The Miracle of Hummus

Over the years I have tasted various styles of Hummus around the world. Enough styles to know that when someone asks “What exactly is Hummus?” the correct answer is “It’s complicated”.

The typical person will tell you Hummus is made out of chickpeas ground into a paste. The more experienced foodies will tell you it also contains sesame paste (“Tahini” in the US and in Arabic speaking countries, “T’hina” in Israel).

Some adventurous souls will even try to make it at home, cooking the chickpeas until soft and then processing them in a food processor. They think the secret is in the lemon, or maybe it’s the garlic… or the cumin?

The truth is that it’s really not as simple as that. Hummus is one of those elusive dishes with hundreds of recipes, most of them zealously kept family or even trade secrets (think the Coca Cola formula). Many will pursue the ultimate Hummus recipe the same way some pursue the ultimate life partner, the ultimate beer, the ultimate high, the ultimate startup that will make them billionaires and change the world, the ultimate adrenaline inducing experience, etc. We are all obsessed with replicating at home that miraculous flavor and texture that we’ve all experienced at various legendary Hummus restaurants around the world. I say legendary because while many middle eastern restaurants sell Hummus, it’s very likely you’ve never really tasted even decent Hummus. This is especially true if you bought Hummus at the store (I have tried it, and it never tastes even remotely good, once you’ve had the real deal).

And as with every adventure to find the holy grail of something, the field is rife with rumors, theories and small pieces of a larger puzzle. A friend who heard from his friend who once used to work with another guy who used to work at one of those legendary Hummus restaurants. Some piece of the puzzle will be revealed, but it will take a grand effort to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. To further complicate the matter, every legendary Hummus restaurant has its own distinct style. Indeed the mature Hummus connoiseur knows not to argue about style, and instead focus on quality. It’s almost like arguing which supermodel looks better – they are all supermodels.

This blog post is place holder for my own humble efforts to demystify the process of preparing the ultimate home made Hummus, and if possible, In the style you prefer.

What I learned, so far

Not all chickpeas are the same

I learned that for years, I’ve used the wrong chickpea. Turns out there’s a specific type of chickpea all the best restaurants use. The pea is smaller, smoother, and its skin thinner.

Although I manage to get those peas at my local persian supermarket, Amazon sells those peas as well:

https://www.amazon.com/Cheese-Store-of-Beverly-Hills/dp/B00CMX51S4/

Soaking technique matters

You need to soak the chickpeas in water with sodium bicarbonate for 24 hours before cooking. This will soften the skin around the peas, and eliminate that “gritty” texture you feel on your tongue when processing non-soaked peas.

The water you use matters. The same principle that applies to rice, certainly applies to legumes; if you use water high in chlorine, your peas will have the aftertaste of chlorine. So if you can, try to use filtered water when soaking your legumes.

The secret of the Onion

Some will peel a medium sized onion and drop it whole into the pot to cook along with the peas. Supposedly the sweetness from the onion infuses into the peas, enhancing their flavor.

The “holy ratio”

Unbeknown to most, the name Hummus is actually misleading because you see, in terms of ratio, Hummus is really mostly Sesame paste with some amount of chickpea paste. For example in my last experiment, I used a ratio of 70% Sesame / 30% Chickpea.

Some of this confusion is due to an unfortunately common misconception about sesame paste. If you mix sesame paste with water, it will dilute and remain a liquid. However if you add the proper amount of lemon and mix vigorously, the oily paste you thought was liquid becomes a solid.

The sesame matters

Since we established a good Hummus is really more Sesame than Peas, the quality of the Sesame paste used is critical, more so than the type of pea. At the very least you need organic sesame paste without any additives & chemicals. It should be minimally processed and non-heated (processed cold).

And as there are many types of peas, there are also many types of sesame seeds and it may take some searching to find the manufacturer that “does it” for you. A good sesame paste will have a very faint aftertaste that reminds you of cooked eggs.

Cooking the peas

It’s much simpler and faster to cook peas when they are properly soaked. You can either cook the peas in a regular pot on a low flame (making sure they are always covered in water), or you can use a pressure cooker.

When using a pressure cooker, you will usually not need to cook the peas for more than 40 minutes from the moment high pressure is achieved. This is because a pressure cooker will typically reach a temperature of 120ºC (depending on your altitude relative to sea level), and because the high cooking pressure forces the hot liquids into the core of the peas, producing a uniform softness across the pea.

When using a regular pot, you may want to check every 10 minutes after the first 45 minutes (every pot and every stove are different). The pea should “melt” under the slightest pressure, but not completely disintegrate when touched or picked up with a spoon.

