This dish is featured as part of my Passover Prep Series – a collection of recipes to enjoy whether you celebrate Passover or not! If this is your first time visiting Cara’s Cravings during the PPS, click here to read more about it.
“Why is this night different from all other nights?”
That may be the best known quote from the Passover Hagadah, the book from which we recite the story of Passover during the ritual meal, or Seder. Asking this question forces us to recall, year after year, this memorable moment for our people. The Passover Seder is filled with rituals that set it apart from typical weeknight meals, and even other Holiday meals. For example, on any other night we may eat any kind of bread, leavened or unleavened, yet on Passover we are only allowed to eat matzoh, or unleavened bread. This is to remind us that our ancestors had to leave Egypt in such haste that they did not have time to let their bread rise. On any other night we may eat any kinds of vegetables and herbs, and on Passover we are commanded to eat a bitter herb to remind us of the harsh treatment our ancestors experienced during slavery. On other nights we are not commanded to dip our food even once, but on Passover we are twice commanded to do so: we dip our matzoh in charoset to remind us of the mortar our ancestors used to build the pyramids, and we dip our vegetable in salt water to remind us of their tears. And finally, on all other nights we may eat sitting straight up, but on Passover we are told to recline against a pillow, to remind us that once we were slaves but not we are free.
“Why is this Seder different from all other Seders?”
That is the question my family began to ask a few years ago as I began my own tradition of swapping out some of our Ashkenazic (of Eastern-European heritage) recipes for Sephardic (of Spanish and Mediterranean) -inspired cuisine. It just so happens that my family can trace our heritage to both Ashkenazic and Sephardic routes, but all of our family recipes hail from our Ashkenazic background. Nothing against Ashkenazic food (I can gobble up kugel like nobody’s business) but I’m wildly inspired by the flavors of Spanish and North-African style cooking. Fresh, vibrant, and colorful; these are things I wanted to bring to my Passover table in celebration of our freedom and the symbolic livelihood of Spring.
The charoset you’ll now see at my Passover Seder is a Sephardic-inspired one consisting of a mixture of chopped dried fruits, apples, nuts and wine. This is different from the traditional Ashkenazic version, which is usually chopped apples, walnuts, honey, wine, and a little cinnamon. Similar ingredients, but very different form! I like to roll the Sephardic charoset mixture into balls and coat some in cinnamon and others in shredded coconut – and then go back and forth eating till I decide which one I like better (I can never come to a conclusion.) You can shmear these on your matzoh, and then eat them straight out of the fridge for days.
I’ll have to apologize because the picture is one I took a year or two ago, but silly me never actually shared the recipe. So here it is!
Sephardic Charoset recipe, courtesy of Emita Levy via the Jewish Appleseed Foundation
Note: The specific amounts of the dry ingredients are not critical in this recipe, but the proportions are. This recipe yields enough charoset for at least 30 people, depending on the size of the balls.
4–6 oz each: pitted dates, dried figs, dried apricots, white or black raisins
1–2 Macintosh apples, cored, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 cup of walnuts, shelled
Cherry cordial or sweet red kosher wine, kosher for Passover, if possible
Ground cinnamon (and shredded coconut!)
Grind walnuts into small pieces in a food processor and transfer to a bowl.
Grind mixed dried fruits in a food processor in small batches with a little bit of the apples and nuts in each batch.
When done, blend together by hand and moisten as necessary with the cordial or wine.
Roll into balls about the size of a walnut and refrigerate. A few hours before serving, roll the balls in the cinnamon (and some in coconut!) until completely covered and shake off the excess.
Update, 3/23/2010: Because these Sephardic charoset balls might be enjoyed by anyone who likes fruit and nuts, and because they’re a fairly healthy and natural sweet treat, I’m sharing them for this week’s edition of Slightly Indulgent Tuesday over at Simply Sugar & Gluten-Free.