Note: You can click here to see my evolutionary invention to produce awesome toum in 3 minutes. The article below is still worth a read so you gain an understanding of the toum making process.
My brother Fady eats garlic sauce spread on Lebanese bread all on its own. He says that with garlic, you gain your health but loose your friends. The consumption of garlic in Lebanon is, and historically has been in such copious quantities that the Lebanese can hardly claim any vampire of note. Where should I begin to explain what a pivotal role garlic plays in Lebanese cuisine? The relative of the onion has been consumed as a food and a medicine in the Mediterranean since the days of the pharaohs. It has been referred to in the Old Testament (Numbers 11:5) as one of the foods that were consumed in Egypt, alongside with melons, onions, cucumbers and leeks.. It is used in thousands of recipes and never a day goes by when it is not eaten. Mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, it is our most used salad dressing and meat or chicken marinade.
The Lebanese word for garlic is toum, which is also how we refer to the fluffy white garlic sauce that is served in restaurants with roast chicken, chicken shawarma and shish tawook (chicken skewers). Its affinity with chicken is therefore evident, but it also goes beautifully with lamb, beef and goat meat. Making toum is actually easy, but you need a food processor, and lots of patience. Once you make this sauce, you might get addicted, so beware.
Before I get into the recipe, I want to give you a few pointers:
Toum – Lebanese Garlic Sauce Recipe
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup peeled whole garlic cloves (not crushed)
1 heaped tbsp salt
4 cups of neutral oil
, canola or vegetable oil (Edit: Since this recipe was published, I’ve come to understand that seed and commercial vegetable oils are highly inflammatory and largely contribute to heart disease and diabetes. I suggest using oils low in Omega 6 and high in monounsaturated fats. As neutral oils go, a high oleic sunflower such as this one would be a good option.)
OK. So let’s set a few things straight here. Hommous (also spelled hummus or hommos) , is not a dish, and under no circumstance should it be an ingredient of a kebab. In fact, hommous is the Lebanese and Arabic word for chickpeas. The chickpea dip known the world over is what we the Lebanese call hommous b tahini. This name tells us that the chickpea dish is made with tahini. Chickpeas are eaten fresh (green) or dried (soaked and boiled). You can also buy the canned variety, but it is much cheaper and tastier if you soak and then boil them yourself. On its own, the chickpea is quite bland, but its merit comes from its ability to carry flavours and also from its texture. This texture works perfectly when blended with another Lebanese staple, tahini.
Now tahini holds another point of contention. The product is the same whether it is spelled tahini or tahina. The word tahini itself denotes something that has been crushed, in this case, sesame seeds. The process is similar to making peanut butter, but the sesame seeds themselves are more oily and fragrant than peanuts, and crushing them results in a paste that is essential to the Lebanese cuisine, where it is used in more ways than you can imagine.
But back to chickpeas, having just returned from Lebanon, I was reminded of the versatility of the hommous bean itself and the importance it holds in our cuisine. During the trip, I had more than 10 dishes where chickpeas were a central ingredient, and at least 4 where they were pretty much the only ingredient other than the sauce and spices used alongside. I remembered how we used to buy bunches of green (fresh) chickpeas and spend hours chatting, shelling and eating. Somewhat like peas, a good green chickpea should be had within hours of being picked, otherwise it gets chalky. Of all the great recipes for chickpeas, I thought you would most benefit from making the following dish.
Hommous b Tahini (Chickpeas in Tahini Sauce) Recipe
The most common chickpea dish known to man (Indian curries aside), hummous b tahini is often murdered at the hands of chefs and home cooks alike. It is at its finest when it is super smooth, perfectly balanced with tahini and lemon juice, and with just enough garlic. A Lebanese mother would never measure the ingredients and give out a recipe, as it is made with constant tasting of the ingredients to ensure the right balance is achieved. Here is an “algorithm” for making hommous b tahini, with tips to ensure the right consistency:
1- Soak chickpeas overnight with a spoon or two of sodium bicarbonate
2- Boil the hell out of the chickpeas. You want to be able to turn it into mush by simply pressing on the grain between your index and thumb
3- Drain but keep the cooking liquid as you will need it
4- Put in a food processor with no other liquid and blend.
5- If the food processor is not blending properly, add tiny amounts of cooking water, and I mean by the tablespoon just to get it going
6- Keep blending until very smooth. If you put too much liquid, it will not get smooth enough, and remain yucky and grainy
7- Add garlic, salt and lemon juice, blend again and adjust to taste.
8- Add tahini paste (a bit at a time), blend and taste.
9- Tahini will make the dip seize up, so add a bit of cooking liquid (or lemon juice if it needs it) to loosen it all up, but not too much. It should be be thick and creamy, not liquidy in any way. Have a look at how it holds its grooves in the picture above.
