Haroset, symbolic of the mortar the Jewish slaves of ancient Egypt used to build the Pharaoh’s cities and store-houses, is probably one of the favorite foods of Passover with recipes passed down in families from generation to generation.
Since most American Jews come from Ashkenazic backgrounds, they enjoy a version of haroset using just apples and walnuts, explains Susan Barocas, founder of the Jewish Food Experience, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington. At the end of a long winter, apples likely would have been the only fruit left in cold cellars in Central and Eastern Europe.
But the truth is that recipes for haroset are as varied and unique as the families that celebrate, with the ingredients reflecting the ingredients and flavors available in the all the many lands where Jews have lived. Figs, apricots, dates and oranges are popular in different haroset along with a variety of nuts and spices such as ginger and allspice.
In the end, haroset-making is deliciously imprecise. Nearly everything can be—and is—adjusted to personal taste. Making haroset by hand with a knife or in a chopping bowl is laborious, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to involve children and others in holiday preparations. But not to be discounted—the food processor makes it easy to prepare more than one kind of haroset to enjoy as part of your Passover, celebrating all the many journeys of Jews around the world through the many generations.
Here are three haroset recipes from Susan. Feel free to add the word “about” in front of any of the measurements!
TRADITIONAL ASHKENAZIC HAROSET
The apple-to-nut ratio, as well as what kind of apples to use, are up to the haroset maker. This version of this Passover classic has more of those ingredients and less sugar than other recipes. Even the consistency varies widely. Some people like it ground to a fine paste; others leave it chunky. It’s up to individual taste.
Put the walnuts in the chopping bowl if doing by hand or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Roughly chop into large dice or pulse just a few times in the processor, being careful not over-process. Add the apple pieces and chop or pulse to desired consistency. Add rest of ingredients and stir well to blend. Makes about 2 cups.
MOROCCAN HAROSET BALLS
A typical Moroccan haroset recipe contains dried fruits and spices ground to a paste-like consistency. Traditionally, Moroccan-Jewish families roll the haroset into small balls that are delicious eaten alone or squished between two pieces of matzah. They also make a delicious snack or part of a Passover breakfast.
Using a food processor, pulse to coarsely chop the nuts, then add all the rest of the ingredients except the wine and finely ground nuts. Pulse until the mixture is finely chopped and well blended, adding just enough wine as you are pulsing to make the mixture stick together. Too much and it will be too sticky. As you pulse it, the mixture will form a large ball. Now you are ready to roll. Very slightly dampen hands with cold water. Gently roll the mixture into balls about ¾ inches in diameter or your desired size. Place the balls on a tray or baking sheet covered in wax paper and refrigerate until firm, about 3 hours. Serve or store in a covered container. Or you can roll each ball in finely ground nuts, which will keep them from sticking together so they can be stored immediately in a covered container. These treats will keep for 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator, but rarely last that long. Makes about 24 balls.
Presenting this haroset shaped into a pyramid is traditional among the Jews of Persia. This recipe reflects the many fruits and spices of ancient Persia, known since 1935 as Iran. Jews have lived in Persia for over 2,500 years and developed a delicious, healthy cuisine alongside the larger Persian community. Any Persian haroset recipe almost always includes tropical fruits that grow in the country. A wide variety of nuts is used throughout Persian cooking, as reflected in the four types used here. Unlike the very sweet Ashkenazi haroset, this recipe adds a taste of cider vinegar, very typical of the savory-sweet combination found in Persian cooking.
Pulse nuts in food processor until finely chopped. Put into a large bowl. Chop the fruits, except the orange, by pulsing also, being careful not to chop the mixture into a paste. Add all the fruit, including the orange already chopped by hand and its juice, to nuts and stir to blend well. Add cinnamon, ginger root, cider vinegar and just enough wine to bind. Mix very well. Place haroset mixture on a square platter and shape into a pyramid using your hands. A flat spatula can be used to smooth the “walls.” Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours to let the flavors blend.
Matt Nosanchuk is the White House Liaison to the American Jewish community.