Friday, April 3, 2015

Rebecca's Charoset

A tasty, sweet fruit and nut spread that's perfect for Passover!

I've been sitting on this recipe for a long time. A year, actually! Last spring I just didn't do much at all for the blog. I wanted to, but I just couldn't work up the motivation for it, so a lot of ideas got tabled, and some of them got forgotten about entirely. This one, however, did not, because it definitely sounded intriguing, easy and tasty, which is a pretty winning combination and a great way to keep me thinking about it a year down the line.

This year, Passover begins at sundown today, April 3 and ends the evening of April 11. For those not in the know, Passover is a festival celebrating the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. Because they fled Egypt so quickly, the story goes that the Jews didn't even have time to wait for bread dough to rise, so eating unleavened bread - known as matzo or matzah - has become one of the best known culinary and cultural traditions associated with the holiday. While this recipe does involve matzo, it's not going to be what we're focusing on. Instead, we're going to be talking about charoset!

Charoset - pronounced and occasionally spelled haroset - is a sweet apple, walnut and date spread which is traditionally a part of the Passover Seder, the multicourse feast full of religious and historic significance. Traditionally, charoset is one of the first foods families will actually eat after telling the story of the exodus from Egypt, and it's one of the symbolic foods on the Seder Plate, representing the mortar that the Jews used to build the pyramids. After saying the blessings and eating a sandwich of matzo, charoset and bitter herbs called maror, the rest is usually eaten plain, spread on matzo.

There are hundreds of different ways to make charoset, some with a few ingredients, some with as many as forty. A childhood friend's mother made charoset that looked more like a fruit salad than a spread, which was one of my only exposures to this dish before doing research for this blog post. The recipe I decided to use came from and was featured in an article titled "You're Doing it Wrong: Charoset", which I figured must be a good sign. While I do sometimes take issue with people saying you're "doing it wrong" when it comes to food - no, eating pizza by folding it is not required - when I'm looking for a really authentic recipe, it's interesting to look at the articles that decide to break it down and really show you how the author thinks it should be made based on their own research.

This recipe was very, very simple, and required very little prep time. It also definitely makes enough for a family gathering, in that I fed it to a group of nine and still had plenty of leftovers to pass out at the end of the night. You only need five ingredients: one cup of walnuts, two Fuji apples, twelve putted Medjool dates, a teaspoon of cinnamon and and two tablespoons of sweet wine.

The recipe notes that this is one of the only good excuses to consume Manischewitz wine, which is notorious for being very, very sweet and just generally not very good. My dad said because I put him through the embarrassment of buying it, I needed to drink some straight. And I did, and it was... not terrible, but not something I'd want to drink a whole glass of. Remember, I'm bad at alcohol.

The walnuts need to be toasted first, which takes about five minutes over medium-low heat. The recipe says to use whole walnuts, but I used pre-chopped because 1. we had them in the house and 2. I knew it would save me some time and frustration later. You'll hear why.

Next, you core, peel and chop up your apples. We have a new peeler I keep almost slicing my skin off with, but it gets the job done! And with that, you're basically ready to go.

Honestly, the only thing that was frustrating about this recipe was the fact that my food processor continues to be really bad at blending anything more than a cup at a time, despite saying it can blend up to four cups of food at once. Lies! All the larger chunks on top stay on top, while the stuff on the bottom is pulverized beyond recognition, which means you need to keep wrestling the bigger pieces closer to the bottom in hopes that eventually everything will be well incorporated. My mom's been talking about investing in a better food processor, and in times like this, I'm definitely hoping she follows through on it!

That being said, it didn't take too long for things to get sorted out - I just don't like needing to wrestle with an appliance to get it to do the job it was designed for! After maybe fifteen minutes of fighting with my food processor, the charoset was pretty smooth and ready to get plated.

Just as there are many recipes and spellings for charoset, there are a lot of ways to display it, too. Some people even shape theirs to look like the Sphinx, complete with pecans or other nuts for eyes! I decided that was a little too ambitious for me, and made mine into a pyramid. Or as close to a pyramid as I could get.

And because I can never pass up the opportunity to make mini versions of the food I make, I set up a doll sized pyramid for more pictures.

Convincing some of my taste testers to try this one was a little difficult, mostly because at first glance and with no context given to it, the finished product does look a lot like the prescription cat food we have to give our cat with sensitive digestion in both color and texture. But once my mother and I bullied them into trying it, everyone agreed that this was quite tasty! It was surprisingly sweet for something with no sugar added to it, probably thanks to the Fuji apples and the sweet wine. Not overpoweringly sweet! But sweet, and it tasted great on the matzo. I would definitely make and eat this again.

I'm also interested to try another version of this dish out sometime! Maybe next year, we'll try out one of the more complicated versions and do a comparison. Or maybe we'll do something completely different.

Guess we'll just have to wait and see!


  1. My charoset usually looks more like a fruit salad too, but this looks like an interesting version that I'll have to try. My apologies for being pedantic, but regarding the pronunciation, there's no silent "c" - it's more like the guttural "ch" in loch or Bach. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Never worry about being pedantic, I'll fully admit the history and construction of language is not a strong suit of mine at all and I welcome the correction. I'll go fix it up right away. :)