In the Song of Songs, an allegory of the love between God and Israel, King Solomon extols the fruit of the land — apples, figs, pomegranates, dates, grapes, walnuts, cinnamon and wine. And while there are many recipes for charoset, they all include some of the ripe, luscious fruits of Solomon’s verses.
Symbolic of the mortar our enslaved ancestors used in ancient Egypt, charoset comes in many forms, depending on the geographic region of origin. For Ashkenazi Jews, it’s apples and chopped walnuts, spiced with sweet red wine and cinnamon. The Afghani recipe calls almonds, walnuts, dark raisins, grated apple, sweet red wine and the unusual addition of a ripe banana! The Greek and Turkish tradition calls for apples, dates, almonds and wine, while the Italian Jews add chestnuts.
The Promised Land is described in the Bible as “overflowing with milk and honey.” The sages agree that the honey of the Bible is silan, a dark, delicious and decadent date syrup.
Before Pesach, Sharon’s mother boils boxes of dates, then squeezes the pulp through a muslin and boils it again. It’s a lot of work but delicious on the seder table with crushed walnuts. Silan is so delicious that you can buy it all year round in Israel and most kosher stores.
The Moroccan tradition is to form dates, raisins, walnuts and sweet wine into balls. Rachel has been making charoset with her mother since she can remember. This year, let your kids sink their hands into this fun and easy activity.
RACHEL’S MOROCCAN CHAROSET TRUFFLES
1 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
2 cups pitted dates
1 cup raisins, golden or dark
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup sweet wine
Finely ground almond flour and/or dried rose petals to roll charoset balls in (optional)
In food processor combine chopped walnuts, dates, raisins and spices until mixture begins to stick together and is finely chopped.
Add wine and mix.
Using small cookie scooper, make the balls the same size and place on parchment lined-tray. Wet hands with water and roll into perfect balls.
Refrigerate for 1 hour. Optional: roll truffles in almond flour or rose petals.
Can be stored in refrigerator in airtight container for 2 months.
Makes 3 dozen truffles.
SHARON’S PERFECT ROASTED CHICKEN
1 head fennel, cut into wedges
4 stalks celery
2 purple onions, cut into wedges
2 shallots, cut in half
1 roasting chicken
1 lemon, cut in half
8 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
5 medium potatoes, cut into wedges
1/2 cup safflower or avocado oil
Preheat oven to 425.
In center of large roasting pan, arrange fennel, celery, onions and shallots.
Wash chicken and pat dry.
Stuff lemon halves and garlic into chicken’s cavity.
Rub salt, garlic powder, turmeric and paprika all over chicken.
Place chicken breast side down and place potatoes around chicken. Drizzle chicken and potatoes with oil.
Roast for 45 minutes, then lower oven to 375 F for another hour until thigh temperature reaches 170.
RACHEL’S MOROCCAN SPICY FISH BALLS
5 pounds whitefish
5 slices of lox (optional)
1 onion, cut in large chunks
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon mace
3 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup lemon juice
4-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup matzo meal
1/2 cup fresh parsley, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans tomato puree
1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes, or 6 fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 cup sliced green olives
1/4 cup capers
1 preserved lemon, minced, or zest of one lemon
Salt to taste
Grind the fish and lox in food processor, then place in large bowl.
Purée onion and garlic in food processor, then add to fish.
Add remaining ingredients and mix until well blended.
Form small balls (about the size of a walnut) and refrigerate.
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan and add all spices.
Stir well, then add tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and remaining ingredients.
Cover and simmer for 1 hour over low flame until sauce thickens.
Divide sauce into two large pots and place fish balls in a single layer in sauce.
Cover pots and simmer until fish balls are firm.
Add a little water if sauce becomes too thick.
Makes about 3 dozen balls.
SHARON’S ROASTED SQUASH MEDLEY
1 medium butternut squash
1 acorn squash
4 medium sweet potatoes
1 onion, cut into slices
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Cut squash and sweet potatoes into 1/2-inch strips and place on baking tray.
Add onions, oil, honey and spices.
Bake for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
RACHEL’S LEEK AND POTATO PATTIES (KEFTES DE PRASSA)
Adapted from The Sephardic Cooks’ “Come con Gana” cookbook from a Congregation Or VeShalom Sisterhood in Atlanta.
3 cups leeks, chopped
1 cup mashed potato
1 teaspoon salt
White pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon matzo meal or potato starch
Vegetable or peanut oil, for frying
Wash and clean leeks thoroughly.
Cook leeks in boiling salted water.
Drain and squeeze out all water, repeating this step several times. Chop leeks.
In large bowl, mix leeks with remaining ingredients.
Make small patties and pan fry in oil.
Makes about 40 patties.
RACHEL’S ORANGE BLOSSOM CAKE
2 small oranges, washed
6 eggs, separated
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup ground almonds
2 teaspoons orange blossom water or almond extract
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Line nonstick springform cake pan with removable bottom with parchment paper.
Place unpeeled oranges in just enough water to cover them and boil for 1 1/2 hours or until they are very soft.
Let cool, then remove seeds and pith (white part of the orange center). Purée in a food processor.
In large bowl, combine egg yolks and sugar until creamy, then add ground almonds, cooled orange puree and orange blossom water (or almond extract).
In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Slowly fold egg whites into the orange mixture, until combined.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour. If cake is still wet, leave in the oven until center has set.
Cool completely before removing from pan. Decorate with candied orange slices, orange marmalade or powdered sugar and blossoms from your citrus tree.
Rachel Emquies Sheff’s family roots are Spanish Moroccan. Sharon Gomperts’ family hails from Baghdad and El Azair in Iraq. Known as the Sephardic Spice Girls, they have collaborated on the Sephardic Educational Center’s projects, SEC Food Group and community cooking classes. Join them on Facebook at SEC FOOD.