I’m going to be running a series of posts for Pesach/Passover called “Pesach of Colors.” Underneath the beloved briskets and matzah ball soups of a lovingly prepared (Ashkenazi) seder, Passover has the reputation of being a colorless holiday with only a few short highlights: brisket, matzah balls, the end of the holiday. Otherwise, it’s the dull brown of matzah and Passover substitutes. Yet Passover can be so much more – and in Jewish tradition Passover has long been beyond the brisket and macaroons (which are good) to embrace a wide variety of colors that mark both the beginning of spring and our freedom as a people. So let’s embrace that. I’m going to mark each food by six colors across six posts – which are purple, orange, green, pink, gold, and black.
I want to start off with purple – which is in the wine that is part of charoset. This is the ritual food of the Passover seder that reminds us of the mortar the Israelite slaves placed between bricks in Egypt. Charoset in some form probably originated in Mishnaic times (2nd century CE), when it became part of seder rituals, and particularly that of eating it with matzah and bitter herbs (maror) to commemorate suffering in Egypt. It then evolved across the Jewish world to local ingredients and tastes – and became known as hallegh in much of the Middle East.
Passover is, of course, one of the primary holidays of the Jewish calendar – it is, in many ways, the foremost – and one that inspires nostalgia in a wide swathe of Jews: secular and religious, “engaged” and “unengaged,” “traditional” and not. As it happens, charoset is often one of those memories – and I’ve had self-identified “no-longer-Jews” go into rapture over the sweet, wine-filled mixtures of their youth.
I have made two charosets: a traditional Ashkenazi recipe and a traditional Moroccan recipe. Like many Jewish foods, charoset was often determined by locally available ingredients – for Ashkenazim, apples that were stored in cellars through the winter, for Moroccans, dates, and for other communities, various local fruits. Nuts are common across many types of charoset – reminiscent as they are of the pieces of brick that end up inevitably in mortar. These can be left out in case of allergy. And, though traditionally made with wine (making the Ashkenazi version slightly alcoholic), grape juice can be substituted in as well. A quick note: the Moroccan one is lower-tech with only a pot and no processor, the Ashkenazi one is quicker to make with no cooking time. Khag kasher ve-sameakh – a kosher and happy Passover.
based on Claudia Roden’s recipe
makes one and a half cups charoset
1/2 pound dates, pitted and chopped
1 1/2 cups dark grape juice or sweet wine
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
dash of ground nutmeg
3 dried cloves
2/3 cup ground walnuts
- Put the dates in a small saucepan with the juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add water to cover.
- Bring to a boil and then simmer on low, stirring now and again, until the dates are very soft and mushy and the fluid has cooked down.
- Take off the heat and stir to make the dates a paste. Mix in the ground walnuts and let cool before decanting.
Makes four cups charoset
2 medium-sized tart apples, peeled and cored (I recommend Jonathan apples)
2 tbsp dark raisins
2/3 cup ground walnuts
1 cup dark grape juice or sweet wine
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp honey
Each making method has a different consistency. I strongly urge you to use Plan A.
Plan A: Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor until the apples are mostly pulverized and the mixture is consistent. (Side note: food processors are a technological godsend to Jewish cuisine. Screw authenticity, your hands matter!)
Plan B: If you do not have a food processor, grate the apples and then use a mortar and pestle to grind the ingredients together.
Plan C: Barring that, chop the apple gratings and raisins, and then mix with the other ingredients.
The author would like to thank Berakha Guggenheim for her assistance in this year’s User Acceptance Testing for charoset.