Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 5th Question: Why don't we eat Charoset all the time?

For more than 5000 years, Jews have gathered around the table at Passover for a meal and a service (Seder) to celebrate deliverance from slavery in the time of the Pharaohs. Charoset – a mixture of fruit, nuts and wine -- is an integral part of the Seder and it stands in for the mortar for the bricks that were used to build the pyramids.

Four questions are critical to the Seder service, yet there is a traditional 5th question: “Why don’t we eat Charoset all the time?” No reason. Really, there is absolutely no reason not to have a jar of chopped fruits, nuts and wine in your refrigerator all the time. You probably already have an $8.00 jar of someone else’s chutney.

Charoset is Jewish Chutney, and it’s not just for Passover (and not just for Jews). Charoset is better for you than queso and the charoset that you make at home is cheaper than commercial chutney and it can taste exactly the way you want it. Need comfort from home? If you grew up with Apple and Manischewitz Concord Grape Wine Charoset, you can have it all the time. On the other hand, you may use any fresh or dried fruit, roasted or unroasted nuts, and the sweeteners and spices of the condiments of your choice. And you can use any fruit juice, wine, liquor or liqueur – whatever tastes good to you.

How can I eat Charoset without matzoh? It is a friend to cream-cheese-and-a-bagel; a great addition to virtually any meat sandwich; thin it a bit and glaze your chicken or meatloaf; throw it into pancake batter; stuff it into phyllo triangles or dumplings. Heat it in the microwave or thin it with water, wine or liqueur and pour it over ice cream or pound cake. Eat it with a spoon.

Cooks’ Notes: (1) Charoset makers either chop a lot (you’ll need very good and very sharp knives) or they use food processors (highly recommended.) My first Cuisinart lasted more than 20 years. My second one is going strong. (2) No food processor? Get good knives and keep them sharp. If you are in the Twin Cities, a great source for knives is Eversharp, 344 Taft Street NE, Minneapolis. It is an outlet for the justifiably famous German Wustof knives and it is a great place to have your knives sharpened.

I found the two recipes below (and others) uncredited on the web, and then found them in actual books on my shelf.

The ebullient Grandma Doralee Patinkin’s Jewish Family Cookbook (St. Martin’s Press, 1997) is a treasure trove of Jewish-Grandma recipes (Blintz Souffle, Carrot Pudding), intriguing modern food (Linguine Limon with Salmon) and useful tricks (specific herbs to replace salt and the correct amount of vinegar to create “sour milk.”) Gloria Kaufer Greene’s The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook tracks Jews and their recipes from all over the world, and shehas several charoset recipes, including Ashkenazic, Date, Isreali, Moroccan, Turkish and Yeminite. I can't wait to try Meat, Fruit & Peanut Curry and Dried Fruit Lokshen Kugel (noodle pudding).

Mandy Patinkin’s Grandmother’s Charoset -- This may conjure up your family Seder.

12 large McIntosh Apples
3 c pecans
1/3 c Concord grape or Malaga wine
1-½ T ground cinnamon
1/3 tsp ground cloves½ tsp ground ginger
1-½ T honey (optional)

1. Core the apples and cut into chunks.
2. Place all the ingredients in a food processor. Using steel blade, pulse on and off. At Passover, this is supposed to remind you of mortar between the bricks of the Pyramids, which means grainy, not mushy. If the mixture is too watery, add more nuts. Granny Patinkin never uses the honey.

Turkish Charoset This is a goof-proof cooked charoset, and it is delicious. I can't wait to put it into dumplings, puff pastry or phyllo for appetizers.

½ c pitted dates
2 c peeled and chopped apple (use Granny Smith or some other firm apple. Do not use Macintosh, or you will have apple sauce)
½ c dried apricots
½ c lightly toasted chopped walnuts

1. Cook fruits together with water (or a combination of water, apple juice and/or apricot liqueur) just to cover, until apricots and dates are tender enough to mash with a fork. Watch this mixture carefully. You want fruit that has texture -- not fruit sauce.
2. Add the nuts. Mix well. Cool and serve.
Makes about 3 cups.

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