Garlic on Cloud 9

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The next time you bring a hostess gift to dinner, skip the flowers and present a puffy white cloud of garlic goodness instead. Lebanese cooks know it as toum and call it a sauce or paste. But it's akin to alchemy.

Joseph Chemali learned to make it from his uncle, a chef in Beirut, where it's slathered on the lavash flatbread that wraps hot, juicy rotisserie chicken. More than a half-century later, the former embassy chef and owner of Shemali's Cafe and Market in D.C. spins up to 10 pounds of toum weekly to complement his kebabs and give his customers a kitchen shortcut.

Toum is a gentle, handy alternative to the bite of raw garlic and the mishap of over-sautéed slices. It can outlast those heads of garlic sprouting on your shelf. Follow Chemali's method for blending its five ingredients, and you, too, can create an aromatic nimbus.


Garlic Paste (Toum)

Makes 4 cups.

7 heads garlic

½ teaspoon kosher salt

3 cups soybean or canola oil, plus more if needed

¼ cup fresh lemon juice

water

Purée 2 scant cups (from 7 heads) of fresh, peeled garlic cloves and ½ teaspoon kosher salt in a food processor or blender until as smooth as possible; scrape down the sides several times.

With the motor running, gradually:

• Add 1½ cups of soybean oil or canola oil in the thinnest stream; do not rush the process or the mixture will separate. Stop to scrape down the sides.

• Add ½ cup more of the oil in the same manner; the mixture should begin to set up a bit, with the consistency of creamy cooked grits.

• Add ¼ cup fresh lemon juice. The mixture will become lighter and whiter.

• Add ½ cup more of the oil in the same gradual fashion as before, then slowly add 1∕3 cup water. The mixture will go loose but should not be runny.

• Add the last ½ cup of oil (for a total of 3 cups). The toum should be creamy white and fluffy, like beaten egg whites. If not, keep the motor running and add more oil to achieve the right color and consistency. Refrigerate a few hours before using, and up to 3 weeks.