For those who don’t know me, London has always been my second home. Growing up, for as far back as I can remember, I spent my summers in London with my family. My memories with my grandfather stand out the most, who is an ageless, charismatic gentleman. Back then we had no Hamleys in India or even music stores like HMV as I reached my teens. These summers were filled with laughter, great food and shopping. As I grew, I felt like London grew with me. The kind of shops and restaurants and neighbourhoods I visited changed over time, but some of my favourite restaurants remain frequented, to this day.
My entire family has always enjoyed Lebanese food, and I’ve had the privilege to eat in the best Middle Eastern restaurants in England. Before I went to study in Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, I studied fashion at the London College of Fashion & Central Saint Martins college of art and design. While I was studying, like most students, I had a fixed weekly budget. I spent eighty per cent of my allowance on food!
During my first year at University, I would stumble upon several little known eateries. The one that stood out most is Cafe Helen off Edgware Road, close to Oxford Street. This cafe had no place to sit, and am talking fifteen years ago. There was a table slab, one could stand next to and eat. But oh boy! Was it always crowded? It opened at 4 pm and closed right before sunset. The perfect place to go and eat a budget meal after our clubbing shenanigans. It was so delicious and so filling.
They sold shawarmas & falafel wraps. My favourite was the falafel wrap with spicy potatoes. These potatoes were essentially like Batata Hara. Their secret ingredient for me was the white garlic sauce they used. It wasn’t mayonnaise but an emulsified garlic sauce. Once I moved back to India I would have real nightmares. I would dream of calling Cafe Helen for their wraps and they couldn’t deliver to India. Dreams are strange phenomenons.
The test of a true middle eastern restaurant for me is a good Toum sauce. I’m going to share this secret recipe I have perfected over more than a decade. It works well even as a spread or chutney and stays well in an airtight glass jar for at least a month. I am so excited to share this recipe with you. Do give it a try!
- 1 cup cloves garlic ( 130g)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt (for table salt, use 1 teaspoon)
- 1/4 cup (60g) fresh juice from about 2 lemons, divided
- 1/4 cup (60g) ice water, divided
- 3 cups (600g) neutral oil, such as grapeseed or canola, divided
- Place the garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor.
- Pulse garlic in short bursts, occasionally removing the lid to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible rubber spatula, until finely minced.
- Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and continue processing until a paste begins to form. Add another tablespoon lemon juice and process until completely smooth and slightly fluffy.
- With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup oil in a very thin stream, followed by 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
- Repeat with another 1/2 cup oil and remaining 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
- Continue the process, alternating 1/2 cup oil and 1 tablespoon water, until all the oil and water have been incorporated.
- Transfer Toum to a container and store in the fridge for up to 1 month.
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