Here at Food52, we love recipes—but do we always use them? Of course not. Because once you realize you don't always need a recipe, you'll make your favorite dishes a lot more often.
Today: Charoset that's good enough to sustain you through a long Seder meal and eight days without bread, and—here's the kicker—that you'll want to eat even when it's not Passover.
A Passover seder is long. With all of the components, it can be hours before the real meal is served. Luckily, there are a few snacks along the way—some matzo, a few sips of wine, and some bitter, salty parsley. Yet these symbolic foods do little to quell the hunger pangs, and that's where charoset comes in. This paste, which represents the mortar used by Jewish slaves to make bricks in ancient Egypt, is loaded with fruits and nuts and will supply you with enough energy to get through the portion of the Seder before the meal is served.
Charoset, traditionally spread on top of matzo and topped with horseradish to form a sweet and bitter sandwich, comes in two common types: the Ashkenazi version, with chopped apples, walnuts, and cinnamon, and the Sephardic type, with dried fruits, nuts, and spices. While both are delicious, the Sephardic variation won’t make your matzo soggy. It’s also a bit more versatile: In the days following the Seder (or even if you're not observing the holiday), serve charoset with cheese, dollop it into yogurt, or spread it on top of chicken breast. Unlike cardboardy matzo, it’s good enough to eat year-round.
Here's how to make your charoset for your Seder table (or just for a delicious snack):
1. Select your fruit.
In essence, charoset is a mash of spiced dried fruit, so it’s important to choose varieties you—and your guests—will enjoy. Now might not be the best time to share your love of prunes with your company. I recommend using no more than three varieties of fruit (otherwise, your dish might taste a bit like Tutti Frutti ice cream). Dried figs, dates, apricots, cherries, and even pears are all great choices. For a medium batch of charoset (enough to serve 4 to 6 people), 2 cups of fruit, roughly chopped into 1/4-inch chunks, is just right.
2. Get tipsy . Most charoset contains a bit of wine, and for good reason—you need something to get you through that long Seder. More importantly, the wine helps soften the dried fruit and adds body. A sweet red wine, even Manischewitz, is perfect, as the nuances of a nicer wine might get lost. If you are avoiding alcohol, try substituting pomegranate or grape juice.
Place your dried fruit in a small saucepan, pour in enough wine to cover it, and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat, place a cover on top, and let it sit for 15 to 30 minutes, until the fruit is plump and well hydrated. Strain the fruit, reserving the liquid, and place it in the bowl of a food processor.
3. Go nuts. Nuts provide a savory crunch that counters the sweet softness of the fruit. Almost any nut will work here, but walnuts, pistachios, and almonds are especially nice. I normally stick to one type of nut so that its flavor doesn't get lost. Roughly chop the nuts—1/2 to 1 cup of nuts for every 2 cups of dried fruits—before adding them to the bowl of the food processor with the fruit.
4. Add spices. Sweet spices, like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice, pair well with the dried fruit. Start with only a generous pinch of your favorites, as you can always add more if needed. For something a little more out of the ordinary, add a teaspoon of orange blossom water, a small pinch of ground ginger or cardamom, or a bit of saffron.
5. Process! Pour about 1/4 cup of the reserved wine into the bowl of the food processor along with the fruit and nuts and begin to pulse until the mixture just starts to come together. There should still be rough chunks. If it’s too dry, add a bit more wine. Taste it, then add more spices, along with a pinch of salt, if necessary.
And there you have it: charoset that will sustain you through the Passover Seder and through eight days without bread. You might even find yourself craving it in the middle of the summer.
What's your favorite way to make charoset? Tell us in the comments below!
Photos by Bobbi Lin
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