Years ago, I used to make (and love) poor man’s aioli. Real simple thing, folks. Take mayonnaise, crush some garlic into it and stir thoroughly. And it was good.
Then I got a tiny bit snobbish, and “made my own”. I won’t go into that, because about the time I started bragging about it, I got shown that I wasn’t The Expert on the dish. And that’s where the fun comes in.
The first level comes in with aioli itself. If you get to looking you’ll discover that even in Provence there are variations. How much garlic, how much oil, whole eggs, egg yolks, egg whites… all are variations, and everyone insist theirs is the REAL stuff. And that’s where we hit the second level.
Basically, aioli is garlic, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. Enter Lebanon, discuss a dish with those ingredients, and you get toum. Though some toums will have a base added, such as mashed potatos. And that’s relevant because skordalia, in Greece, is garlic, olive oil, salt, lemon juice, and USUALLY a base such as potatoes (or stale bread, or almonds or walnuts or…) Yeah, you’re getting the picture. But we’re still in the Mediterranean. Nobody’s gonna… oh. Romanian mujdei. Doesn’t use olive oil but rather oils from its region.
And every single one has a hundred variations that are strongly reminiscent of someone else’s “basic” version. So what’re you gonna do?
Pick the one you want, and go with it.
My favorite these days is a (more or less) classical toum. It is so because it’s the strongest flavored of the bunch. You need:
half a head of garlic;
1/4 teaspoon of salt;
3/8 cup of olive oil;
And you need a mortar and pestle to do the work. Now before I get started, let me point out three major issues here. First, that’s NOT A LOT OF OIL. If you’re making a sauce that looks like mayonnaise you’re going to need more oil. Second, a mortar and pestle won’t get you a whipped sauce (like mayonnaise). What you’ll get will be an emulsion, but it’s going to be a lot heavier — more like creamed butter than like mayonnaise. That leads to point three: if you want it like mayo, use an egg. Either the white or the yolk will work. Just look up various mayo recipes to see how to use them. Me, I like a paste, so…
Peel the garlic and put them in the mortar. Sprinkle on the salt, and start grinding. If you can make out any texture you’re not yet done. Once it’s a paste, change the mortar strike to a bit of a sweeping grind (to incorporate a little bit of air) and start adding oil. One. Drop. At. A. Time for the first tablespoon worth. Just drop it in and work. and work. and work. Somewhere near the end of the first tablespoon it’ll start to emulsify. At that point you can add a bit more than a drop at a time, but better to go too slow than too fast. By the end of the first quarter-cup you can start adding a thin stream — or a slowly poured teaspoon at a time while constantly working it.
Once you’ve gotten all the oil in, add the juice from that lemon. If you’re feeling fancy you can also add the zest from the lemon as well.
As I said, the result using mortar and pestle and a lot less oil is much less fluffy than mayo. The quantity of garlic used also has an impact — this stuff is barely more than garlic puree. Do NOT eat it with company unless company is eating too, but if they are…
I like it as a spread on fresh bread. It makes a fabulous dipping sauce for grilled meats. To shock some peoples’ tastebuds I’ll occasionally put a small dollop on a dish for which garlic is right — for example, a spoonful to ‘garnish’ a cream of potato soup. Or “butter” for my baked potato.
sigh. I’m drooling, and I’m out of garlic. Looks like I get to stop by the store tomorrow.
Oh – allegedly this stuff will keep for weeks in the refrigerator; just treat it like mayo. I wouldn’t know. I only make about a quarter to half batch at a time (and ‘boost’ the lemon by using a whole one still), and it seems to go away within a day or so.