Haroset, which according to legend if not historical fact, represents the mortar used by enslaved Israelites in building the pharaoh’s pyramids. It was sweet, familiar (made with apples and walnuts) and, again from the point of view of a kid, slightly transgressive (parent-sanctioned wine consumption, albeit minuscule).
As I got older, I began to appreciate the symbolic and culinary value of haroset. It represents hope even amid struggle, and surely, we can appreciate that during this pandemic. In terms of flavor, the contrast between the sharp horseradish and sweet haroset is a beautiful dance. Each enhances and tempers the other.
“The purpose of haroset is to eat with the maror,” says food writer Jake Cohen, referring to the Hebrew name for the bitter herbs. But there is no definitive recipe for haroset, no sacred text. While many of us who grew up in the Ashkenazi tradition in North America have come to expect the apple, walnut, cinnamon and Manischewitz wine combination, there’s literally a whole world of possibilities.
In “Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook,” the prolific author and Jewish food authority notes that global versions of haroset include pine nuts, peanuts, chestnuts, apricots, coconut, figs and even bananas. Nathan’s collection of recipes in the book covers such locales as Egypt, Suriname, Venice and Yemen, plus San Francisco.
Don’t feel obliged to stick to your family’s recipe if you want to flex your creative muscle. Or, if you must hew to tradition, serve several variations. They’re easy enough to put together, and are perfect to make ahead, as they tend to improve in flavor over several days. Really, who’s going to object to more haroset?
Before you start inventing your ideal haroset, here are some ways to think about the elements.
Fruit. Fresh or dried, the world is your haroset fruit basket. While apples are a staple, consider pears for something similar but distinctive, Cohen says. I’m surely not the only one with a bountiful supply of dried fruit, so comb your pantry for inspiration. Bonus: Minced, dried fruit makes for an effective binder to hold your haroset together. Dates, apricots and raisins are at the top of my list. I also like turning tradition on its head by including dried apple rings, as in my Dried Fruit Haroset With Cardamom and Lemon. Mixing and matching fresh and dried fruit is also fair game, which you’ll see in my Apple, Walnut and Fig Haroset With Mulled Wine Syrup, below.
Sweeteners. While the fruit is a major source of sweetness, you may want to add a bit more, even if it’s just a tablespoon or so for the whole batch. Granulated sugar is, of course, just fine. Other options can add dimension. Thanks in part to the Persian and Iraqi background of his husband, Alex, Cohen makes a version of haroset with silan, or date syrup — “such a magical product,” he says. Maple syrup, molasses and honey shouldn’t be overlooked, either.
Nuts. Walnuts are a favorite, but why stop there? Cohen endorses pistachios and pine nuts especially. If there’s a nut you like, use it — or even a combination. If you’re cooking your haroset on the stove top, be sure the nuts are cooked, as well. If you choose to puree the mixture, they’ll lend a creamy texture, Cohen says.
For an extra boost of flavor and crunchy texture, be sure to toast the nuts, for a few minutes in a dry skillet over medium-low heat or in a 350-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes. The small effort pays off.
Flavors. Cinnamon is a common haroset spice, though certainly not the be all, end all. In the recipe below, it would be easy to use other hard spices, such as cardamom pods and star anise, instead of or in addition to the cinnamon sticks, when infusing the wine syrup. Nutmeg, ginger and allspice go well with fruit, too. Cohen recommends considering baharat, a Middle Eastern blend whose sweet-and-savory combination can include those warming spices, as well as paprika, cumin and coriander. A little rosewater will go a long way if your tastes lean floral. Cohen likes it paired with dried apricots.
Don’t forget about balance within the haroset as well as with the horseradish. Salt and acid can help counteract bitterness. A pinch of salt can do wonders to accentuate sweetness, too. As far as acid goes, red wine is a classic (it also helps preserve the haroset for several days). Prefer white? Hey, it’s your haroset, fine by me. Citrus juice is another option to contribute moisture and acidity, minus the alcohol. The great thing about haroset is it’s easy to sample along the way, adjusting as you see fit.
Texture. Options run the gamut here. You can go from chopped all the way down to pureed in the blender or food processor. (Very large pieces may be unwieldy on matzoh.) Ideally, whichever route you choose, all the ingredients will be about the same size. Huge pieces of crunchy nuts in an otherwise fine-textured haroset can be jarring, for example.
The type of fruit you use, fresh or dried, will guide you to how crunchy or chewy the haroset is. Dried fruit can be briefly pulsed in a food processor for just a coarse chop or more finely minced. Try soaking it and then cooking it on the stove top, where the mixture can be left looser or concentrated into something more akin to jam.
Apple, Walnut and Fig Haroset With Mulled Wine Syrup
This haroset offers a few twists on a version popular on many Passover tables. A quick-cooking syrup combines wine, sugar and cinnamon sticks into a cohesive whole that better coats the ingredients and avoids the grittiness you might otherwise get with ground spices and dry sugar. A splash of uncooked wine contributes a contrasting acidity. Chopped dried figs add natural sweetness and chewy, crunchy pops of texture. They also soak up the wine and syrup beautifully.
Use any red wine you like to drink. I thought this recipe worked well with a cabernet sauvignon. You can flavor the syrup with your choice of hard spices, such as cardamom pods, star anise, allspice, peppercorns or even fresh ginger. You’ll only use half the syrup; you can use the rest in another batch or haroset, or drizzle on yogurt, ice cream and fruit.
Recipe notes: While the haroset tastes great freshly made, it’s best after the flavors have a chance to meld. Try to make it at least a few hours in advance. The haroset can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Leftover syrup will keep at least several months in the refrigerator.
- 1 cup (3 ounces/90 grams) walnut halves and pieces
- 1 1/2 cups (360 milliliters) plus 2 tablespoons red wine, divided, or more to taste
- 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces/100 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2 medium apples (13 ounces/380 grams total), peeled, cored and diced
- 6 dried figs (4 ounces/110 grams total), each cut into 4 to 6 pieces
- Pinch salt, or more to taste
Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Place the nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant, stirring halfway through. (You can also do this in a large, dry skillet over medium-low heat.) Transfer to a plate or cutting board, let cool completely and then chop.
In a wide pot or skillet over medium-high heat, combine the 1 1/2 cups of wine, the sugar and cinnamon sticks, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the liquid becomes syrupy and has reduced by about two-thirds, 11 to 13 minutes. The mixture will start to look foamier as it gets close. When it’s ready, a spatula dragged through the skillet should leave a trail that briefly holds before closing back up. Remove and discard the cinnamon sticks, transfer the syrup to a small bowl or container and let cool. (You should have 1/2 cup of syrup.)
In a large bowl, combine the walnuts, apples, figs, salt, 2 tablespoons of wine and 1/4 cup of the wine syrup. Taste, adding more wine, syrup or salt, as desired. For optimal flavor, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.
Calories: 129; Total Fat: 6 g; Saturated Fat: 1 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 26 mg; Carbohydrates: 16 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugar: 12 g; Protein: 2 g.
From Voraciously staff writer Becky Krystal; syrup recipe adapted from Michele Humes on SeriousEats.com.