On the table at every Passover seder is a plate arranged with foods symbolic of the holiday. Of these, the only one that requires a recipe is charoset.
A mixture of fruits, nuts and spices, charoset represents the mortar the Jewish people made while laboring as slaves in Egypt. Depending on the ingredients available, it is prepared differently in Jewish communities all over the world.
For many the charoset, bitter herbs, and matzah are at the heart of the Passover meal, and during the seder our guests all look forward to sampling several different types of charoset.
The charoset mixture from Eastern Europe is usually made with chopped apples, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine. The Sephardic recipes differ, depending on the country in which they settled. The Yemenite Jews, for example, make charoset with dates, dried figs, combined with coriander and cayenne pepper, making for a very spicy mixture, typical of their cuisine.
At our seder we serve several kinds of charoset. They are made ahead of time, put on plates, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to eat. Labels are attached to each plate, to help identify the country they represent. This makes for lots of conversation, and our guests discuss where their ancestors came from and what kind of fruits, nuts and spices were used as part of their family tradition.
In keeping with the concept of using local products, I decided to create a special California-style charoset, and have handed the recipe down to my children. Hoping, in the future, they will include it as part of their family seder. The recipe combines ingredients that are typical of California, and consists of avocado, prunes, almonds, oranges juice and raisins. Perhaps this idea will inspire you to create your own family charoset recipe.
I always enjoy making interesting dishes that meet the special dietary requirements for Passover. This year, I plan to surprise my family with several new recipes that combine charoset with some of the typical foods we normally eat during the eight-day holiday. One of these is a Chicken "Sausage" Stuffed with Greek Charoset, a blend of dates, raisins and ginger, which can be a welcome change from the roasted chicken that is usually offered as a main course. In this recipe, I encase the boned chicken breasts in plastic wrap, to resemble a sausage, and then poach them for 15 minutes. The trapped liquid develops its own flavors, and when unwrapped becomes a wonderful sauce for the chicken.
Lamb is one of the traditional foods eaten during Passover, and I have added a Middle Eastern charoset mixture to my recipe for Lamburgers. This Sephardic recipe, when combined with ground lamb, adds an unusual flavor and sweetness, and keeps the lamb tender and juicy. Mashed potatoes and spring asparagus are a perfect accompaniment.
To finish the seder meal, one of my Passover desserts will be a homemade coffee cake filled and topped with Eastern-European charoset. The chopped apple-nut mixture brings a unique taste and adds crunch to the cake. Chocolate covered nuts, strawberries, dried fruit and matzah farfel are everyones' favorite Passover desserts, but this year our family will discover a new treat: Chocolate-Covered Yemenite Charoset, a little spicy, but a great combination.
1 large avocado (about 3/4 pound), peeled, diced, and seed removed
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup unpeeled almonds
1/3 cup golden raisins
4 dried pitted dates, cut in half
2 dried pitted prunes, cut in half
2 dried figs, cut in half
Grated peel of one orange
1/2 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons matzah meal
In a bowl, toss the avocado and lemon juice. Set aside.
In a food processor or blender, place the almonds, raisins, dates, prunes and figs. Process until coarsely chopped. Add the orange peel and avocado mixture and process two or three seconds more. Transfer the mixture to a glass bowl and gently add the orange juice and matzah meal. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Makes about 2 cups.
Chicken "Sausage" With Greek Charoset
6 chicken breast halves, boned, skinned, trimmed and tendons removed
1/2 recipe Greek Charoset (recipe follows)
Freshly ground black pepper
Place one of the breasts between two 12-inch pieces of plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness. Remove the top piece of plastic wrap. Arrange the chicken breast on the bottom sheet of plastic wrap, smooth side down; shape 2 tablespoons of the charoset mixture into a log in the center of the prepared chicken breast. Roll the breast into a "sausage," using the plastic wrap to help tighten it. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap in the plastic wrap allowing 3 inches of plastic wrap to overlap on the ends. Tie by twisting the ends together to seal. Repeat with the remaining chicken breasts and charoset. This can be done ahead and refrigerated.
Poach the "sausages" in simmering water for 15-20 minutes. Cool. Unwrap, reserving the juices.
Transfer to a cutting board and using a sharp knife cut into 1-inch slices. Serve with reserved sauce.
2 cups pitted dates, cut in half
1/2 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup chopped pinenuts
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup sweet Passover wine
In a food processor or blender, place the dates and raisins and process until coarsely chopped. Add the walnuts, pinenuts, ginger and wine and blend. Transfer the mixture to a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill.
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups.
1/2 cup dates, pitted and cut in half
1/2 cup dried apricots, cut in half
1 apple, unpeeled, cored and diced
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the knife blade, blend the dates, dried apricots apples and allspice. Add the walnuts and pulse on and off until the mixture is blended. Do not puree. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
Lamburger With Sephardic Charoset
Sephardic Charoset (recipe above)
1 pound lean ground lamb
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Prepare the Sephardic Charoset.
In a large bowl, mix the lamb, charoset, salt and pepper. Knead into ball, divide into eight pieces and shape into patties.
In a nonstick skillet, heat oil and fry patties until crisp and brown on both sides.
Central European Charoset
2 medium (red delicious) apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup sweet Passover wine
Combine the apples, walnuts, honey and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well. Add wine and mix well. Cover with plastic wrap and chill.
Makes about 2 1/2 cups.
Passover Coffee Cake With Central European Charoset
2 tablespoons safflower or peanut oil for baking dish
1/3 cup ground walnuts for baking dish
Central European Charoset (recipe above)
5 eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup safflower or peanut oil
Juice of 2 lemons (4 to 5 tablespoons)
Grated peel of 2 lemons
Cinnamon-sugar (2 tablespoons sugar to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil an 8x8-inch baking dish and sprinkle with ground walnuts.
Prepare the charoset and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the matzah cake meal and salt, alternately with the oil, lemon juice and peel, and mix well.
Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Using a rubber spatula, fold 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture until well-blended. Fold in the remaining beaten egg whites.
Pour 1/2 of the batter into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle 1 cup of the charoset over the batter, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Drop large dollops of the batter over the charoset and spread evenly. Sprinkle with 1 cup of the charoset and additional cinnamon-sugar. Bake at 350 F for one hour or until golden brown, or when toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Serves about 12.
1 cup pitted, chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1/3 cup sweet Passover wine
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons matzah meal or Passover potato starch
In a food processor, fitted with the knife blade, blend the dates, figs and wine. Transfer to a bowl, add the sesame seeds, ginger, coriander, cayenne and matzah meal and mix thoroughly. Roll into 1-inch balls.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups or 3 dozen balls.
Chocolate-Covered Yemenite Charoset
14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 recipe Yemenite Charoset (recipe above), rolled into balls
Line a large platter or baking sheet (that will fit in the refrigerator) with waxed paper and set aside.
Melt the chocolate in a microwave or over simmering water. Pour the melted chocolate into a medium-size bowl. Drop one ball of charoset into the melted chocolate and using a teaspoon, carefully smooth chocolate over charoset. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining balls of charoset. Refrigerate until firm or until ready to serve.
Makes 3 to 4 dozen (depending on size).
Judy Zeidler will hold a Passover cooking class on March 28 from 10 a.m.-noon at the Skirball Cultural Center. For more information, see Calendar on page 45.Judy Zeidler is the author of "The Gourmet Jewish Cook" and "The 30-Minute Kosher Cook." Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen