Sunday, April 15, 2012

Cranberries at Passover—an American Charoset

Back in biblical times, there wasn't much contact between the Americas and Europe and Asia (that is, of course, unless you're a Mormon). So it would seem anachronistic to include the certainly-American fruit in a Passover seder. But I was given the task of making charoset for the family meal this year, and I took it as a challenge. I made several varieties. There was a rather typical apple-plum-walnut (I found plums at the grocery, and they figured in well). There was "tropical" charoset which had mangoes and strawberries but wound up being too watery and had to be cooked down (although it tasted good and sure looked like mortar. There was pistachio charoset, which was subtle and delicious.

And then there was the crowd's favorite: cranberry. There are two traditional charosets. Ashkenazic is generally simply made with apples and walnuts. Sephardic focuses more on dried fruit like figs, raisins and dates and a variety of nuts. I prefer the moister texture of the Ashkenaz, but like the more exotic flavors of the Sephardim (the pistachio charoset, which I kept dry by adding only enough plum, apple and wine to get it to stick together, was more in this tradition). And cranberries, well, it's setting off in a new direction.

Charoset is generally quite sweet, so I figured the presence of the fruit (and a bit of honey or even maple syrup, for the true American experience) would balance out the tartness of the cranberries. (I'd eat straight cranberries chopped with walnuts and wine, but I'm not sure that's one to bring to the masses.) I had several requests for the recipe and I sort of laughed. Recipe? I just chopped stuff and mixed it in a bowl. Nevertheless, here's an approximation of what I made:

  • 2 Apples, a less-sweet variety like Granny Smith
  • 2 firm Plums
  • 1/2 pound (or perhaps more) Walnuts
  • 1/2 pound frozen cranberries (or if you can somehow get them, fresh)
  • A pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • Honey or maple syrup
  • A robust (cheap) wine. Kosher if you must. The Trader Joes / Whole Foods $3 merlot variety works fine
You could make this whole recipe by hand, but I used a food processor. Definitely easier.

Roast the walnuts until they are slightly browned and set aside to cool. Core both apples, quarter them and pulse in a food processor until they are chopped but not pureed. Set aside in a large bowl.

Do the same with the plums, drain off any extraneous liquid and add to the apples. 

Since you can't get fresh cranberries this time of year, put frozen cranberries in the food processor and pulse them until they are chopped as well, and add them to the mix.

Pulse the walnuts and add them slowly to the fruit, mixing frequently. When it reaches the desired consistency, stop adding the walnuts, although you should have some extra nuts. Taste the charoset. If it tastes too tart, add a bit (1 T or so) of honey or maple syrup. Then add a bit (a few T) of wine; this charoset has a complex enough flavor that the wine is not really necessary; certainly don't go overboard with it.

Finally, if the mixture is too watery, add some more walnuts to soak up the moisture.

This will serve 15 to 20 and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for a while. And I think it would make a heck of a cranberry sauce come Thanksgiving, too.

I was encouraged by many guests to quit my day job and go in to the charoset business. With the success of this and the pistachio (similar ingredients and process, figure it out) I just well may. It sure makes a healthy, and delicious snack. Even when you haven't been sitting around a table arguing and drinking wine for two hours beforehand.

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