The only thing hotter, smellier and stickier than these drool-drizzled brochettes is the entire island of Montreal during barbecue season. But when the thick air inside your cramped apartment still isn’t heavy enough to muffle the cries of a newborn baby and nap-deprived toddler bleating in unholy chorus, a few minutes outside next to a searing slab of propane-enraged cast iron seems like heaven.
Or so I would imagine.
It is garlic season, and this naturally photogenic plant stole my gaze as much as my heart with its vibrant harlequin and forest greens, and tangibly sticky, sweet odour. The captivating and almost lurid smell that dances on the palate and trips on the breath arises from a chemical defense mechanism the plant uses to ward off predators and dispatch pathogens. The enzyme alliinase catalyzes the creation of all of the chemicals that we consider inseparable from its identity, bestowing both aromatic and curative properties alike. When the cells are ruptured, the allinase converts the chemical, alliin, into a similar sounding but much different molecule, allicin. Allicin is responsible for the odour of fresh garlic. And the chemical that seeps from your pores and lungs in the delicate hours after a first date at an Italian restaurant? That would be allyl methyl sulfide. More on all of those in the fantastic primer on the science of garlic.
A week had passed since my neighbour had appeared at the door with a tiny, plastic container cradled in his palm. My interest is always piqued when a gift arrives in our home, but I could sense that this time I was in the presence of something special. Inspiring, even. Before a single description could leave his mouth I was peeling back the lid. To be instantly met with a tsunami of garlic so powerful that Van Helsing himself would have reached for a tissue. This was toum, and despite the initial questioning as to what possessed someone to cram the life force of a hundred heads of garlic into a one cup Tupperware container, I was immediately drawn to its raw, unconventional, and unfettered sensuality.
I knew I had to make it mine. My mission was to create a silken garlic cream that left no doubts as to its origins, but was much more attenuated than other recipes I had examined. In the end, after much experimentation, I found something that offers no compromises, only unapologetic, garlicky glory. And along the way I found an excuse to dress it up for a summer photoshoot. My secret? Science. The polyphenoloxidase enzymes inside apples are not only perfect for destroying garlic breath, they form a garrulous pairing with the sulphurous verbosity of ebullient garlic. Apple is fruity, but it shares a floral tone with garlic that creates a perfect harmony.
I use this garlic cream as a condiment on sausages, or as a base for sauces. If it is anything (apart from garlicky), it is versatile.
Apple Garlic Cream (Toum)
4 bulbs roasted garlic
1/2 bulb raw garlic
1 1/2 cups light cooking oil (canola, sunflower), cold
2 tablespoons lemon juice, cold
3 tablespoons apple juice, cold
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
Chop the top centimetre off the heads of the three bulbs you intend to roast and brush the entire surface of each one with oil. Wrap them in foil, tops up, and then bake in the oven at 400ºF for half an hour or until soft. I often use the barbecue, especially in the summer when I don’t feel like making a hot and muggy kitchen into something even more unbearable, working on low-medium heat and transferring to the upper grilling surface for the final 10 minutes. When they are ready remove them and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.
Squeeze the soft flesh out of the roasted garlic and combine with the peeled, raw garlic, sugar, and the salt in a blender. Puree briefly to give a fairly smooth paste and then very slowly add half of the oil, pouring a thin stream at a steady rate into the garlic paste while keeping the motor running. Now scrape down the sides and add the lemon juice while maintaining the blending. Keep the blades going while you add one half of the remaining oil, followed by the apple juice, and the remainder of the oil. By this time you should have a silky smooth, light coloured cream that is approaching the stiffness of mayonnaise, but not quite there.
The slightly sweet, magnificently pungent cream should keep in the fridge for at least two to three weeks.
Time to prepare the kebabs!
Honey & Apple Garlic Kebabs
3 chicken breasts
2 red peppers
1/2 white onion
4 tbsp apple garlic cream
4 tbsp honey
juice from half a lemon
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup soya sauce
1/3 cup light oil (canola, sunflower, etc.)
2 tsp sesame seeds
Prepare the marinade by whisking together the apple garlic cream, honey, lemon juice, salt, soya sauce, and oil in a small bowl. Chop the chicken breasts into cubes that are roughly 1 inch across and combine with 2/3 of the marinade. Mix well and place in the fridge for minimum half an hour, but preferably overnight. When the chicken is ready chop the peppers into large 1 to 1 1/2 inch squares and cut the half onion into thirds along its axis to give wedges. Place the vegetables into the bowl with the marinating chicken and leave in the fridge for half an hour.
Combine the remaining marinade with 2 tbsp water. When the chicken and vegetables are ready, use them to prepare kebabs that you will soon grill. On medium heat, or about 400ºF, grill the kebabs, brushing with the remaining marinade each time you turn. When finished transfer to a plate, sprinkle with sesame seeds and cover with foil. Wait several minutes before serving. I was grateful that the mint tzatziki I made to accompany the kebabs was received with as much gusto as the brochettes themselves!
Substitute the red pepper for slices of Galas or Spartans if you feel like an extra kick of the apple-y stuff.