At this point, I figured she’d leave well enough alone and not intrude.
Later that night, not being the type to give up easily, I thought I’d give it one more try. I pressed about five cloves of garlic into a bowl, a teaspoon of salt, a cup of canola oil, and about 5 tablespoons of lemon juice which I started mixing this time with a hand mixer. The flavor was excellent and the mixture turned milky white with a creamy yet runny texture. At this point I decided to add some egg whites. Always concerned about various health issues, I purchased the egg whites in a carton that have been pasteurized, hoping to further reduce the chance of salmonella contamination since they will not be cooked. Anyway, I slowly added what would be the equivalent of about half a cup of egg whites, and nothing seemed to change. My wife, always trying to help me, told me to keep mixing as it could take several minutes for the egg whites to thicken. Then about 4 minutes into mixing, like magic, BOOM, the mixture thickened to the point where it shot out the side of the hand mixer and stuck to the sides of the bowl, Eureka!
Now for the moment of truth. I took a spatula and dipped it into the fluffy, creamy concoction to test it out, yes, bingo! I felt like she had hit the jackpot. I now had an endless supply of Toum for literally pennies per 8-ounce bowl. Since then it has been a huge hit with my family and friends. I get all kinds of compliments and tasters even say it’s better than what the fancy downtown restaurant serves.
In short, I have learned that it is not so much the proportion of the ingredients that matters, but the method of how it is mixed to achieve the right consistency. This is a technique you’ll have to experiment with, and I suggest using only a hand mixer (the one that resembles the shape of a wand). I have yet to have the same degree of success with a traditional blender or food processor. As for the ratio of oil, garlic, salt, and lemon juice, that’s simply adjusted to taste and open to your preference.