You might have heard of this thing called Passover – the Jewish holiday celebrating the ancient Hebrews’ freedom from slavery in Egypt (for the long version of the story, see The Ten Commandments starring Charleton Heston and some really old special effects; for the short, musical version, watch The Prince of Egypt).

If you’ve heard of Passover, you might have heard of charoset – a sweet, sticky paste made of fruits and nuts traditionally served at the Passover meal. Even if you have heard of charoset, or tasted charoset, you most likely have not heard of or tasted my dad’s charoset. And for that you have my pity.

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My dad does not cook regularly anymore, but he has to make his specialties on Passover, by popular demand. If one year he didn’t make his honey-orange chicken or his matzah-ball soup, I think some of my relatives would just stay home.

I love honey-orange chicken, but what I’m most looking forward to this year is my dad’s charoset. My family is Ashkenazi, which means we emmigrated from Eastern Europe. Traditional Ashkenazi charoset is made from fresh apples and walnuts, but my dad uses a Syrian recipe instead, made from lots of dried fruits and nuts. It has a much thicker and stronger taste; I often find that Ashkenazi charoset is watery and bland, especially in comparison to the kind my dad makes. At the Passover meal, known as a seder, we eat the charoset on matzah (unleavened bread that tastes like cardboard – except when it has charoset on it), but you can put on it bread too if you don’t mind a side of blasphemy and abomination with your repast.

Syrian Charoset, from Jennifer Abadi’s cookbook A Fistful of Lentils:

Ingredients:

  1. 12 large Medjool (or 20 regular sized) dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
  2. 10 dried figs, coarsely chopped, stems discarded
  3. 10 dried Turkish apricots, coarsely chopped
  4. 10 pitted prunes, coarsely chopped
  5. 1 ½ cups cold water, or more if necessary
  6. ¼ cup sweet wine
  7. ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  8. ½ cup coarsely crushed walnuts

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Instructions:

  1. Combine the fruit and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.
  3. Stir every 10 minutes or so, making sure fruit is not burning or sticking to the bottom of the pan. (If the fruit mixture starts to boil up again, lower the heat slightly; if it is too dry, add water.)
  4. Once the fruit becomes soft, remove from heat and mix in wine, cinnamon, and walnuts. Serve at room temperature.

Enjoy and happy Passover!

- Miriam ‘13