Desperate for something to eat as the Passover Seder progression delays the dinner, we welcome the moment when we are free to pile charoset on matzah.
Ironic, isn’t it, that while charoset represents the mortar used to make bricks when we were slaves in Egypt, it is somehow, the tastiest symbol at the Passover Seder?
While almost every Ashkenazic charoset seems to be the same mixture of grated or chopped apples and walnuts moistened with sweet, Kosher wine and seasoned with cinnamon, I turned to Jennifer Abadi, expert in Syrian Jewish cooking, for a Sephardic twist on everyone’s fave symbol on the Passover table.
As I climbed four flights to her apartment on the UWS, I followed the fragrant trail to her busy kitchen where she was elbow deep in pre-Passover prep. I was enticed by the unfamiliar and sweet fragrance of orange blossom water and the sweet/tart balance of Turkish apricots.
The use of local ingredients is an old idea and the Sephardic mixtures illustrate the point well. For those who grew up unexposed to Sephardic traditions, you may be interested to learn that each country, each culture, and each climate fostered its own variation on the charoset theme.
Yeminite Jews added pepper and coriander to the chopped mixture of dried fruits and nuts, making their charoset spicy, like their cooking.
Persians sometimes use pomegranates or vinegar, reflecting their taste for sweet and sour flavors. Here’s an interesting recipe from Reyna Simnegar, which combines bananas and date paste to make Persian haleg (charoset).
Iraqi and Indian Jews boiled dates, creating a syrup called halek, and moistened chopped walnuts with this date syrup.
Italian traditions vary greatly from family to family and region to region. Ingredients may include pears, chestnuts, oranges, chopped apples and walnuts. Check out Alessandra Rovati‘s oh so chestnut-ty recipe here.
In Greece, pine nuts were the star. Check out this recipe where cherry preserves make an appearance.
In Morocco, matzah meal was added to the nut and dried fruit mixture and rolled into balls. These charoset balls were scooped up in romaine lettuce leaves. Check out this easy recipe.
For a bright and colorful Charoset on your table, check out Jennifer Abadi’s Syrian Charoset recipe, below. You may find more recipes and information about her family’s Syrian Jewish cooking traditions on her blog, Too Good to Passover and in her ode to her family’s culinary traditions in A Fistful of Lentils.
Which charoset will you be serving this Passover? What’s YOUR charoset story?
This recipe is from Jennifer Abadi, author of A FISTFUL OF LENTILS. She blogs about Sephardic Passover traditions at www.toogoodtopassover.com
- 2 cups whole Turkish dried apricots
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¾ cup hot water
- 2 tablespoons coconut sugar or unrefined whole cane sugar
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 to 3 teaspoons orange blossom water
- ¼ cup shelled, unsalted pistachios or whole blanched almonds, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons shelled, unsalted pistachios, or whole blanched almonds, finely ground in the food processor
- Combine apricots, orange juice, water, and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until apricots are very soft and mushy, 30 to 40 minutes. (Make sure to stir every 5 to 10 minutes to prevent burning.)
- Pour hot apricot mixture into a food processor and add the lemon juice and orange blossom water. Pulse 1 to 2 minutes until a smooth paste. Scoop out into a medium sized bowl and mix in the chopped nuts by hand. Cool to room temperature.
- Serve charoset at room temperature in a small, decorative bowl garnished with finely ground pistachios or almonds.
About Orange Blossom Water: Sadaf brand is kosher (just not KLP) and is available at Kalustyan's @28th and Lex in NYC or other markets with Middle Eastern selections. If you chose to leave this ingredient out, the charoset will still be delicious!