Mortar Charoset in a Pyramid
Charoset is one of those Jewish foods with a very specific utility, and it is a shame that we do not eat it more often. It is a chutney of sorts meant to resemble the mortar that the Israelites mixed for the construction projects they were forced to build as Egyptians' slaves. It is also a sweet food made from regional fruits, which we eat as a contrast to bitter herbs. Ashkenazi Jews typically use apples and nuts and a bit of wine for color. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews often use dates as the sweet fruit. Medjool dates also make an excellent binder, much like actual mortar.
My recipe has a fairly simple base of medjool dates and ground nuts, with aromatic spices for flavor and blood oranges for a brick-y color. It is also made in a mortar and pestle—the process is laborious, and you get the "mortar" pun.
Passover is a holiday about freedom. But that freedom is bittersweet, arriving after 400 years of slavery and made possible only through the suffering inflicted upon the Egyptians.
Apparently the Israelites did not build the Egyptian pyramids. But I shaped my charoset in a pyramid structure for dramatic effect.
You can use this charoset recipe as a filling for rugelach, hamantaschen, and babka. It also makes a delicious spread. It need not be eaten only two days a year!
This recipe is scaled down to ~4 servings for a distanced seder but can easily be doubled or tripled for a larger crowd. You do not have to sculpt it into a fancy shape. You need a medium-to-large mortar and pestle for this recipe. The nuts and spices will release their oils in a way that does not work with a blender or food processor.
10 medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1/4 cup shelled pistachios (or substitute almonds)
1/3 cup shelled walnuts
1 blood orange (you can also use a regular orange, but you won't get the dramatic red color)
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
3 cardamom pods
pinch of salt
Zest the blood orange. Cut in half.
Crush the cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom in the mortar and pestle. Add the orange zest and salt and grind together. Set aside.
Add the nuts to the mortar and pestle and grind. They should have a rough texture with a mix of nut flour and larger pieces. You may need to work in batches depending on the size of your mortar.
Combine the ground nuts with the spices.
Crush the dates in the mortar and pestle. Again, you made need to work in batches.
Add the crushed dates to the dry ingredients. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 of the blood orange onto the mixture. Work together with a spatula (or your hands) to combine. If the mixture seems too dry, add the juice of the other half of the blood orange.
Scrape the pulp of the blood orange out of the pith and crush in the mortar and pestle. (Squeezing the juice out first makes it easier to crush the oranges and avoid getting juice all over the place). You can skip this step, but I think the oranges add nice flavor
Incorporate the crushed orange into the mortar mixture.
Let the charoset chill in the refrigerator for the flavors to meld and the crushed nuts to absorb the liquids.
If you want to shape the charoset as a pyramid, set a spoonful aside for the seder plate. Place the charoset in the center of a plate. Rub a bit of olive oil on a silicone spatula to keep the charoset from sticking. Shape the charoset into a cube with four distinct sides. Use the side of the spatula to raise each side incrementally. You may need to use your hands to get the pyramid to the right height—put a bit of olive oil on them so that the charoset does not stick to you. Use the spatula to sharpen the corners and top.