Monday is the first night of Passover. I adore this Jewish holiday. It celebrates the Ancient Israelites’ journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom and the Promised Land. The week-long holiday begins with a meal, called a Seder, filled with special symbolic foods that help to make the story come alive for participants. (Seder means order - the symbolic foods are eaten in a prescribed order as the story unfolds.) The freedom story is beautiful and the holiday is home and food-centered. What’s not to love?
One of my favorite Passover foods is charoset (somestimes spelled haroset or charoses), a fruit-and-nut mixture that symbolizes mortar for bricks that the slaves were forced to make during their captivity under the Egyptian Pharoahs.
Whether you are preparing an entire Seder meal, need a contribution to bring to someone else’s Seder, or just want to try out some Passover foods, charoset is an ideal dish. It is super easy to make - just chop and stir – no heating or cooking required. You can adapt the recipe to fit your own preferences, budget, and what is available locally – no ingredient is essential. It is versatile – you can eat it on matzo, add it to yogurt or ice cream, or experiment with it as a snack.
The basic recipe is fruit, nuts, a bit of sugar or honey, spice(s) (which can be as simple as ground cinnamon or as complicated as you want to make them) and and a small amount of liquid to bind the other ingredients together.
It used to be that a family’s charoset represented its ethnic tradition. My family is from Eastern Europe, so the version I've had ever since I can remember is from that region.
It requires just apples, walnuts or almonds, sugar or honey, cinnamon, and a bit of sweet red wine. Here’s my basic recipe for about 1 - 1 /2 cups:
- 1 apple, chopped into small pieces
- 1/3 cup almonds or walnuts, chopped into small pieces
- 1 tsp sugar or honey
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1-2 tablespoons of sweet red wine (Manischevitz). Grape juice works fine too.
The preparation is simple.
Peel the apple, chop the apple and nuts, then mix everything together. How finely you chop is purely personal preference. The proportions are rough - feel free to adjust them. Hints - if your apple is very large, you may want to increase the other ingredients to compensate. If your apples are very sweet, you can add less sugar or add a few drops of fresh lemon juice. If you are making more than 1 apple’s worth, try mixing different types of apples.
If you want to make more than 1 -1 /2 cups, just increase the amount of all the ingredients roughly proportionally. It is difficult to give a charoset serving size. Some people eat a spoonful of charoset on a shred of matzo during the Seder, while others (like my certain members of my family, who I won't name) pile huge amounts of charoset on multiple, plate-sized pieces of matzo. Refrigerate until serving and refrigerate any leftovers. Hints: Charoset tastes even better if you let the flavors meld together for a few hours before serving. Apples turn brown on the outside when exposed to air. If you prefer to keep your chopped apples light-colored, sprinkle a little fresh lemon juice on them before adding other ingredients.
That Eastern European version beings back wonderful memories of Seders past for me. But now that I've tried lots of different ethnic foods, I've expanded my charoset horizons. By searching through cookbooks and the web, I've found and tried charoset recipes from Egypt, Italy, Greece, Libya, Morocco, Iran, Yemen and even Surinam. Each one uses ingredients found in the region, including dried fruits and many different kinds of nuts. Some are spicy, while others are sweet. But each, in its own way, is delicious.
To see if I could go even further for this post, I googled “Eskimo” and charoset.” The result wasn’t what I had hoped for (charoset, Eskimo-style), but that’s not surprising. I did find, however, that the Anchorage chapter of the Jewish women’s organization, Hadassah, published a cookbook with a charoset recipe. It just goes to show that anywhere people celebrate Passover, you’ll find a variation of charoset.