10- Adjust garlic, salt and lemon juice, plate up, make a sort of well in the middle and fill it with good olive oil! Huzzah!
Beyond Nurnberg’s Walls
Is a walnut tree
And a plum that neighbours
Whose fruit lie sweet
Amongst the thorns
A reminder for history
Which still yet mourns
That joy can come
From where there is pain
And though winter’s long
There’ll be spring again
This blog may not be the best venue where a budding young poet such as myself should be expressing himself, but I could not help but share my feelings when visiting Nurnberg for my brother’s wedding. As it once was the centre of Nazi Germany, I don’t want to delve into the history of this beautiful city, since poetry, politics and pastries don’t mix. Instead, I just want to encourage you to go there, when it’s blackberry season.
As my poem suggests, a bike path led me to the outskirts of the city, where I happened upon a wild blackberry bush. The berries were sweet and just slightly sour, bursting with color and flavour. After having my fill, and more, of fresh blackberries, I decided to make some blackberry jam, as a gift that I would leave to my kind hosts.
For this recipe, I used jam sugar, which is used in the ratio of 3 parts fruit to 1 part sugar. By using jam sugar, you can substantially cut down the amount of sugar you need for jam, resulting in a fruitier, healthier jam. The added pectin in the sugar allows the jam to set more quickly, so you do not need to overcook the fruit. This means the fruit flavour is not killed by heat or excess sugar. However, I don’t think jam with this little sugar lasts too long, but I can’t tell you how long it will store, as mine disappears very quickly.
600 g Blackberries
200 g Jam sugar
Juice and rind of 1 lemon
Put a plate in the freezer. Crush blackberries and stir with sugar and lemon rind in a pot and place on medium heat. You can add lemon juice if you feel it needs it, but tate it first. Crushing also becomes easier when the berries get warmer. Bring to boil, stirring the mixture. After around 10 minutes, get that plate out of the freezer and put a spoon of the jam on the plate. This is a good trick to see if the jam has set. If the jam doesn’t appear runny, and you can draw a clean line with your finger across the jam, it’s all good and ready. Pour into your sanitised jars, and the jam is ready to eat once the jars cool down.
There are simple pleasures in life. Falling asleep in a garden, taking your shoes off after a long day at work, hugging a loved one… To me, there is many a simple pleasure to be had with food, but after a visit that has been long overdue to my homeland, Lebanon, I have one more to add to that list: making food from the produce in the garden that fed your parents and grandparents. Fresh, seasonal food that is bound to your history and forms part of your identity.
In anticipation of the return of his three sons (2 in Australia and 1 in America), dad made sure the garden is abundant with produce. And for days, mom has been holding off picking the okra so that we could pick it ourselves. Okra is one of those vegetables. You know what I’m talking about. You either love it, or you hate it. Cooked poorly, the slimy sludge oozes into the dish, turning it into a textural monster. But mom cooks nothing poorly, and the secret she tells me is to deep fry the Okra fruit (yes, it is a fruit), which eliminates the slimy liquid.
Mom usually makes an okra stew with meat and tomatoes. But I wanted to do something a bit different, so we made both dishes. My recipe is so simple, that it does not need measurement. Simply deep fry some okra that has been cleaned like you see in the picture (get rid of the stem) and in a separate pan, fry some chopped garlic and chili. When the garlic is golden and crunchy, mix and cover the okra with the garlic and chili. Dish up in your serving plate and top with freshly chopped coriander and fruity, citrusy pomegranate molasses. This is a great mezze dish, so eat it with your fingers. No forks and knives, please…
Join three of Sydney’s food bloggers for a four-course dinner somewhere in Sydney. The Food Blog, Pikelet and Pie and Forque share the food and seasonal produce they love. Secret dinners are based on a unique concept that creates a different, more intimate dynamic between the hosts, guests and venue. The diners share a meal with friends and strangers somewhere known to them only hours before the event.
Cost: $65, BYO wine to share
When: Sat Oct 24
Where: that’s… a secret
To Book: Send an email with your name, phone number and number of guests (maximum 4, or 2 per SMH subscriber) to email@example.com. Spots are limited and your reservation will be confirmed via return email.
