Passover is by far my least favorite holiday. As an Ashkenazi Jew, there are so many restrictions on what you can and cannot eat during Passover that I ultimately end up living off of salad, matzoh, and boxed Manischewitz mixes for its duration. Now, for all those people who say they like Passover food – especially matzoh – I agree, it’s not so bad…but after eight, long days of matzoh being the staple food of your diet, trust me, it quickly loses any of the appeal it might have had (although getting creative and making something like this matzoh crunch does help a little). I’m not the only one who feels this way – one of my uncles calls much of this holiday’s food “delicious for Passover,” by which he actually means “not so delicious whatsoever.”
Ok, I have to admit, not all of the food we eat for Passover is bad. There are plenty of yummy dishes to eat at the seder – tsimmis, matzoh ball soup, flour-less chocolate cake, and of course macaroons. Shockingly enough, I am actually very excited to celebrate Passover in Israel this year. More specifically, I’m excited to celebrate the holiday Sephardic style and eat plenty of rice and legumes, which are not considered kosher for Passover in the Ashkenazi culture. After all, when in Israel, do as the Israelis do, right?
In researching traditional Sephardic seders, one of the foods that caught my eye was the charoset. Symbolizing the mortar used by enslaved Jews to build Pharaoh’s pyramids, charoset is made with apples, chopped nuts and spices in the Ashkenazi culture. Sephardic and Israeli charoset is made with dates, giving it a thicker, more pasty consistency than the chunky Ashkenazi version. Sweeter, denser and definitely more filling than the charoset I’m used to, it was easy to make and authentically Middle Eastern in flavor. Passover this year is already shaping up to be an interesting – and dare I say tasty? – experience!
Sephardic Date Charoset
Adapted from Ruth Hegies’ recipe, with extra input from my Israeli roommate, Ruthy!
Makes about 2 cups
Note: I used walnuts to make my charoset, but almonds are also recommended for Sephardic charoset – a combination of the two would also be good!
1 1/3 cups or 24 whole dates, pitted and finely chopped
1 cup chopped walnuts
about ¼ cup kosher red wine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Make sure the dates and nuts are finely chopped; combine in a medium sized bowl. Add enough wine to make a thick paste – you probably won’t need a whole 1/4 cup, so add the wine in small increments until you get a thick enough consistency that is to your liking. Add the cinnamon and mix well. Serve alone, or more traditionally, with matzoh.