There is a season: Lebanese garlic sauce good for a schmear or a dip

  • Roasted potatoes make a hearty carrier for the fluffy garlic sauce. For the Recorder/MOLLY PARR

For the Recorder
Published: 10/21/2020 2:12:01 PM

My mom always had me next to her in the kitchen, for small tasks at first, like peeling vegetables. Soon enough I was boiling water for pasta and working on my knife skills.

I think I was around 11 the first time I was handed total control over the kitchen. It was a disaster. The recipe I chose was overly ambitious: babaganoush. I remember watching the eggplant collapse into itself in a hot, hot oven, like Icarus’ wings melting in the sun.

I also remember learning that night that a “clove” of garlic is different from a “head” of garlic. That’s right, I added six heads of garlic instead of six cloves. My parents each choked down a few bites before asking to see the recipe. It was an utter failure.

Still, my mistake didn’t push me out of the kitchen, it lured me in further. Some 30 years later, my relationship with garlic is stronger than ever, which brings me to this week’s recipe for toum, a Lebanese garlic sauce.

Toum, which means garlic in Arabic, is popular throughout the Levant, but I associate it with Lebanese shwarma and falafel joints. It’s typically used as a shmear on the pita before they build your sandwich, although I used to order it by the bowlful with toasted pita at The Middle East in Central Square, Cambridge.

And now that I make it in my own kitchen, I use it on everything — this time of the year I enjoy it with roasted vegetables for a bit of savory delight in every bite.

I liken it to an aioli, but starting with tons of garlic instead of egg yolks to make the emulsion. And be careful with your garlic — green stems are what make garlic bitter. The oil should be chilled before using. I put mine in the fridge for a couple hours and it worked perfectly, but you could probably get away with less time.

Recipes I looked at averaged around four cups of oil, but I think I used about two for this latest batch. The trick is to pour it in a slow, steady stream into the food processor, until it emulsifies into a fluffy sauce before your eyes.

I served these with a smaller white potatoes from the CSA, quartered and roasted with olive oil (about a tablespoon for 8 potatoes), and a pinch of kosher salt, in a 400 degree oven. The key to those — really, to any roasted vegetable, except for broccoli — is to wrap a sheet of aluminum foil tightly over the pan and steam everything for a good half-hour before removing it so that caramelizing and crisping happen, perhaps another half-hour.

If that sounds like too much work, just put the toum on literally anything. It’s that good.

Toum (Lebanese garlic sauce)

Put your bottle of oil into the fridge at least a half hour before you begin the recipe.


Up to 4 cups of a neutral oil, like grapeseed, avocado or canola oil.

½ cup of peeled garlic cloves

Juice of 1 lemon, divided

½ cup of ice water, divided

Kosher salt


Before you begin, place your oil in the freezer or refrigerator so that it is chilled, but still liquid. While the oil chills, remove the ends from your garlic cloves, split them in half and remove any green layers from inside. Yes, your hands will be very sticky.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the garlic cloves, a hefty pinch of salt, juice of half a lemon, and 1/4 cup of the ice cold water.

Process until smooth, then stop and scrape the sides of the food processor with a spatula.

Turn the food processor back on and drizzle the chilled oil through the top as SLOWLY as possible, one cup at a time.

Scrape down the sides of the food processor as necessary. Be sure that your processor does not get too hot, as this can cause your sauce to separate.

Juice the second half of the lemon, and add the rest of the ice water.

Add oil until you’ve reached the texture you desire. The final result should resemble a fluffy, drier mayonnaise.

Store toum in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four weeks, although it will be long gone before then.

Molly Parr lives in Florence with her husband and two young daughters. She's been writing her food blog, Cheap Beets, since 2010. She was furloughed from Smith for the summer and is using the time to work on her first cookbook. Send questions or comments to 


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