The Flavor of Jewish History


At Passover, this cook serves 12 different kinds of charoset, mostly from countries in the Sephardi world.

At Passover, I serve 12 different kinds of charoset, mostly from countries in the Sephardi world. I was born into an Ash­kenazi family and still treasure my grandmother’s yummy re­cipe for apple and walnut char­oset, scribbled on a spattered ­index card. Yet, I fall in love each time someone hands me a new recipe for charo­set.
My first foray into foreign charoset came through my husband’s family, who hail from Trieste, Italy. Their recipe is studded with fresh ginger, pignoli nuts and cinnamon.
I am drawn to the array of dried fruit and aromatic spices found in many of my adopted charosets. While charoset is meant to replicate the mortar Israelite slaves used to make bricks, I’m fascinated that Jews from different countries interpret the mortar in many ways.
During seders, the variety of these dozen charosets sparks lively conversations, as family and friends debate which recipe they like best. Some of them are truly unusual: sticky balls presented inside lettuce leaves (Moroccan); a syrup dribbled on squares of matzah (Iraqi); dates and raisins perfumed with orange zest (Egyptian).
“These exotic charosets add a dimension to your seders that can’t be duplicated,” my sister-in-law said last year. “But pre­paring so many of them is time consuming at a busy time of year. I admire you for not trimming the list.”
“My charosets are like children — I can’t decide which one I like best,” I have told her.
But my feelings run deeper than that. Most of these recipes originated in countries where Jews are dwindling, if not virtually disappeared.
In a small way, I’m keeping their culture alive by exposing people to the charosets of their homelands, documenting the flavor of Jewish history.
Classic Ashkenazi Charoset
2 apples (Rome, Gala, Fugi or Cortland)
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsps. sweet Passover
red wine
2 Tbsps. honey, or more,
if needed
1 cup walnuts
Peel and core apples. Cut into chunks about 1-inch square.
Place apples, cinnamon, wine and honey in a food pro­cessor. (Do not overdo the processing or the mixture will turn watery.) Pulse on momentarily and then off, until the mixture resembles mortar.
Add the walnuts and pulse on briefly and then off, until nuts have crumbled. Charoset should resemble clay or mortar. If it’s not holding together, add a little more honey and mix by hand.
Refrigerate until serving.
Makes 2 cups. Serves 10.
Italian Charoset
3 apples (Rome, Gala, Fugi or Cortland)
2 pears (use drained canned pears if ripe pears are unavailable)
1-inch piece of fresh ginger
1 container (10 oz.) pitted dates
1⁄3 cup pitted prunes
1 cup water
1 cup sweet Passover red wine
3⁄4 cup raisins
1⁄3 cup honey
1 and 1⁄4 tsps. cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. lemon zest
1⁄2 cup blanched slivered almonds
1⁄4 cup pine nuts
Peel and core the apples and pears and cut into 1-inch chunks. Peel the ginger. Dice it and then chop it fine. Cut dates and prunes into halves or thirds.
Place all ingredients — except the almonds and pine nuts — in a medium-sized, nonstick saucepan. Simmer on a very low flame for 1 hour, or until dates soften.
Add more water and wine, if necessary. Mixture should have a chutney-like consistency.
Let mixture cool and mix in the nuts. Refrigerate until serving.
Makes 3 cups. Serves 15.
Moroccan Charoset
1 cup each: pitted dates, raisins, blanched slivered almonds and walnuts
1 head of lettuce
Fit a food processor with the metal chopping blade and place dates inside its bowl. Pulse on and off, chopping until dates are broken into tidbits the size of raisins.
Add the raisins, walnuts and almonds. Pulse on and off, until the nuts are finely ground and the mixture clumps together.
Using your palms, roll spoonfuls of the mixture into balls about 3⁄4-inch in diameter. Place balls in a covered container and refrigerate until ready to serve.
At least an hour before serving, separate lettuce leaves, rinse under water, and place in a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels. Bring charoset balls to room temperature.
Serve balls wrapped in lettuce leaves, or make matzah- charoset sandwiches by placing a ball between two squares of matzah and wrapping a lettuce leaf around the matzah sandwich.
Makes 32 to 36 balls.
Iraqi Charoset
1 and 1⁄2 cups walnuts
3 containers (10-oz. each) pitted dates
4 and 3⁄4 cups water
1⁄2 tsp. cardamom
matzah broken into 2-inch squares
Place the walnuts in a food processor and chop fine, until almost sand-like. Transfer to a container. Cover the container and reserve until ready to serve.
Fit a food processor with a metal chopping blade. Place the dates in its bowl and process briefly until coarsely chopped. Reserve.
Pour water into a large pot and bring to a boil. Remove pot from the flame. Add the dates, stirring until blended with the water. Cover the pot. Soak at room temperature for four hours.
Bring the date-water mixture to a boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover the pot and cool to room temperature.
Place a colander over a large, wide-mouthed bowl. In batches, spoon the dates and water into the colander. With your hand, press down on the dates until all juice is drained from them. Then with a long-handled spoon, squeeze the dates more, until a pudding-like texture comes through the colander’s holes. Discard the fibrous pieces of dates remaining in the colander. 
Place a fine sieve over a me­dium-sized pot. Press the pudding mixture and date water through the sieve. Add the cardamom and stir until combined.
Cover the pot. On a medium-low flame, bring the date liquids to a gentle simmer. Lower flame, if necessary. Stir often, simmering until the material thickens to the consistency of maple syr­up, between 1 to 2 hours. Cool to room temperature. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Bring date syrup to room temperature before serving. With a teaspoon, drizzle date syrup over matzah squares. Sprinkle walnuts on top.
Makes 1 and 1⁄2 cups date syrup.
Egyptian Charoset
1 box (15 oz.) dark raisins
1 container (10 oz.) pitted dates
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 bag (6 oz.) blanched slivered almonds
zest from half an orange
Place the raisins and dates in a large bowl. Cover them generously with water. Let stand at room temperature for one hour.
Set a colander over another large bowl. Pour the fruit, including the water, into the col­ander. Retain 11⁄2 cups water and discard the rest.
Fit a food processor with the metal chopping blade. In 2 to 3 batches, spoon the mixture from the colander into the food pro­cessor’s bowl. Pulsing on and off, process until the fruit is broken up a bit but still chunky.
Transfer the fruit and 11⁄2 cups of the soaking water into a medium-sized saucepan. Add the sugar and stir until blended. Simmer on the lowest flame possible, stirring often, until the liquid reduces and the mixture takes on a chutney-like consistency, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in the almonds and orange zest.
Refrigerate until serving.
Makes 3 cups. Serves 15.


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