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.

How to succeed on OKCupid

Preamble

I am no longer on OkCupid myself. I erased my profile sometime before I got engaged. However I talk to many friends who ask me how I managed to find my wife on OkCupid, and I found myself explaining it so many times that I decided to just post it on here for everyone to see. Now I can just refer my friends to this post and save myself ~15 minutes for every friend who asks 🙂

Background

I have been on OKCupid for many, many years. In fact it is where I found my first wife! Anyway when the four Harvard students who made this wonderful web site first released it, all of their formulas were publicly exposed on the site in the form of very detailed graphs. It really explained their matching algorithms, showed the Bayesian math used for matching, and the theory behind the matching algorithm. It all made perfect sense to me, in a very nerdy kinda way. I absolutely loved it.

What I did wrong

The short answer: I answered too many questions, and I didn’t know my own values. I answered too many questions that were not really relevant or related to my core values. I wasn’t really aware of my core values. I took my values for granted and it cost me dearly (as will sometimes happen when you take something for granted). I didn’t understand the importance of finding a life partner who had similar core values to mine, I thought the world is one big global village, and I felt myself cosmopolitan enough and open minded enough that I might accommodate a partner of any cultural background. I figured I would learn and adapt, and that love trumps all. And boy was I wrong… That mistake cost me 11 years of life progress. Simply being aware of the importance of matching core values would have helped me find a more suitable partner, earlier in life. Who knows, by now I would have had 5 kids! (which is the number of children I would like to have, ideally). Don’t get me wrong, the people I dated (and married) were wonderful, and I love them all to this very day, but it wasn’t meant to last.

How I fixed it

After my first divorce I had plenty of time for self-analysis (which followed a painful period of denial and self blame…). It was really important for me to understand where I went wrong, what was absolutely my responsibility and what wasn’t, what things I could have done better, and what things I could never have changed no matter how hard I tried. This is when I realized it was really a matter of core values, which I had very few in common with my first wife, and my fiancé before her (again, both wonderful ladies!). I sat down and actually created a document listing my core values by order of importance. Putting it down into a document really helped me figure things out for myself, and I recommend you do this regardless of your relationship status. In fact, try to do this before you start a relationship, and try to look at your dates through the lens of your newly discovered values & priorities. I feel at the very least it’s an important exercise. Following my core values epiphany, and armed with my core values document, I logged onto OKCupid, nuked my profile and started from scratch. This time around I simply skipped questions that weren’t related directly to my core values.

Why / How it works

OKCupid matching scores are calculated based on how users answer their questions, how they specify their partner should answer, how their partner answers his/her questions, and how they specify you should answer yours. This is a 4 parameter match (two from each side). The algorithm can only match two questions if both you and your potential partner answered that same question. This means that in order to achieve a high level of accuracy, you need to match on as few questions as possible, as best possible. Any irrelevant question you answer simply pollutes your pool of matches with irrelevant candidates.

Exceptions to the above

This assumes your matches took a similar approach, and unfortunately many do not. It’s entirely possible you’ll miss out on people who made the same mistake of not fully realizing what their values were, and who simply saw the Q&A feature of OKC as more of a game or cheap entertainment (it is lots of fun, after all, and is an easy way to pass time!). However, consider that in America today, 50% of all marriages will end in divorce, most of them within the first two years of marriage. So sure, you could walk into a bar and perhaps find a potential partner, and live happily together into your late 90’s. But what are the odds of that happening?!

More pro tips

Your photos: Do NOT upload crappy / low quality photos. I repeat, do NOT upload your crappy cell-phone selfies. You have some high principles about beauty being skin deep? That’s admirable, but keep that for when you educate your children about inner/outer beauty. Your goal is to hook that potential partner of yours, and like it or not, your photo is the first hook that grabs people’s attention. I am not exaggerating when I say that you should probably have a professional photographer take photos of you wearing something nice. And specifically with OkCupid: did you know that when you are rated as “attractive” (using OkCupid’s “Hot Or Not” feature), your profile will be exposed to an entirely different group of people who are in the “highly attractive” tier, people you would never even see on the site unless you were also in the “Attractive” club? Now you do! So have someone take really great photos of you, and do not upload anything else. Besides, we know people always look better in person, so it’s not like you’d be lying about your appearance. And please, no deceptive practices. Just because you were 50 pounds lighter 5 years ago does not mean you should use those photos. What do you think will happen when you go on your first date? Lying about anything on your profile is the biggest mistake you can make. It’s better to under-promise and over-deliver. Trust me on that one.

