Passover is one of the most important holidays on the Jewish calendar. Families gather for the traditional seder meals at the beginning of the eight-day holiday to retell the biblical story: the enslavement of the Jews by the pharaoh, the 10 plagues, and the Exodus from Egypt into the Sinai desert, when they were given the Ten Commandments.
Seder means "order" in Hebrew, and the seder meal has several components symbolic of the story retold each year. The meal always includes haroset, a condiment made of fruit, nuts, and honey. Its thick, chutneylike consistency symbolizes the bricks and mortar the Jews had to prepare when they were slaves, while its sweetness represents the joy of freedom that followed their slavery. The tradition of eating haroset as part of the seder dates back at least 1,500 years.
Haroset is a kosher dish that showcases the richness of Jewish culinary traditions. As people settled in different areas, they made creative use of local ingredients. Ashkenazic Jews (those from Germany and Eastern Europe) favored apple-based haroset . Sephardic Jews from Spain and countries farther south and east, such as Tunisia, Greece, and Turkey, made their haroset with dates, figs, and other dried fruit (showcased in our Turkish Haroset ). In addition to these traditions, it seems every family has its own heirloom recipe. New versions are created all the time, like New England Haroset , which incorporates dried cranberries and maple syrup.
Traditionally, haroset is eaten on matzo during the seder meal. Although haroset is a holiday food, it certainly shouldn't be limited to Passover seders. Its sweet flavors and hearty texture make it a delicious year-round accompaniment to any number of foods, including chicken, turkey, lamb, and brisket. So make up a batch to share during Passover, but don't wait until next year to enjoy it again.
Firm, tart apples, such as Granny Smith and Gala, are good choices. Apples can be coarsely chopped, minced, shredded, or even pureed. Experiment to find the texture you prefer. Apple-based haroset tastes best the day it's made; otherwise, it becomes watery.
Nuts help bind the mixture, and you can use almost any variety. These recipes call for walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans. When nuts are expensive, people use matzo meal (ground matzo) in addition to or in place of nuts to help stretch the haroset. Matzo meal is also a good option for diners with nut allergies.
Many Middle Eastern haroset recipes call for dates. Use whole, pitted dates, which have fresher flavor and better texture than packaged, chopped dates. Date-based haroset is like a conserve―its flavors develop best overnight, so make it a day ahead.
Sweet red kosher wine, such as Manischewitz and Mogen David, is traditionally used in haroset. It is made from Concord grapes and provides both tang and sweetness. Look for kosher wine in the ethnic-foods aisle at the supermarket. Grape juice may be used instead.