I had the opportunity this past summer to meet some very old friends of my in-laws from Barcelona, Mariona and Joaquim. They were instantly loveable, and Mariona and I connected about food straightaway. She had recently overcome dealing with a life threatening illness and had taken a major interest in food and nutrition. We spoke about how seemingly every region around the world has a traditional dish that not only gives you a window into the culture, but that also offers profound health benefits. Look at various Eastern European countries and their traditions of fermented food- this has been done for centuries and we (in the cultural West) are only now waking up to all the amazing health benefits it has to offer. Likewise, Mariona insisted that aioli, a Catalan staple, is just such a food, and something that we should all be eating more of, and with everything.
The “recipe” in truth is very simple, and in contrast to my prior beliefs, Mariona informed me that proper aioli requires no egg yolk. It requires only garlic (a lot of garlic!), lemon and olive oil (“aioli” coming from the Latin for garlic, allium). While the ingredients are health powerhouses in and of themselves (any google search of its three ingredients will give you an idea of why aioli is amazing for immunity and stopping candida in its tracks), the way it is traditionally made sets it apart. While you can use a food processor if you really want, Mariona showed me how to do it the old-fashioned way. This means you need a fairly wide mortar and a pestle, a good dose of patience, and possibly good company to pass the time. Be prepared to do this and only this for at least 20 minutes.
I love this, because, while I am always looking for recipes that take relatively little time, this recipe falls in with my whole vision of food quite well, and how food, from preparing it to eating it, can teach us to calm down. I’m not much for meditation, but the act of making aioli is a very meditative activity. It forces us to breath, to be patient, to be fully present in the moment. The French always say that your sauce won’t bind if you are stressed out or in a bad mood. And it’s true- this aioli will not work if you add too much of any ingredient at once, if you lose your rhythm, if you get flustered and impatient. Maybe this sounds more intimidating than anything, but I promise you it’s not. Try and set aside some extra time on the weekend,
when your children are watching a movie when your children are busy working on a puzzle and you have a moment of calm to make something glorious with your bare hands.
If you are pressed for time and absolutely need to multitask, you can use a small food processor on low speed, adding the lemon and olive oil alternately in small steady drops, only several minutes after mixing the garlic on its own.
- Half to a whole head of garlic, depending on how much you want to make
- One lemon, halved
- 1/2-1 cup (minimum) good quality olive oil
- A fairly wide mortar and pestle
Peel the garlic cloves, at least 8, and dump them whole into the mortar. Start pounding on them with your mortar, rhythmically, holding the mortar between your legs for control if necessary. After several minutes you get what Mariona calls a pommade, or a paste.
Once at this stage, add a drop of lemon juice, and keep going. Then a drop of olive oil, and keep pounding away. The texture will gradually become creamier and silkier.
Add the lemon and olive oil alternately, take care to only add drop by drop, and continue mixing with your pestle. Don’t be impatient, make sure that every drop is mixed thoroughly before adding anything else. This is not an instantaneous process. It will take time, and you have to understand that if you add too much of anything at once, your sauce will fall. Ultimately it is the oil that will bulk up the aioli, you will need to add more in relation to the lemon juice, anywhere from ½-1 cup, at least.
Once you have achieved the smooth texture and volume that you want, leave your pestle in the middle of the mortar, and let it sit undisturbed for about half an hour before consuming. This will give it the chance to “set”.
You can eat this with just about anything. It is delicious on fish, especially salmon; as an accompaniment with vegetables, steamed, roasted or raw- it’s crazy good with steamed artichoke; as a pasta sauce mixed with a bit of the cooking water; as a spread on crackers or bread with avocado…. The possibilities are endless. Let me know if you try it, and how it turned out. What did you pair it with?