Charoset is a sweet, sometimes alcoholic spread or chutney served on Passover. As a ritual food it’s spread on the cracker-like bread substitute called matzo, and meant to symbolize the mortar between the bricks of Egyptian building projects in the story of Exodus. As an Egyptologist I find this topic problematic, but let’s stick to the food: Ashkenazi Jews–those of European ancestry–usually make charoset with chopped apples, walnuts, wine, and raisins, while Sephardic Jews–who trace their ancestry to north Africa, Spain, and the Middle East–make theirs with dates, figs, or apricots, and lots of spices. I much prefer a date base for my charoset, and I recently decided that this spread is far too delicious to make only once a year. I’ve been eating it on toast, and sometimes with a spoon. My recipe adds a New England twist–maple syrup–and the balancing tang of salted almonds.
You may already be familiar with my vegetarian stuffed grape leaves, and the pre-cooking steps of this recipe are done in much the same way. The difference, apart from the turkey filling, is that you can cook these quite quickly on the stovetop. These make a great finger food for parties, and I’ve also served them as a main with a chopped salad and dips (try tahini or the yogurt dip from my veg grape leaf recipe).
Chraimi is a Sephardic dish I’ve had at my aunt and uncle’s house on the occasion of many Jewish holidays. It’s a garlicky, tomatoey paste for spreading on your favorite protein. It works best on fish–especially salmon and tilapia, which I’ve used here–but I’ve also done this with tofu, and I’m sure you could use chicken as well. Thanks to my cousin Sharonie for the recipe. I’ve been eating this at her house for years, and always wondered how to make it!
Do you like red bell peppers? Do you have said peppers in your kitchen right now? GO FORTH AND DIP!
I usually make these with meat, but I tried two veggie recipes this week that really worked. One is savory-sweet, while the other is just plain savory. *Both* times I meant to take a picture of the finished product with the dipping sauce, these delicious little rice envelopes disappeared too fast for me to remember! Stuffed grape leaves, popular in Greek, Turkish, and eastern European cuisine, are a perfect finger food for parties. Or you could just, you know, eat them all yourself.
What can’t one do with labneh, the soft, creamy, yogurty cheese of the Middle East? Some things you can definitely do: Dip your veggies in it. Spread it on bread. Use it as a “dressing” on a salad of spinach, red onion, and tapenade. Dunk your over-easy eggs in it. Here’s how to make labneh the easy way.
This recipe is probably the most requested of all the things I make, but it’s not my own: the original comes from Orna and Ella in Tel Aviv, and there are tons of reproductions of their recipe online, including this one from Food 52, which is the basis for the one I’m sharing here. The sauce is really versatile, and can be used as a dip for veggies or pita, or spooned onto nachos in the place of regular old sour cream. It’s also really great on fish.
Tahini (sesame paste) is healthy and easy to use, and goes well with lots of other foods as a dip, dressing, or spread.