Spice up your Pesach table with a more exotic charoset

OMAHA — It's not easy to re-enact your ancestors' escape from slavery, especially while sitting around the dining room table. You can't exactly part the Red Sea.

Instead, Jews celebrating Passover rely on edible symbols to bring the ancient experience back to life during two special dinners — the seders.

All over the world, Jewish families place a similar set of foods on their tables. An egg symbolizes life and rebirth. Horseradish recalls the bitterness of slavery. And charoset, a combination of nuts and fruits, represents the mortar Jewish slaves mixed to build the Pharaoh's pyramids. Oddly, that symbol of oppression is also the sweetest addition to the table.

There are as many versions of the ground mixture as countries where Jews eventually settled.

"The variations are endless, bound only by wherever their imagination takes them and whatever is a local ingredient," says Joan Schwartz Michel, editor of the new Hadassah Jewish Holiday Cookbook (Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, $29.95).

In Santa Fe, N,M., for example, diced chili peppers might get thrown in. European Jews, such as my family, use a simple mix of walnuts, apples and wine. That was the only kind I ate until my brother married a Moroccan woman. Her recipe sounded downright alien: sticky balls of dates, walnuts, and cloves rolled inside dried rose petals.

From Suriname comes a tart, dark, fruity stew of coconut, nuts, and dried fruits. Yemenite Jews make a mildly sweet, slightly crunchy and seedy combination of figs, dates, sesame seeds, and a hint of ginger.


Makes 9 cups

2 -2/3 cups (7-oz. package) of unsweetened coconut

2 cups chopped walnuts

1-1/2 cups raisins

1-1/2 cups dried apples

1 -1/2 cups prunes

1-1/2 cups dried apricots

1-1/2 cups dried pears

1/4 cup sugar

1 Tbs. ground cinnamon

1/2 cup cherry jam

sweet red wine

Combine in a saucepan all the ingredients except the jam and wine. Add enough cold water to just cover fruit. Bring to a boil , then reduce heat and simmer about 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if necessary.

Remove from heat; stir in cherry jam. Set aside to cool.

Add just enough sweet red wine to be absorbed by the fruit. Refrigerate until well chilled.