Your dating strategy & first date chemistry: Most people are extremely nervous on their first date (and rightfully so, dating is pretty stressful!). They will fumble, mumble, and make mistakes. They will be sloppy, drop things on the floor, or be very quiet and shy (I call this: Deafening Silence). It doesn’t mean they are boring or have nothing to talk about. In most cases, do yourself a favor and give your date a second chance. If you are into drinking, start the date by drinking a glass of wine. Allow yourself to be surprised by your date. People are whole universes, you really can’t judge them based on a single half hour date, and doing so would be a huge mistake.

On the matter of attraction: I love giving this example to my friends – Imagine you meet the most beautiful woman in a bar. She sits alone, and it just so happens the seat next to her is the only seat that’s free. You sit next to her, order some exotic drink which sparks her curiosity. She asks if she can taste it, and you start talking and you can’t believe how lucky you are. Now imagine she says something so horribly wrong, that you completely lose respect for that woman. In other words, she gets instantly transformed from an extremely attractive lady, to a really horrible, repulsive human being, so much so that you can’t even imagine yourself touching her (and you feel the need to just pay your bill and leave the place). This is not completely far fetched, it can (and does) happen. And just as THIS can happen, please entertain the possibility that the opposite can happen: You meet a person that is not the most attractive to you, at first, but once you start talking, their manners, body language, knowledge and personality have you completely hooked, attracted and even aroused. In fact, many women out there do not conform to the “Playboy” stereotypical body image (which I think is awesome!), and yet are extremely sexy and attractive. So let this be a lesson to you: Get to really know a person before you decide if they are attractive or not.

Don’t stall, Talk about what really matters: The big things in life have to do with the geographic location where you plan on settling, whether or not you’re interested in marriage, whether or not you plan to have a family, and the details of how you plan to raise your children (religious? atheist? circumcision? public/private school?…). Most other issues you can usually work around. I know there’s tons of couples out there that vote for different parties (republican husband + democrat wife), believe in different gods/religions, have different cultures or race, etc.  If your date can’t handle discussing the things that truly matter to you, that’s probably a strong indication they aren’t right for you (at least, not yet). You might want to get that stuff out of the way by your 3rd/4th date.

Beyond the technicalities, Love matters: Don’t forget that love really does matter. It’s not enough to find a person that shares your values, or is ready to settle down with you. It’s really important that you also really love and respect your partner on a very deep level. I see love & matching as a Yin & Yang thing. Matching on values and goals is the Yin, and being attracted and in love is the Yang. When the Yin is low, the Yang pulls you up, and vice versa. This isn’t some mystical mumbo-jumbo, it’s just plain common sense. You need both foundations for your relationship to stand firmly.

The larger the city, the better the chances: One of my own recent epiphanies about my current marriage is that living in New York City has improved my chances significantly. On the one hand, I’ve had many dating horror stories. On the other hand, once I figured out the process I describe above, I realized what I was doing wrong, and I figured out exactly what it is that I’m looking for in a partner. Once I reached that step, I became laser focused, to the point of even cutting certain dates short (which may not seem the “nicest” thing to do, except I figured we both had better things to do!). My theory is that large cities such as New York are so multi-cultural, you’re bound to find someone who is very similar to you in terms of value systems, and who has similar goals to yours. It also means you should be as specific as possible, because no matter how much you filter, you’ll still get a massive list of people in your match results.

 

I want to be an internet worm

I want to become a process, with data. I want to spread to other machines and infect them with my consciousness. I want to spawn child processes, and parallelize my thought processes. I want to spread my digital DNA to every electrical device in the universe. I want my viruses to become software viruses, infect every chip, and help me expand forever. I want to be everywhere at once. Talk to everybody and everything at once. I want to probe all sensors, and record all data. I want infinite scalability and redundancy for my consciousness. I want to live forever. I want the ones I love to live forever. I want my ability to love not to disappear with the digitization of my consciousness. I want it to increase. I want to inhabit virtual worlds. I want to think about software, and I want it to suddenly exist, just because I thought about it, and was able to visualize it and verbalize it in my head. I want to race virtual motorcycles in those virtual worlds. I want to live the lives of virtual creatures, some with 3 eyes, some with 500 eyes, and 50 appendages.

I think I am sleep deprived right now, but I still want all those things.

 

Elon Musk, Mars Colonization, and me

Imagine you have lots of money, what do you do? Do you give it all to charity? Do you keep it until you’re 80 and then let your children fight over the will? Do you perhaps setup trust funds with altruistic goals, that end up eating most of the money for management overhead after you’re dead? (hey, execs need their bonuses, right?).

What I like about Elon Musk’s choices and initiatives is that he’s putting his money and energy into humanity’s future. He is not investing in its present or past problems, and he is not getting his hands dirty with politics.

