Thursday, March 28, 2013

making charoset

 This recipe is inspired by Passover. While I do not celebrate the holiday of Passover, I have many fond memories from my childhood spent table-side at the many Seders I attended with my best friend. Oh how her mother would cook up a storm. And oh how we patiently waited through the service and questions and dippings and prayer until her brisket was served. One of my favorite flavors from Passover was the charoset (or haroset) that was served as a symbol of the mortar the enslaved Jews used to anchor bricks together as they worked at the mercy of the Egyptians. 

I was surprised to find many of my non-Jewish friends unaware of the traditions steeped in many of the Jewish holidays and so I thought I would share a few memories, a recipe I created and a few links you can follow to learn more about Passover (also called Pesach). One thing you might be surprised to find is that in the hierarchy of holidays, Passover is more important than Hanukkah and is often observed for eight days (and sometimes for seven). Depending on each person's faith, there are a number of dietary restrictions involved which most importantly call to refrain from food goods that use leavening such as everyday sandwich bread, and/or baked cookies and other cakey-sweet treats. That is why you may see an abundance of matzoh showing up in your recipe feeds, and/or super market aisles.

All of the foods on the seder-plate symbolize elements from the Passover story. A Passover Seder (dinner) can last for many hours, or longer than you thought possible (that's my ten year old perspective there) but it isn't at all boring and even involves a little hide and seek when it comes time to hunt for the afikomen. If you ever receive an invitation to attend, I recommend you do so. This world is vast and full of differences that at their core holds the pureness of heart. What better way to grow, than to share?

Here is an easy child-friendly recipe for charoset. Keep in mind that if you are Jewish and hold dietary restrictions for the holiday, you will know what is best to substitute. This is recipe is my way of sharing some insight with those who are new to Passover and to encourage you to cook and/or prepare food with your children. There are all sorts of neato-keen developmental elements hidden in this recipe from using small motor skills, to math, and reading. Children take pride in sharing and enjoying something that they made. Recipe following builds autonomy, prepares children for kitchen safety and is super fun!

Spiced Pear & Pecan Charoset
*2 soft pears of your choice
*1 cup pecan meats or pieces
*2 T butter
*3 T brown sugar
*pinch of cayenne pepper
*1/2 t cinnamon
*1/4 pear juice
*1/4 cup diced red onion (optional)
*plastic or butter knife
*melon baller
*food chopper (optional)
*vegetable peeler
*wood spoon
*matzoh for eating

If your pecan meats are whole you will need to chop them up. If you have a press food chopper, you can have your kiddo get to chopping (supervised of course). If you do not have a chopper, toss nuts into a sealable bag and have your kiddo mash em with a rolling pin. While nuts are getting chopped up, add butter to a skillet and turn on medium/high heat to melt. Once nuts are melted and butter is melted, reduce heat and add nuts. Give them a stir to coat and add two tablespoons of brown sugar and a pinch of cayenne pepper to the pan and mix away with a wooden spoon.Remove from heat after five minutes or so and allow to cool.
Have your kiddo give the pears a good washing and then remove the skins with a vegetable peeler. You are the best judge to know if your child is capable of this, if not, peel the pears yourself but allow your child to cut them. Pears are soft and easily cut with a plastic or butter knife. Have your kiddo cut each pear in half and then use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds in the center. They can then cut the pear up into smaller pieces as they see fit. Place pear pieces into a small mixing bowl.

Pour a bit of pear juice into a easily pourable container that your child can hold. Allow them to measure out 1/4 cup of juice. I used a pear cider from Trader Joe's. If you cannot find pear juice, you can use apple or pomegranate or even a little wine if you wish to go the traditional route. A little juice goes a long way as the pears themselves will release a lot of juice during the mixing process. Add the measured juice to the bowl and then have your kiddo measure out the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar and the 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Add onions as well if you are using them.

 Add the candied nuts to the bowl and mash/stir it all up with a fork. You can give it an easy swirl to keep it chunky or give it a good mashing so that it is more akin to applesauxe. It's up to you and your kiddo. 

Transfer to a serving container and use as a dip for matzoh or other water crackers. It is surprisingly delicious! Find more recipes and Passover fun over at my pinterest board.

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