When Passover begins at sundown on Friday, April 15, it is tradition for Jews near and far to celebrate the commemorative Seder dinner much the original way.
They will light candles, read from the Haggadah, retelling the ancient story of the Exodus about freedom from oppression through joyous song and prayer, eat the unleavened bread and sweet haroseth, taste bitter herbs, ask the four ritual questions and drink four cups of wine.
They will leave a special Seder plate on the table for the duration of the meal that features the karpas, parsley or celery, which is first dipped in salt water and then tasted, to symbolize the tears shed; haroseth, made with fruits, nuts and red wine to resemble the mortar used by the slaves; maror, a piece of horseradish or some romaine lettuce to signify the bitterness of slavery; beitzah, a roasted egg that is not eaten and symbolizes the cycle of life and new beginnings; and zeroah, a roasted lamb shank that represents the lamb that was sacrificed the night the Jews left Egypt.
Although it is a set tradition to feature haroseth, “there is no set anything when making haroseth,” says Deena Ross, who owns Creative Kosher Catering in East Pittsburgh and Shabbox in Squirrel Hill.
The point of haroseth is to remind us of the mortar that the Jews used as slaves to lay bricks in Egypt, she explains, so ultimately anything that resembles mortar is acceptable.
“When my daughter was young she had a friend who didn’t like apples or dried fruits. So her family used to make haroseth with chocolate chips, mini marshmallows and grape juice,” she recalls.
Most of the common Passover variations call for few ingredients and even fewer techniques.
“Mine is a basic Ashkenazi Jewish recipe. The Sephardic Jews use dates, raisins and dried apricots instead of apples, add spices like cloves and cook down theirs,” she says. “The Moroccans do more of a haroseth ball, kind of like a nut ball. It’s almost paleo as they use prunes, dates, figs, raisins, almonds, honey and cinnamon. They make into a paste and then roll it into tiny balls in the size of an olive on finely ground almonds.”
Ross has a “very, very simple recipe that anyone can make.” She peels and cores four large ‘Roma’ or ‘Macintosh’ apples and pulses them in a food processor until coarsely ground. Then she adds 1 cup ground walnuts or almonds, 3/4 cup sweet red wine and 2 to 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon to the apples, gives a good stir and places in the refrigerator. She makes her haroseth three days ahead, stirring it every day so that wine does not settle at the bottom and the flavors meld together.
For a nuttier haroseth, she recommends roasting the nuts first and for a drier taste, she substitutes the sweet wine with a cabernet or merlot. Although ground cinnamon is the spice of choice for most haroseths, she has come across ones with ground nutmeg and all-spice. But she does draw the line at turmeric or anything spicy.