22 April 2009

A case for intermarriage.

Passover is my least favorite holiday. Seders are lovely, but I loathe the eight days of eating matzah. Any gentile will tell you how delicious matzah is with butter and salt, and while that may be true, bread and butter is infinitely more so. Not only does matzah taste like cardboard, it is notoriously binding. All I'll say is two weeks out from Passover, and my system is still recovering.

I was reading Molly Wizenberg's lovely book, A Homemade Life while cooking for the seder, and came across a recipe for Fruit-Nut Balls, a favorite Christmas cookies. The recipe is extremely simple; a mixture of walnuts, dried fruits and a splash of Grand Marnier, rolled and coated in powdered sugar and topped with a chocolate cap. It didn't appeal to me much, but I thought it would make a good haroset, as it's very similar to Sephardic preparations.

Haroset is one of the symbolic foods on the seder plate, a paste of fruit and nuts, sweetened with a bit of wine, and meant to symbolize the mortar used to bond bricks while the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt. I grew up eating a traditional Askenazi haroset of apples, walnuts, wine, cinnamon and honey. Shortly after I was married, my mother gave me Joan Nathan's Jewish Cooking in America, where I learned there is a whole world of haroset out there.

Sephardic harosets are heavy on dried fruits, so I decided to use Wizenberg's recipe sans the Christmas gilding, and serve the paste on its own. It made an adequate, if not exciting, filling for the Hillel sandwiches (haroset + horseradish on matzah), and a lot of leftovers. When the seder was over, I put it in the refrigerator for the night.

The second night we had an impromptu seder with our neighbors, and when I broke out the haroset, my neighbor's first comment was, "Oh, Sephardic haroset!" I got a kick when I explained; "Yes, but it's a bastardized Christmas cookie." We ate it at our second seder, still didn't make much of a dent, and back in the fridge it went.

It wasn't until the next day*, when I came across a mention of Charoset truffles on the kitchn, that the tide turned for me and my haroset. Oh, the power of a name; I mean, what would you rather eat, a ball, or a truffle? For truffles, the haroset is rolled and coated in granulated, not powdered sugar, and...oh my lord! I served them with tea to my Irish friend, and we could not eat enough of these. The contrast between the grainy crunch of sugar crystals and the sweet, soft fruit was irresistible. Call them what you will, the shiksa haroset was delicious. Good things happen when Jews and Gentiles mix.

*That that the mixture had now spent two days macerating is not insignificant; this is the kind of food that gets better with age.

Shiksa Charoset Truffles, or Fruit Nut Balls
adapted from A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

1 cup walnuts
1/2 pound each, pitted:
dried cherries
dried figs
dried apricots
prunes (is it redundant to say dried?)
1-2 T liquor, such as Grand Marnier or brandy
(The cork in my bottle of Grand Marnier, which was a divorce spoil from my parents unravelling, making it...I don't know how old, turned to dust as I tried to remove it, so I had to use Calvados. If you were more letter than spirit of the law, you'd use Boone's Farm a sweet Passover wine like Manishevitz.)
granulated sugar for coating

Pulse the walnuts in the food processor until finely chopped, and remove to a bowl.
Pulse the dried fruit in two batches and add to the walnuts.
Add a the liquor a bit at a time until the mixture holds together well when rolled.
Let sit overnight, or roll into approximately 1-1/2-inch balls, and then roll in sugar.

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