Mira’s post on charoset was funny as hell, and her charoset sounds great, but I couldn’t stop myself from challenging her charoset. She’s invited me and my wife, Victoria, to a seder at Beit Malkhut (West, her house in San Francisco, as opposed to East, my house in Oakland). I offered to make my charoset, and she agreed, as long as I also promised to make something else that isn’t charoset.
I’ve signed up for two of my seder specialties, matzoh ball soup and charoset.
Yes, shikses can have seder specialties. It so happens that I quite like charoset and boiled eggs and horseradish and gefilte fish and all those other Ashkenaz favorites that Mira describes as “vile” and “muck” and “watery.” I suppose I owe this most directly to having been invited to a bunch of seders given by Ashkenazim, or maybe I owe it to my artifactual memories. If Jung is right about our collective unconscious and I’m right about my Prussian great-gramma (mom’s mom’s mom) having been Jewish, then I’m technically Ashkenaz myself and doomed to liking the vile, watery muck.
As I told Mira, it might not match Sephardi cuisine, but by my Norwegian-German heritage’s standards, Ashkenaz vile, watery muck is highly flavorful, exotic stuff.
I make a pretty yummy matzoh kugel, too (mine’s kind of a Norwegian lasagne-style custardy dessert), and I dearly love matzobrei. So, when this time of year rolls around and I start seeing the components in the special Passover display at the grocery store, I stock up, and often I end up throwing a bit of a seder. Many times it’s just been me and Elijah, because I was either single or a vacation-widow at the time. I start out just making a meal with some of the favorites, and before you know it, I’ve got a head of steam up and I’m doing it up right. Once I’ve gone to all that trouble, it seems silly not to review the haggadah, so I read at dinner. For years it was the Maxwell House Haggadah, because I kept forgetting to look for a better one.
Elijah was a regular at my seders for years. He’s dead now, may he rest in peace, but Elijah—for those of you who are still waiting—came back to earth for just shy of 15 years in the form of my grey boy, Norton the Anthology of Cats. I mean, I’m pretty sure he was Elijah. He kept sitting down at Elijah’s place, eating Elijah’s gefilte fish, and sniffing at Elijah’s wine. What more evidence do we need? One year he got a bit too curious and singed his whiskers on the candles, too, but I’m not sure whether to attribute that to Elijah.
Now, I know better than to try to compete with Mira’s Sephardi charoset with an Ashkenaz recipe, and in fact when I issued the challenge, I had a Sephardi recipe in mind. I described it as “killer charoset.”
Mira replied skeptically, asking if it was Sephardi. I replied, “Of course it is—I told you it was killer, didn’t i?”
She liked that answer but still seemed to doubt my claims.
Yesterday, after remarking upon my delight over her charoset post—who wouldn’t love a woman who can work AD Gordon, Sephardi jingoism, syncretism, family mishegas, anti-Cuisinart-ism, and walnut allergies into an essay purporting to be a recipe?—I asked her, “But what if you like mine better?”
She asked, “Did you just say that? Did you just challenge me to a charoset-off?”
Pride goeth before the muck, I fear.
I looked up that recipe I remembered liking so much a few years back at our last Seder, which was a combination Seder and Easter Dinner for St Olaf College alumni friends, which we preceded with a Lutheran hymn sing because we had a critical mass of musically-inclined guests; the menu included braised Easter bunny; and we did a nearly complete reading of the haggadah before everyone got distracted in debate about some point or another and we never quite wandered back to finish it up.
About that recipe, though. It was fantastic. But not wholly Sephardi-looking, it turns out. Looks like a bit of an amalgam of Ashkenaz and Sephardi charoset notions to me, and of course I did do my Nordic thing to it also. I’m a tamperer. I’ll write it up later this week when I make this year’s version of it.
I was worried, though, so I cast my eyes on the next charoset recipe, facing page. Yemeni. Nothing mucky or watery about it. Worth a try, right?
[amazon_image id=”0688155901″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]The New York Times Passover Cookbook : More Than 200 Holiday Recipes from Top Chefs and Writers[/amazon_image]
So here it is—my version of Ruth Messinger’s Yemenite Haroseth, from the [amazon_link id=”0688155901″ target=”_blank” ]The New York Times Passover Cookbook : More Than 200 Holiday Recipes from Top Chefs and Writers[/amazon_link].
- 24 dried figs
- 24 pitted dates (I used dried—we had them sitting around)
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds (I used roasted Japanese white sesame seeds, and it was more like a cup)
- 4 t honey (well, why not 4 T? because see below about cayenne…)
- 2 t ground ginger (but wouldn’t 2 T of crystallized ginger be better?)
- 1/2 t ground coriander (oh, please—anything less than 2 t of coriander is just teasing)
- 1/4 t cayenne (hmm… I think it must have been more like 1/2–1 t… it’s not like I measure anything)
Buzz up the first figs and dates “to a sticky paste” in the Cuisinart. (But I disagree—just get them good and chopped up. Paste is gross. Chewable texture is important—Mira’s right about that. Buzz up the ginger, too.)
Put those in a bowl and mix in the rest. Cover and store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 2 1/2 cups.
(Except we’re not done yet. It’s not sticky enough yet, and it doesn’t have any wine or booze. That can’t be right. Since this recipe doesn’t have anything in the prune or grape family, I decided to go with a jolt of pelinka, the Romanian homemade firewater that my Romanian friends describe as “90% alcohol and 10% alcohol.” It’s basically a plum brandy, always homemade or bought in used plastic soda bottles from a guy in a truck parked by the side of the road outside town.)
Potent stuff! My eyes started watering after I tasted it. I sneezed several times.
It’s got a week to meld and mellow.
Look out, Mira. Your charoset sounds delicious, but it’s in trouble.