Can we all agree that charoset is the best part of the Passover Seder? Okay, hunting for the afikomen is pretty fun, and the flourless chocolate cake for dessert is usually nice, but let's be real. When you're two Manischewitzes deep into a four-hour meal and all you've had to eat is some freshly stale matzo and salty parsley, that sweet, spiced concoction of fruits and nuts tastes pretty amazing.
For the past several years, my family and I have been taking a different approach to charoset. We're Ashkenazi Jews to the core, but these days we prefer our charoset Sephardic style.*
What's the difference? Ashkanazi charoset is usually made from apples, walnuts, a lot of cinnamon, and sweet wine. Sephardic versions veer more toward dried fruit, balanced spices, and a variety of nuts. And in my experience, they have a far superior texture and depth of flavor. As a bonus, Sephardic charoset even looks more like the mortar that charoset was designed to symbolize.
I recognize "Sephardic" is a somewhat complicated term when talking about food, as there are few culinary constants across cuisines from Iran to the Iberian peninsula. Unfortunately, it seems "Sepharidic" has become something of a catch-all to mean "not Ashkenazi," which is a discussion for another time. But if we can agree to use these terms for now, we can all enjoy some great charoset, and maybe bring up the matter next year in Jerusalem.
Charoset with apples, walnuts, and wine inevitably gets watery, so it needs to be eaten soon after it's made. Once it sits for a bit, the nuts turn wimpy and the apples lose their crunch. Also, it's rare to find the right balance of spice and wine without a binder to bring the whole dish together.
This version hydrates a mix of dried fruits (in my case, a blend of raisins, dates, and apricots) in warm wine, adds in spices, and uses almonds for crunch. It's as forgiving as it is satisfying—extra wine can be simmered out, the spices blend much more easily with the spread as a whole, and it even tastes better the next day. The flavor is deep and satisfying, wholesome in that PowerBar kind of way—except it's way better than any PowerBar you've had.
The individual components are completely up to you. Prunes and candied ginger make fine additions; almonds can be replaced or supplemented with pistachios, walnuts, or pecans. I went light on the spices here, just some cinnamon and cloves, but feel free to jazz things up with cardamom or coriander. As for the wine, I've made this with Manischewitz and that's totally fine. But if you're feeling fancy, a cabernet sauvignon under $10 will do you right.
This is, of course, just one of many charoset variations out there. How do you make yours?