Shakshuka: minimal, easy, yummy.

Hi again! it’s me and my whims again. and this time, how to make a delicious Shakshuka (oriental fried tomato+egg dish) with what you probably have in your house. well, except for maybe tomato puree. go get it.

 

Now, when I cook, I usually prefer to work harder but make smaller portions. the dish is much better when cooked in small quantities because it’s easier to control and fine tune, every little thing counts: the cookware, the spices, the technique. let’s hope you enjoy this dish at least as much as I do:

 

To serve 2 you’re gonna need:
Firstly, you’re gonna need a tin pan, about 8″ in diameter. yes. tin. it sears it all real good. if you can’t get one just use any pan. don’t use a pot.

 

Ok, now the ingredients:
1 large clove of garlic. finely chopped
2 ripe (!!) chubby tomatoes, gutted and diced (as in, take out the inside and throw it away. that’s 1/2 of the secret to the taste…)
2 eggs
100% natural tomato puree (not paste, not sauce, not juice. puree).
Fresh black pepper
Salt
Sugar
Paprika
I also add Sriracha sauce or Jalapinio pepper, to spice things up. you don’t have to tho.
alternatively you can add goat cheese, feta cheese, or even sausages. I don’t.

 

Here’s how it happens:
pour a thick layer of olive oil (don’t be cheap!) to the pan, fire on max. this thing is going quick & painful (for the pan…)

 

let the oil warm up, then throw the garlic in. let it fry for 10 seconds, or at least until you sense that they would imminently start burning (don’t let it brown! it ruins the dish).
throw the thinly diced tomatoes and stir until they start to soften and add 3 tea spoons of paprika.
Add in the tomato puree, the trick here is to have the tomatoes “swim” in puree, but not disappear. the tomatoes need to be visible so their fresh taste won’t go away. trust your eye on this.

 

then let it simmer while occasionally stirring. add a thin layer of black pepper (freshly ground of course), salt to taste (don’t be shy), and then a brave 3/4 spoon of sugar. stir over and over again (not continuously but with a sense of commitment).

 

once the sauce is bubbling and the mix is thicker than it is runny, give it a swift spill of olive oil (make a line shape), and finally, the egg. DON’T MIX IT. leave it whole. then let it simmer for ~5 more minutes with the egg inside (or until you reckon the egg is done). if you like a well cooked yolk, cover the pan throughout this interval. make sure your final result is thick and aromatic, borderline burnt (but not really). I recommend eating it directly from the pan with white bread.

 

now you have a surprisingly minimalistic yet delicious oriental Shakshuka.

 

I’ll post a picture later on.

How a Juicing diet works (+recipes)

My own background story with Juicing

This story begins before I left Israel, around October 2009. I was working comfortably in the hi-tech industry, eating regular meals every day with my colleagues. The sad truth is that I somehow let myself go, and eventually weighed around 105kg (that’s almost 210 pounds for those on the imperial system). For a person who used to being very slim and athletic, it was a horrible shock to look at a photo of myself one day, and realizing what I have done to myself without noticing.

Fast forward to the winter of 2010. I was living in Russia with two flat mates (It was cheaper to rent a room than to rent an apartment, plus I was lonely at the time and I figured I could use the company).

The two women in the apartment used a steamer to cook their foods. I remembered my mom using a steamer, way back in my childhood, but it was only used rarely, for some very specific types of food; definitely not as the main cooking apparatus.

Moscow is notoriously expensive, and since I was trying to save money, buying meat was reserved for special occasions. I basically bought a lot of Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Onions, Beet, Corn, and a LOT of Buckwheat (As the Russians call it: “Grétchka”). And so, for a period of 3 months this is mostly what I ate. This, and the occasional whole wheat Subway sandwich with imitation crab meat and tons of vegetables. Needless to say, I did not drink sugary drinks, and instead drank water with lemon juice.

Old dog learns new tricks

About 1.5 years ago, my friend Golan Ben-Oni introduced me to Dr. Fuhrman, the book “Eat To Live” (which has since made it to the New York Times’ best selling book in the “self help” category), to the China Study, and to Dr. Novick, the funny and witty nutritionist with the warm, charming smile and the always-awesome presentations. He also told me about the movie “Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead” by Joe Cross (which has since become a sensation). That movie, along with the rich information provided by the nutritionists I mentioned, has really opened my eyes about nutrition.

In the space of a few months, I realized what I had been doing wrong my entire life, and why when I was eating only vegetables and raw grain back in Russia, I was losing weight fast, and feeling extremely healthy. In fact it almost got scary to see myself losing so much weight so quickly – I lost 20kg in 3 month.

