DINING TABLES FOR 8-10

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The best known of the oriental cream salads is, of course, hummus, but I think the most delicious is toum, which I’d never heard of before coming to Damascus. Toum means ‘garlic’ in Arabic, and this salad is a cream of garlic pureed with cooked potato, yogurt and oil, and is totally addictive if you like garlic. In Syria toum cream is often served with plain, golden-skinned roast chicken, and it is much like the French garlic mayonnaise, a’ioli, but is less rich, since it has no eggs, and is easier to make. It is scrumptious as a dip for raw vegetables and black olives, or with plain fish – or just by itself, on Arab bread. Mahammara is another one I had never tasted before, a cream salad made of red pepper paste, walnuts and pomegranate extract. It has a delicious, sweethot taste. In Britain we can’t get the same red pepper paste nor, easily, the pomegranate extract, so my recipe is an adaptation using sweetened lemon juice, but it tastes very much the same.

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