There are almost as many ways to make charoset as there are Jews who eat it on Passover. And if word gets out about how good this stuff can be, it won’t be just a Passover treat.
A no-bake sweet that can be chopped rough, pulverized into a smooth paste, or made anywhere in-between, charoset is served during the rituals before the Seder meal, but it certainly tastes like a dessert.
The origins and symbolism of charoset are disputed of course; it is, after all, a Jewish food and there is nothing Jews like better than to argue over meaning and to dissect the possibilities. But no matter where you come down on those subjects or even if you don’t care about them at all, if you can find a fruit that you like, then you can make charoset to fit your tastes.
The myriad combinations of fruits, juice or wine, and spices (sometimes with nuts) that are called charoset range from simple to almost bizarrely complex. The plainest I’ve ever come across is the (Eastern European) Ashkenazic version with apple and cinnamon, a bit of sweetener, a tablespoon or two of sweet wine or apple juice, and often a bit of chopped or ground nuts. The more complex ones tend to be (Spanish/Portugese/Middle Eastern) Sephardic, with spices and dried fruits that could come right out of a bazaar or souk.
For my Seder, I like to have several different charoset variations for nibbling before, and even during, the meal. This year, a friend will bring Ashkenazic-style charoset and I’m making two that are Sephardic-inspired. This one is the spicier of my two contributions – on Wednesday I’ll post the sweeter one.
As always when using spices, the potency of the spices you have will affect the ultimate dish. Smell your spices before you use them. If they are old and barely have any aroma, you’ll have to use more, or throw them out and buy some that is newer and therefore more aromatic. In any case, use the spice measurements as a guide – begin with less and add more as your tastebuds guide you.
If you want to pump up the aromas and taste, you can grind your own, or even better, roast seeds and grind them. I did that with the coriander and you’d be amazed at the difference between the coriander (or cardamom) you buy already ground and what it will smell and taste like if you roast and grind it yourself. Old school grinding is done with a mortar and pestle, as you would use for guacamole. The easier and more modern approach is to use a small well cleaned and aroma-free electric coffee grinder. (I have an inexpensive small electric grinder that I use only for spice-grinding.)
The amount of liquid required depends on whether the dates and figs are tender and juicy, in which case you may not need a full 4 tablespoons, or more crusty, which requires at least 4 tablespoons and maybe a bit more. Heating the liquid helps the fruit to absorb the liquid; the goal is a slightly moist mixture in which small chopped pieces mostly hold together as you spoon the charoset onto matzo.
Slightly Spicy Sephardic Charoset
Servings – 1½ cups (small servings for about 10 people) Cost – $5-6
- 1 ounce (scant ¼ cup each) of:
- Dried apricots, chopped
- Dark raisins, cut in half
- Yellow raisins, cut in half
- Dried, pitted dates, chopped
- Dried figs, chopped
- Pistachios, preferably dry roasted
- Walnuts, chopped
- ¼ teaspoon coriander (ground)
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom (ground)
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon cumin
- 2-3 twists of freshly ground pepper (optional)
- About 4 tablespoons (¼ cup) hot liquid (sweet red wine like Manischevitz or grape or apple juice), added by tablespoonful
- Cutting board
- Small food processor or bowl for nuts with chopping blade
- Measuring cups or scale
- Measuring spoons
- Mix the dried fruit and nuts (all chopped) together in a bowl.
- Heat the liquid (I do it in a microwave, until the liquid is quite hot but not boiling) then add it and let the charoset sit for a few minutes until the fruit absorbs liquid.
- Mix again and drain off excess liquid if any or add more if required.