To mark the beginning of Passover, we gather for a ritual feast and read the lengthy Hagaddah: the narrative of the Jews exodus from ancient Egypt. With our community of family and friends, we retell the story of the Israelites' liberation. We recite segments, make blessings, sample from the Seder plate, gulp endless glasses of wine, and cheerfully sing along.
As far as the Seder plate goes, charoset is without a doubt the highlighted and favored item by the hungry, restless guests gathered around the Passover dinner table. It's not surprising that the sweet, nutty paste would be the victor and win over its neighboring contenders: shank bone, bland hard boiled egg, bitter herbs, and celery sticks dipped in salt water. Each item carries individual significance and on account of charoset's gritty texture, it symbolizes the mortar used by the Jewish slaves to build the Egyptians' pyramids.
Ashkenazi Jews, those with Eastern European roots, prepare their charoset very differently than the the Sephardic Jews hailing from the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula. The Eastern European charoset typically includes fresh apples, walnuts, cinnamon, and wine.
Sephardic Jews on the the other hand, prepare theirs with dried fruits — usually dates and raisins — and a variety of mixed nuts, wine, and plenty of spices.
My mom was raised in Jerusalem, in a traditional Ashkenazi home, and grew up eating the classic apple-walnut version. Once she married, moved to the U.S., and started hosting her own Passover Seders, she mixed in dates and pecans into her mother's original recipe. She created the perfect blend, and fused the two cultures by picking the best ingredients of both worlds.
This bicultural charoset recipe is made with tart Granny Smith apples, sweet and creamy Medjool dates, a medley of pecans and walnuts, a drizzle of honey, a generous splash of wine, and a pinch of spice.
My mother's charoset recipe is a family favorite — it's fresh, succulent, and takes only minutes to prepare. Be sure to make extras as your guests will be scraping the bottom of the bowl, and you're going to want leftovers for snacking on during the week and to mix into your morning yogurt or porridge.
Medjool Date and Apple Charoset
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup pecans
1/2 cup walnuts
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
1 1/2 cups Medjool dates (about 15), pitted
1/3 cup sweet wine, such as Manischewitz
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Ground pistachios, for garnish (optional)
Place the pecans and walnuts in the bowl of a food processor or chopper and pulse a few times until coarsely ground. Add the apples, and pulse a few more times. Add the dates, wine, honey, and cinnamon and blend until smooth.
Serve slightly chilled.
Ideally, the charoset should be made one day in advance. The flavors come together really nicely after it sits in the fridge overnight.
I like to sprinkle ground pistachios over the top, for a pop of color, and added crunch — but this is totally optional.
For a more elegant presentation, roll the charoset mixture into truffles and toss in shredded coconut or ground pistachios.