By Tina Wasserman
Passover is coming, Passover is coming! As I pretend to be the Jewish Paul Revere, should the rest of the thought be “One if by mix and two if by scratch”? We start perusing the internet (and hopefully my cookbook) for “new” recipes to try for Passover when, in reality, our families want the familiar. No problem, I really recommend that you don’t substitute a new recipe but add an additional one in the same category so that you and your guests can explore without losing the link to traditional memories.
In that light, I would like to share with you some charoset recipes to start your Seder off with a surprise or two
Because I am feeling more connected to Ukraine this season, it dawned on me that the charoset we think of as classic had its origins in the Pale of Settlement, which, of course, included the Ukraine. I also realized that some of my readers might be making a Seder for the first time or have never made charoset, so I thought I would include that here as well as a Sephardi recipe. Apples, walnuts and wine were readily available to even the poorest peasant and so these ingredients made it to Ellis Island and Galveston and our tables to represent the mortar that held the bricks of the pyramids together.
This is the classic version but your grandmother might have added some matzo meal to the mix (she probably added too much wine and needed the meal to absorb some of the excess liquid).
As a child I was given a wooden bowl and a mezzaluna that looked more like a handheld guillotine. However, today, using the food processor your charoset can be made quickly and either coarse or very smooth.
- 2 McIntosh apples, peeled and cored
- 1 cup walnut pieces
- 1½ teaspoons cinnamon or to taste
- Sweet Concord or Malaga Passover wine
- Matzo meal, if necessary
1. Combine the apples and walnuts in a wooden bowl and chop to a fine consistency with curved chopper or mezzaluna.
2. Add cinnamon and wine to bind, and set aside, covered, in a glass bowl in the refrigerator until ready to use.
3. If the apples give up a great deal of juice, add a few tablespoons of matzo meal to bind the mixture together. Don’t add too much matzo meal, as it swells and the mixture could become too thick.
Yield: Approximately 2 cups
• Since soft McIntosh apples were readily available in the states with the most Jewish immigrants this was the preferred apple. However, feel free to use whatever apple variety you want.
• The sweet wine most associated with Jewish ritual was a result of the availability of tart grapes that could only be made palatable by adding copious amounts of sugar to make wine that was grown and prepared by Jews according to the laws of kashrut.
• Matzo meal can absorb excess liquid, but use it sparingly and wait 15 minutes before you add any more since it takes that long to expand. Too much and your charoset will taste more like matzo than apples.
Traditional Charoset, Texas Style
To give you an idea how recipes change from region to region, here is the recipe that we enjoyed for over 20 years at the home of Houston native Lynn Friedlander. It is wonderful. Enjoy!
- 8-10 sweet apples (Fuji, Gala, Honey Crisp or Jonagold)
- 8-10 ounces pecans, toasted
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon, or to taste
- 1/3 cup sugar, or to taste
- 1 cup Concord grape wine
1.Peel, core and cut the apples into 8 pieces.
2. Place ½ of the apples in a processor work bowl and pulse until pieces are about ¼ inch. Remove to a large glass bowl and repeat with the remaining apples.
3. Toast the pecans at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Cool slightly and then add them to the work bowl. Pulse machine on and off until the pecans are finely chopped. Add pecans to the apples.
4. Add the cinnamon and sugar to the apple mixture and stir to combine.
5. Add the wine and mix well.
6. Cover and refrigerate overnight but preferably 1-2 days.
7. If mixture is watery, drain off excess liquid and then adjust cinnamon, sugar and wine as desired.
Makes about 1 quart.
• Availability opens the door to creativity. The use of sweet, roasted pecans and a sweeter variety of apple results in a sweeter, more well-rounded flavor.
This recipe comes from Rita Sasso, a Panamanian whose roots go back to Spain via Amsterdam and Curaçao, which was a major Jewish colony in the 17th and 18th centuries.
- 4 ounces dried figs
- 4 ounces raisins
- 4 ounces prunes
- 4 ounces pitted dates
- 1½ cups peanut butter or almond butter
- 2-3 cups brown sugar, according to taste
- ½ cup sweet kosher wine, as needed
- Cinnamon — enough to cover balls of charoset (approx 1½ ounces)
1. Place the dried fruits in a processor work bowl and process the dried fruits until a relatively smooth paste is formed.
2. Add the peanut butter and brown sugar to the processor work bowl and pulse on and off a few times to begin to combine the ingredients. The machine will only begin the process as mixture will be thick.
3. Remove mixture to a bowl and continue to combine the ingredients, kneading with your hands.
4. Little by little, add the wine to the mixture until you obtain a firm ball of fruit. This mixture will be quite sticky. If necessary, refrigerate for ½ hour until mixture firms up a little.
5. Wet your hands periodically with cold water and form small balls of charoset about the size of a small walnut.
6. Place balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put in the freezer until frozen.
7. Once the balls are hard you can remove them to a freezer bag until needed.
8. Just before serving, defrost and roll each ball in cinnamon. Serve.
Yield 2 or more dozen balls depending on size.
• Do not double this recipe unless you have a very large food processor or the mixture will be too difficult to combine thoroughly.
• Peanuts were not considered forbidden in the Sephardi world; therefore peanut butter was the preferred choice. I have given almond butter as an alternative if need be.
Nontraditional Tomato Charoset
OK, so sometimes creativity gets the best of us. Since charoset seems to always contain fruit, nuts and wine, I thought I would combine the following ingredients. I didn’t tell my Seder guests what was in it until they tasted it and, after they all said it was very good, I revealed that the “fruit” was actually a tomato. This is a perfect example of recipes morphing using substitutes for the original ingredients. Try it, you’ll like it! But add it to the table. Don’t substitute or I will not be responsible for your family’s reaction.
1½ pounds small grape tomatoes
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
8 ounces whole almonds
¼ cup honey
Zest of ¼ medium orange
1½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for convection oven).
2. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and place cut side up on a baking sheet.
3. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the sugar over the tomatoes and place in oven for 15 minutes.
4. Remove tomatoes from the oven and sprinkle them with another 2 tablespoons of sugar. Return to the oven and roast for 30 minutes or until tomatoes are beginning to brown and sugar is caramelizing. Do not let the sugar burn.
5. Remove from oven when done and allow tomatoes to cool.
6. Meanwhile, toast the whole almonds in the oven for 7 to 8 minutes until fragrant. Do not let almonds get too dark. Cool the almonds and then finely grind in a nut mill or food processor, using short pulses so that the nuts are ground fine without forming a butter. Place nuts in a 1-quart bowl and set aside.
7. Place tomato mixture in the processor work bowl and process until coarsely chopped. Add the honey, orange zest and spices and the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Process to a smooth paste.
8. Add 1½ cups of the ground almonds to the tomato mixture and then pulse on and off until mixture is well blended. Transfer to a storage container and place in the refrigerator for 3 days.
9. When ready to serve, either serve in a dish with a spoon or shape into ¾-inch balls and roll in the remaining ground almonds. Serve cold.
Note: A tablespoon of sugar and some cinnamon may be added to the remaining nuts for the coating.
• Roasting the tomatoes serves two purposes: The flavor is enhanced by the caramelized sugar and juices, and it helps the tomato dry out so the mixture won’t be too thin or wet.
• A tablespoon of sugar and some cinnamon may be added to the remaining nuts for the coating if the mixture is thick enough to roll into balls.