Charoset: nuts, mortar, love
The Jewish Internet
By Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
It may not have the fame of matzah. Or the kick of a mouthful of marror. But charoset, that lively mixture of nuts and wine and apple, plays a delicious role as we eat our way through the Seder.
As well, charoset is chock full of symbolism about the Exodus, and even about love in the most desperate of times.
Unlike matzah and marror, charoset is not mentioned in the Torah. There is, however, a discussion in the Mishnah about whether eating it at the Seder is a mitzvah (commandment) or just an efficient way to blunt the sharp taste of the marror which is dipped into the nutty concoction. That dipping is alluded to in the third question of the Four Questions (http://bit.ly/charos2).
The best-known reason for charoset is found in the Talmud, which says that it’s made with ginger and cinnamon to represent the mortar, clay and straw which the Israelite slaves used to construct buildings (http://bit.ly/charos1).
“I always was a charoset kid.” So recalls Steve Cohen. “It was really charoset that I loved…my mother’s, which was pretty simple. Just finely chopped apples, sweet red wine, and finely chopped walnuts…My only problem with charoset was that it really didn’t remind me of mortar, no matter how much I stretched my imagination.”
Read on to find out whether Steve Cohen — now Rabbi Steve Cohen of Congregation B’nai B’rith in Santa Barbara, Calif. — ever resolved his dilemma, and what he told his congregants about the importance of charoset (http://bit.ly/charos3).
Maimonides is best known as a philosopher, a codifier of Jewish law and a doctor. But you can also try the sage’s thousand-year old recipe for charoset: “Dates, dried figs, raisins, or the like are taken and pounded, wine vinegar is added, and the mixture is seasoned with condiments in the same way that mortar is seasoned with straw (http://bit.ly/charos9).”
The “Bubbie” of recipe sites is certainly the Jewish-food Passover Charoset Archives, with 40 mouth-watering variations including Pear and Mango, Persian, Surinam, Turkish, Yemenite and Venetian (http://bit.ly/charos10).
Kudos to Joan Michel for her research into even more exotic recipes from far-flung locales (Afghanistan, Babylon, Curaçao, etc.) and for the wonderful title of her Jewish Week article, The Mortar the Merrier (http://bit.ly/charos11).
If you can’t afford to hire celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck to whip up a batch of charoset for you, at least you can check out his recipe. Actually, you can try your hand at recreating an entire Puck-based Seder with his take on Gefilte Fish, Matzah Ball Soup, Braised Short Ribs, Moroccan Carrot and Spinach Salad, and Macaroons (http://bit.ly/charos13).
Food writer Gil Marks says that traditionally, charoset is made in a wooden bowl using a hackmesser or a mezzaluna.
Despair not if you lack these utensils because Marks says that “the fruit and nuts can be chopped separately on a cutting board, then mixed together or they can be chopped in a food processor, but do not purée as it is meant to have texture (http://bit.ly/charos14).”
Rabbi Peter H. Schweitzer notes that “purists still insist on chopping everything by hand to maintain a coarse texture. This also lets these cooks experience the hard work of our ancestors when it came to making the mortar in the first place (http://bit.ly/charos15).”
You can view some contemporary experts firsthand as they chop, mix and blend their variations of charoset in the dozens of videos that they have uploaded to YouTube (http://bit.ly/charos16).
Nuts can be found at the heart of many charoset recipes and that can pose a problem for people with allergies like chef Marcy Goldman’s son. Her solution: New Age Charoset with cranberries, cherries, raisins and apples.
“This charoset is bright, sweet and tart and wholly delectable. No one even bothers with the rest of the meal once they partake in this ambrosial mix (http://bit.ly/charos17).”
Meanwhile, Diabetes for Life recommends a Date and Apple Charoset with almonds (or walnuts), lemon rinds, cinnamon, ginger and wine (http://bit.ly/charos18).
But before we conclude, a holiday health warning for you: Did you know that a group of experts has published data that indicates that Seder participants should not eat chopped liver and charoses simultaneously? It is indicated that this combination can lead to Charoses of the Liver (http://bit.ly/charos19).
Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at email@example.com.