Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Actually Delicious Charoset
Every passover, there are, without exception, at least seven items that must be served as part of the Seder meal formalities. Aside from the matzoh, the other six appear on the seder plate, each representing a different aspect of the Jews' escape from persecution and slavery in Egypt. For the most part, these items are not particularly delicious - some are downright inedible (and not meant to be eaten, obviously), and that's alright. But charoset has the potential to be something delicious, and something that you'll find yourself craving throughout the year.
Charoset is a sweet, sticky mess of nuts and apple - at least the charoset of my past was. The charoset of all of my future seders, however, will be no such thing, because this recipe has changed everything I knew about charoset. Typically charoset is eaten as part of the seder, spread on matzoh to symbolize the mortar on the bricks that our ancestors were forced to use before their exodus; then it usually sits there, neglected. Not this charoset though, huge piles of the jewel-colored mixture adorned the plate of each of my seder guests last year, and I found it impossible to reach into the fridge without sticking a spoon into the leftovers for as long as they lasted (not long).
This charoset recipe features flavors and spices often associated with Sephardic Jews. Since the ancestral beginnings of the subset were largely in the Middle East, dates, figs and cinnamon often find their way into Sephardic Jewish dishes, with flavors oftne reminiscent of Moroccan cuisine. It is leaps and bounds better than any apple-spiked charoset I've tasted before. The fruit and toasted nuts provide wonderful contrast in texture, the sweetness of the dates and apricots mellowed and contrasted so perfectly by the toasted nuttiness of the walnuts. The spices provide warmth and depth, and the lingering smell of ginger soothes you as it makes its way into your mouth. The sweet passover wine, nearly unbearable in its unadulterated state, is used sparingly, providing just enough liquid to bond it all together and disperse the flavors, while mellowing out what the potential brashness of the ginger and cayenne.
from Gourmet, April 1993; recipe also here
This mixture may seem a bit spicy at first, but it mellows out with time. I would plan on making this at least a few hours ahead, to give the charoset a chance to come together and allow the flavors to marry.
2/3 cup dried Mission figs (6 oz)
2/3 cup dried apricots (6 oz)
1/3 cup pitted dates (4 oz)
1 1/3 cups walnuts (4 oz), finely chopped
1/4 cup sweet red wine such as Manischewitz Extra Heavy Malaga, kosher for passover
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 8 minutes, checking often and stirring around pan as necessary to ensure that they don't burn. Allow nuts to cool.
Finely chop the figs, apricots and dates, then transfer to a bowl and stir in walnuts and wine. Sprinkle spices evenly over mixture and stir until combined well.
Can be prepared 3 days ahead.