Update: for the 2011 SMH Good Food Guide Awards results, click here
I just came back from the SMH’s Good Food Guide 2010 awards. Great night, but more on that later. Just thought you would enjoy reading about the results, who won what, etc… so here it goes:
3 Chef’s Hats winners:
Bilson’s, est., Marque, Pier, Quay, Tetsuya’s
2 Chef’s Hats winners:
Aria, Assiette, Becasse, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Berowra Waters Inn, Bistro Ortolan, Buon Ricordo, Claude’s (shock horror!), Guillaume at Bennelong, Icebergs Dining Room and Bar, Lucio’s, Pilu at Freshwater, Restaurant Balzac, Rockpool, Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sean’s Panaroma, Universal
1 Chef’s Hats Winners:
Altitude, Astral, Azuma, The Bather’s Pavilion Restaurant, Bird Cow Fish, Bistro Moncur, Bistrode, Blancharu, The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, Fish Face, Flying Fish, Forty One, Four in Hand Dining Room, Foveaux Restaurant + Bar, Galileo, Jonah’s, L’etoile, Longrain, Oscillate Wildly, Otto Ristorante, Pendolino, Restaurant Arras, Sailors Thai Restaurant, Sepia, Yoshii
2 Chef’s Hats Winners:
Darley’s (Katoomba), Rock (Pokolbin)
1 Chef’s Hat Winner:
Bacchus (Newcastle), Bamboo (Casuarina Beach), Bells at Killcare (Killcare Heights), Bistro Molines (Mount View), Caveau (Wollongong), Fins (South Kingscliff), Journeyman (Bowral), Katers (Sutton Forest), Lochiel House (Kurrajong Heights), Lolli Redini (Orange), Neila (Cowra), No. 2 Oak Street (Bellingen), The Old George & Dragon (East Maitland), Ottoman Cuisine (Barton), Pacific Dining Room (Byron Bay), Restaurant Como (Blaxland), Restaurant II (Newcastle), Satiate (Bangalow), sourcedining (Albury), Tonic (Milthorpe), Vulcans (Blackheath), Waters Edge (Parkes), Zest (Nelson Bay)
Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year
Quay, Circular Quay
Chef of the Year
Mark Best of Marque, Surry Hills
Best New Restaurant
Rockpool Bar & Grill, Sydney
Best Regional Restaurant
The Star City Award for Professional Excellence
Peter Bowyer of Sailor’s Thai
They SMH Silver Service Award
Rachel McNabb of Restaurant Como, Blaxland
Silver Anniversary Stayer Award
Beppi’s, East Maitland
Sommelier of the Year
Franck Moreau of Merivale
Brown Brothers Wine List of the Year
Pilu at Freshwater
Small Wine List of the Year
Bistrode, Surry Hills
Regional Wine List of the Year
Union Bank, Orange
The Josephine Pignolet Best Young Chef
Mitchell Orr of Sepia
Vittoria Legend Award
Mr John (John Hemmes) of Merrivale
Sydney Fish Markets Best Seafood Restaurant
Pier, Rose Bay
Good Food Guide Sustainability Award
Billy Kwong, Surry Hills
Favourite Wine Bar – Ash St Cellar
Favourite Global Menu – Universal
Favourite Asian – Ju-Rin
Favourite Global Gem – Din Tai Fung
Favourite Bargain – Friday Lunch at Marque
Favourite Extravagance – Anything from Adriano Zumbo’s Cafe Chocolat (and pattisserie)
Favourite Cafe – Cafe Deus
Favourite Sushi – Yoshii
a meadow in Bamberg
If you’ve read my earlier post, you would know I am currently in Germany attending my brother’s wedding. This is my first trip to Germany, and having been here in Nurnberg for around 10 days now, it’s difficult to imagine leaving. I am not sure it is the travellers syndrome, where you like somewhere more than home because you are simply care free, away from your stressful job and incessant phone calls from Citibank’s Mumbai call centre asking you to pay a bill you paid 4 months ago, getting assured every time by the manager that they will fix the problem. Though, I’m sure that helps.
But there is something tangibly good about this place, something peaceful and green. Endless meadows of garlic, cabbage, wheat, corn, lettuce and asparagus in rich dark soil create a harmony of colors in perfect alignment, and the sight of farmers picking their crops gives me intense joy. It could be reminiscent of my childhood, but things were never this peaceful, and the Lebanese never planted this much cabbage.
view of forest
So I find myself travelling around 70 km to the World Heritage listed city of Bamberg, in order to attend Johanna’s dad’s birthday. Bamberg is stunningly beautiful, the Franconian Rome where fascinating churches line the many surrounding hills, and the town is crossed by the river Regnitz as it makes its way to the Main. And did I mention it is home to 10 local breweries? Johanna’s family lives in an eco village on the outskirts of the city and right behind their house is a path that leads you along one of the most pleasurable walks you will ever experience, a road full of fruits, nuts and berries. This wealth of wild food makes it very different to the Australian bush. I could write a small novel about how happy this place makes me feel, and how foraging through the path brings me closer to inner peace. But as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so enjoy.
I’ve packed my bags and left to Nurnberg, Germany. My brother is getting married, and I’ve come to take part of it all. I’m not sure I want to spend much time behind my laptop, with all the fun stuff going around, so my posts will most probably be brief. But, I feel a few photos are in order.