Simple charoset is the essence of Passover. My Ashkenazic or Eastern European version, from my mother and grandmother, takes just 5 ingredients and 5 minutes. Chop it all by hand or use a food processor. Either way, it is part of the Seder meal that makes family and friends smile, even as they eat it on the edible cardboard otherwise known as matzo.
I adore this Jewish holiday, which 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?
Charoset (sometimes spelled haroset or charoses), is a fruit-and-nut mixture that symbolizes mortar for bricks that the slaves were forced to make during their captivity under the Egyptian Pharoahs.
In my family, we eat charoset throughout the holiday, which lasts for a week.
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.
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.
My simple charoset requires just apples, walnuts or almonds, sugar or honey, cinnamon, and a bit of sweet red wine.
These ingredients are always in my pantry. Sweet wine keeps unrefrigerated, which is good, because I’ve had one bottle for years! Short detour to explain how my family feels about Manischewitz:
Me, pointing to bottle of 5+ year old Manischewitz. As I contemplate making charoset: “I don’t think this stuff goes bad.”
My beloved, looking from me, to bottle, and back again: “No, I think it starts out bad.”
Back to simple charoset – the preparation couldn’t be easier – peel and chop the apple, mix with chopped nuts, add cinnamon and sugar, then wine. How finely you chop is purely personal preference. The proportions are rough – feel free to adjust them.
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:
It used to be that a family’s charoset represented its ethnic tradition and this simple charoset from Eastern Europe brings back memories for me. However, these days, many families, including my own, make many varieties of charoset for their Seder table.
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. Those versions are from the Sephardic Jewish community, which hails from North Africa, the Spanish-speaking countries and the Middle East. Each of those versions uses ingredients found in the region that are more exotic than apples to me, including dried fruits and many different kinds of nuts. Some are spicy, while others are sweet. But each, in its own way, is delicious.
I even made up my own version of Sephardic charoset – formed into charoset balls.
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.
You can make it by hand, chopping the apples and the nuts if you buy the latter in halves or large pieces, then mixing everything together in a bowl.
Add the wine at the end, because that way you can figure out how much you want to add. I go for about 2 tablespoons, but some people like to use less.
On the other hand, you can use a faster route, throwing the ingredients into a food processor and spinning them into the charoset.
The results taste the same, but the food processor version makes a more paste-like mixture, with smaller pieces of apples and nuts.
Here’s my basic recipe for about 1 – 1 /2 cups:
Simple Charoset, Ashkenazic-Style
- 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 sweet red wine Manischewitz or other. Grape juice works too.
Mix the apple and nuts by hand in a bowl or in a food processor.
Add the cinnamon and sugar, then the sweet red wine or juice.
Start with 1 tablespoon of liquid and add more as necessary.
If you are using a food processor to chop and mix the apples and nuts, pulse them rather than leave the processor on. That way, you have more control over the size of the pieces.
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.
It's easy to double, triple or even quadruple the recipe. In that case, consider using more than one type of apple to add depth of flavor.
If your apple is very large, you may want to increase the other ingredients to compensate. If the apple is very sweet, use less sugar/honey or add a few drops of fresh lemon juice.
This post was originally published in 2011. I’ve updated it in April 2016 with new text and photographs, while keeping the same simple charoset recipe. I’m totally embarrassed by the quality of the photos from years ago. Still, if you want to see the difference, here’s what one looked like from the original 2011 post.