Haroset, a blend of fruit, nuts and wine, is probably the most popular food of the eight-day holiday of Passover, which begins on Monday night.
For the Seder, the feast commemorating the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt, haroset is spooned onto the Seder plate alongside other symbolic Passover preparations and is served as part of the ritual. Although haroset's brown color is meant to be a sad reminder of the mortar made by the Hebrew slaves, people's faces light up when it's time to sample it.
Some Jews prepare extra haroset to use as a spread throughout Passover. To me, haroset is more than a holiday item. I use it as a basic flavoring for desserts the way French cooks use almond praline, Italians use chocolate-hazelnut gianduja and Americans use peanut butter.
Over the centuries, Jewish cooks around the world developed many versions of haroset. Typical Ashkenazi haroset like the one I grew up with is a light-textured mixture of grated or chopped apples, chopped walnuts, sweet red wine and cinnamon. Sephardi haroset is made with dates, which make it sweeter and denser, almost like a paste. Pistachios and pomegranate juice might flavor Persian haroset, which might also contain fresh pears and bananas. Yemenites combine dried fruit with sweet spices, almonds and often sesame seeds; to Orthodox Ashkenazim, the presence of the sesame seeds makes this haroset not kosher for Passover.
For my standard haroset, I combine ingredients from the lands of the Bible: dates, dried figs, raisins, dried apricots, almonds and walnuts, blended with wine and sweet spices.
With my haroset I flavor treats from blintzes to brownies. I use it to fill cream puffs, to enhance baked puddings and to make confections.
Haroset mixed with chocolate melted in wine makes tasty truffles. I roll them in chopped walnuts or grated coconut, and I have an easy pareve treat that's healthy too.
For a new twist on blond brownies, I add haroset, dried apricots and chocolate chunks to a Passover brownie batter made with matzo cake meal and potato starch. They're certainly easier to make than Passover sponge cakes.
One of my favorite ways to use matzo is to make it into haroset kugel. It's much faster to prepare than noodle kugel, as there is no pasta to cook. I just crumble and moisten a few matzos, mix them with eggs, haroset and sliced apples, and bake the mixture with a topping of cinnamon and sugar. You can serve the kugel with Iraqi haroset, a saucelike combination of silan (date syrup) and walnuts.
But why should we enjoy something so delicious only during Passover? I plan to keep haroset on hand year-round to flavor all sorts of desserts.
Haroset ripple ice cream, anyone?
Faye Levy is the author of "1,000 Jewish Recipes."