Does haroset have to be made with apples and nuts?

Haroset is one of the highlights of the Passover meal. While it symbolizes the mortar that the Jews used to build the pyramids, it’s sweet and delicious — a welcome counterpoint to bitter herbs and plain matzo.

But from a culinary standpoint, traditional haroset never sat well with me. The undeniably tasty mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and sweet wine presents a raft of conundrums, starting with the apples. Passover is a celebration of springtime and rebirth. Apples are autumn’s most iconic fruit. The pervasiveness of cinnamon doesn’t help matters — too often haroset veers perilously close to apple pie filling.

There’s no reason haroset has to have apples. In “Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook” (Schocken, 2004), Nathan writes that most American Jews serve the classic Ashkenazic mixture of apples, nuts, wine and cinnamon, with only the texture differentiating one recipe from another. Whereas the haroset “of the Sephardic Jews,” she writes, “changes according to the country and sometimes even the city of origin” and can contain almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, peanuts, chestnuts, apricots, coconuts, raisins, dates, figs and even bananas.

I’ve had Sephardic harosets based on dried fruits, and they can be cloyingly sweet and sticky. So I mixed apples with dried apricots and pomegranate seeds, both of which call to mind the ancient Mediterranean. Almonds, native to the Middle East, seemed like the right nut. I used a hint of cinnamon, but balanced it with the brightness of fresh lemon juice.

Then there’s the wine. There are plenty of good, dry kosher wines out there, so Seder celebrants are no longer required to quaff traditionally sweet Manischewitz with their meals. But haroset is made with sweet wine, and if there’s one thing you can say about Concord grape is that it’s sweet — because it contains corn syrup (or, for the Passover wines, cane sugar). What I wanted was a kosher wine that was sweet but good, and I found one: Moscato, an Italian white from the Piedmont region, is produced by many kosher wineries. Made from the Muscat grape, it is naturally sweet, low in alcohol and slightly fizzy. Kosher for Passover white zinfandel would also work.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

HAROSET REVISITED

If you want a mortar-like paste, you could roughly chop the fruits and pulse them in the food processor with the nuts, lemon juice, cinnamon and wine. But finely dicing the apricots and apples makes for a more elegant — and attractive — presentation. The lemon juice will discourage the cut apples from turning brown, but Gala, Empire, Cortland and Cameo are all apple varieties that resist discoloration.

1 1⁄2 cups dried apricots

2 apples

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 1⁄2 cups finely chopped toasted almonds

1 cup pomegranate seeds

1⁄4 to 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1⁄4 cup sweet wine, like Moscato

1. Finely dice the apricots by laying a few on top of one another, cutting 1⁄8-inch matchsticks, then cutting across the matchsticks to make an 1⁄8 -inch dice.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

2. Finely dice the apples by cutting each apple in half through the stem. Lay each half flat on the cutting board and slice 1⁄8-inch thick. Pile slices on top of one another and cut matchsticks; now cut across the matchsticks to make an 1⁄8-inch dice.

3. Toss the diced apricots and apples with the lemon juice, add the almonds, pomegranate seeds, cinnamon and wine and toss together until well mixed. Makes 6 cups.