Watch me make "the best charoset in the world." Yes, that's what I said live on television with the KTLA 5 Morning News. What chutzpah!
Charoset (pronounced cHa-roset, with an almost silent “c” like cHa-nnuka) is the delicious chopped fruit, nut and wine mixture on the Passover seder table. It symbolizes the mortar between the bricks that the Jews laid while slaves in Egypt 3000 years ago. Why the mortar we eat is sweet is not totally clear. Perhaps because we are no longer slaves? In any case, that is not what I intend to spiel about. I am sure there is a decent answer in any Passover haggadah, but quite frankly I am too lazy to get up and look at one.
MY question is: why would we Jews, a People who have overcome so much pain and strife, millennia of refugee status, genocide and horrible PR, a People who have risen to great success in financial, intellectual and creative realms, still continue to choose the cheapest of the cheap sweet wines, Manischewitz, to make charoset on one of the most important holidays of the year!?
Sure, every nice bar mitzvah kid loves a good taste of Manischewitz and I am no exception, but have we not grown up as a People? Has our collective culinary palate remained at adolescent status? Do we think we are still in the Great Depression, a time when we added sugar and a little vinegar to grape juice and called it wine?
I can hear a tirade of yentas lashing back, “it’s because Manischewitz is kosher, that’s why we use it for charoset. “ But if you are reading this, there is a 99% percent chance that you don’t even keep kosher. And if you do, there are many delicious, high quality kosher wines to celebrate our exodus from slavery.
My personal anthropological theory is that we have been using Manischewitz in our Passover charoset for so many years and generations that, as a People, we never thought to question it. Well People, QUESTION IT!
Here is a recipe that is Italian in inspiration. Chilled Moscato is one of my favorite dessert wines and the thought of drinking it with fruit and nuts transports me to the rolling vineyards of Piedmont where Moscato grapes are grown. I actually did quite an extensive research into traditional Italian Jewish charoset recipes from various regions and found that many Italian recipes call for the use of chestnuts, which, other than seeming difficult to use, remind me of Christmas. Many Italian recipes also call for the cooking of the charoset, which mine here does. But don’t worry, it cooks only long enough to meld the flavors together. You will still have a crunchy charoset and it won’t look like applesauce.
- 2 granny smith apples
- 1 pear
- 7 dried figs (or 7 pitted prunes or a handful of raisins)
- 1 ½ cups shelled walnuts
- 8 pitted dates
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 orange, the juice and the zest
- 1 bottle of good Moscato (yes it will be a bit bubbly.) There are many options for Kosher Moscato. Click here for a list.
- Cut apples and pears into equal size large chunks.
- “Pulse” in food processor until finely chopped, being careful not to overdo it so they don’t become mushy. Put in a large bowl. (If you don’t have a food processor, this recipe can be a reminder of the times when we were slaves in Egypt. The good news is, hand chopped food tasted better.)
- In your food processor now “pulse” the figs, prunes or raisins until they are finely chopped and add them to the apples.
- Pulse the walnuts until they are finely chopped and add them to the fruit.
- Zest the orange using a microplane grater, a zester or the small holes of a regular grater. Add to mixture.
- Juice the orange into the food processor, along with the dates, cinnamon and a cup of the moscato. Pulse until fully pureed.
- Add to the fruit and nut mixture. Stir.
- Add another cup of moscato to mixture and stir.
- Put mixture into a cooking pot over medium heat until it reaches a boil. Then turn heat to low and let simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Put back into bowl and let cool. Cover and put in fridge until ready for use.
- Right before serving, add another “glug” of moscato to the charoset for a little freshen up and there you go! Dayenu.
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