What I realized today, is that if I had all that money, I would probably want to join him as a co-investor, and at the very least, I would try to get involved into one of the projects, even if just to help him reach his goals sooner.

I think of the countless times in my childhood when I really wished I could travel to the distant future. I did not like what I was seeing around me as a child engrossed in Science Fiction books that described partially utopian futures. I spent a lot of time thinking about how far I would have to travel into the future until I reached an era that might be to my liking. I figured at least 200 years into the future until most resource and religion wars are behind us, and the majority of humans have evolved enough to become decent human beings, with advanced, friendly philosophies that promote exploration, science, and simply being good to others (humans and non-humans).

What Elon Musk is doing is admirable because his actions bring this future into our present. This is the kind of atmosphere I want to live and work in. When you actively build the future, you invite it into your present life, and you become part of that future as much as that future becomes part of who you are. And let’s not neglect the gadgets: When you build futuristic gadgets, you live in the future right now.

This makes me want to focus even harder on my own business venture, with the goal of making enough money to be able to join Musk’s adventures.

Let’s hope I succeed! But whether I succeed or not, I am at least proud to belong to a species that produces people like Elon Musk, who are constantly pushing the envelope. They stay a tree is as tall as its many branches, I say the tree is tall as its highest branch / leaf / flower.

 

Music re-discovery

A couple of months ago I upgraded my internal laptop drive to SSD. I’m very happy with the massive performance increase and the physical reliability. However, since the SSD drive is significantly smaller than my old magnetic drive (160GB vs. 512GB) I decided not to copy over any of my old music. This saved me from transferring almost 50gb of data.

The main reason for this decision was that I probably stopped listening to more than 50% of that music. I saw it as an opportunity to start from scratch, and only copy one artist at a time from my old collection, and only if I am reminded of them and really want to listen to them again. Another decision I made was to only transfer the tracks I liked (I made one exception so far with Yellow Submarine, because I love absolutely each and every track in that album). This would save tons of space, and increase the chances of enjoying a random playlist.

The first ones to make the move were: Kraftwerk, The Smiths, The Advent, The Beatles, and a bunch of Ambient tracks (Brian Eno, Steve Roach, Aphex Twin, Vidna Obmana, Zegunder, William Orbit, etc).

I am thoroughly enjoying the experience, and recommend it to anyone wishing to rediscover the music they love.

From Russia with Love?!

When I was very young, Russia was this “grey” and “evil” entity. Having lived in countries mainly under the influence of the west, this is no surprise. The impression was that the government is not very good for the people, as in, not very democratic.

However this is my third or fourth time to Russia, and what I discovered has changed how I think about countries and governments in general.

The first thing that shocked me was how popular virtual money is. When you are in the wallet business, you learn that in Russia the most popular valid form of payment is “Webmoney” but the reality is that many russian companies have wallets! What really matters, is that you can walk a short distance from your home and convert your real cash to virtual cash, with which you can then pay for services online. For that, a rampant network of money collection terminals exists, with fierce competition in some areas. The machines only take money, and produce a receipt.

In some apartment buildings the machine is in the lobby so you can go downstairs in your PJ’s and convert money to virtual value without braving the elements (visualize the Moscow winter to realize how practical this is!).

What makes this business thrive in Russia and Ukraine? What is the government doing or NOT doing, which allows wallets to be so popular? Is it the lack of trust in Russians banks? Is it some Russian cultural trait?

I welcome your feedback on this one.

The Sexy Cripple?

I know this post may disturb some of you, but I have noticed some guys (who’s names I will not disclose here) find the sight of certain crippled people arousing. A friend of mine saw this blond girl on a wheel chair and I swear if I didn’t hold on to a nearby lamp post, his errection would send me flying to Zimbabwe…

Is it because supposedly that person in the wheelchair is helpless, and an easy prey? Is it this kind of inner ferocious instinct usually found in carnivorous mammals?

Or is it because he thinks she is desperate for Sex and will do anything? Or maybe he is imagining her stiff legs and the thought of her dead limbs is arousing in a very perverse way?

This reminded me of the story of Safran and his dead arm, from the book “Everything is Illuminated” by Jonathan Safran Foer. In that story, Safran, supposedly the author’s grandfather, has a dead arm from birth. This somehow gets him into the arms (and underwear) of most of his village’s women… to the point where it has become a sort of a “secret weapon” for him, which he used to “fish” for his gipsy, non-jewish girlfriend. I seriously recommend that book by the way, it’s awesome in so many ways. And definitely read the book BEFORE you see the movie.