And yet, it’s one thing to know what to do, and to actually do it. Just like many smokers know smoking kills and causes cancer, but never actually quit smoking. But what if they actually got cancer, suffered through treatment, died, and were suddenly given another chance to jump back in time to the moment they started smoking? How many of them would actually decide to never start smoking?

I feel that what happened to me by chance, has inadvertently shown me two things: 1) It is actually possible to go back to your BMI, and in just a few months. 2) The feeling of being healthy and looking great again, is totally worth the effort.

So can an old dog learn new tricks, and change his ways? Well, mostly. I don’t believe in going to the extreme – I think you sometimes need to have your comfort foods, so that you feel you aren’t completely giving up on your old lifestyle. A slice of Pizza every 2 ~ 3 months? That’s totally acceptable to me.

The basic idea behind juicing

The idea here is that our bodies no longer get the nutrition they need, because we eat a relatively very narrow diet. A study of bones found from before and after the agricultural revolution clearly shows that before the agricultural revolution, people were taller, healthier, and better fed, compared to people who lived after the agricultural revolution.

The simple explanation is that before the agricultural revolution, we were “hunters / gatherers” which meant that we relied on a large variety of foods (whatever we could find that day). After the agricultural revolution, we started eating only one or two types of grain, instead of 50. What this essentially means is that we significantly narrowed our spectrum of nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Suddenly our bodies were not getting all the minerals and vitamins they were used to getting.

The same problem exists with dietary supplements. Rates of cancer have actually gone up since dietary supplements were introduced. The simple truth is that you can’t replace a tomato, which has hundreds of types of vitamins and minerals, with a pill that contains just vitamins A, B and C. Our nutrition is more than just those 3 vitamins. We actually do need those hundreds of vitamins and minerals that a Fresh tomato has, and no pill can give us those nutrients, no matter how good it is.

So why juice? Why not just eat vegetables and fruits?

You could certainly just eat vegetables and fruits, but when you are trying to recover and heal your body, either from some trauma, chronic disease, malnutrition, diabetes, or major weight gain, and you are out of time (literally), you have to take drastic measures. Once you get to the point where you are healthy again, then you can move to “maintenance mode”, and you can start juicing just once a week, of course while eating a balanced diet consisting of vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, berries, etc.

How does juicing work? What’s special about juicing?

In order to heal, your body needs to rebuild its reserves of vitamins and minerals. The problem is that if you tried to obtain the amounts you actually need, you would have to consume 5 whole leafs of kale, 5 stalks of celery, 1 beet, 1 bunch of spinach, 5 large carrots, 2 apples, 2 tomatoes, 1 lemon, and repeat all this 3 times a day.

Thing is, you can’t possibly eat all of that in a day, simply because of the large volume of space this food would require in your stomach. To overcome this limitation, we juice those vegetables and fruits. Luckily, modern juicers separate the juice (containing all the good stuff) from the pulp (which is just empty cellulose). By getting rid of the cellulose, you get a juice that contains all the vitamins and minerals from all those vegetables and fruits that you can drink easily.

Recipes

The “Everything” Juice

  • One bunch of Kale (Around 8 ~ 10 leafs)
  • Two carrots
  • Two small beets or one large beet
  • Two celery stalks
  • One Green Apple
  • One Red Apple
  • Ginger (5 slices)

Just Green

  • One bunch of Kale (Around 8 ~ 10 leafs)
  • One bunch Spinach
  • Two celery stalks
  • Two Green Apples

And here are some external links:

 

“Asli” Yemenite Soup

One of the positive effects of the creation of the state of Israel, and the ensuing “import” of Jews from so many exotic places on the planet back into their original homeland, is the culinary richness we now enjoy in the country. Every family brought unique and exquisite recipes from their host country, and some of them have opened little food shops that dispense their special outlook on what recipe “X” should really be like.

One of my own personal favorites is the Yemenite soup and the accompaniments, and for me it’s no longer just about the soup but also about the ritual 😉

Click to continue reading ““Asli” Yemenite Soup”

One of the positive effects of the creation of the state of Israel, and the ensuing “import” of Jews from so many exotic places on the planet back into their original homeland, is the culinary richness we now enjoy in the country. Every family brought unique and exquisite recipes from their host country, and some of them have opened little food shops that dispense their special outlook on what recipe “X” should really be like.

One of my own personal favorites is the Yemenite soup and the accompaniments, and for me it’s no longer just about the soup but also about the ritual 😉

Click to continue reading ““Asli” Yemenite Soup”