“Seder” means “order.” The first Passover night’s meal follows a specific order, and the first thing we see on the seder table is a plate of symbolic foods. In the center of the plate, three matzot – the unleavened bread Jews are commanded to eat during the Passover week. Matzot replace bread in memory of the departure at night from Egypt, when there was no time to let dough rise overnight. Considering that all dough was leavened with slow-rising sourdough and the need for haste, the Jews simply mixed flour and water and baked flat journey cakes with that.
Two kinds of bitter herbs, alluding to the bitterness of slavery, are arranged on the plate; usually horseradish and lettuce. There is also a dish of salt water and a non-bitter herb – parsley or a potato – to dip into it, so that participants at the table may “taste” the tears of hardship in Egypt. A roasted lamb or chicken bone reminds us of the Passover sacrifice brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. Vegetarians substitute a roasted beet for the bone, for its ruddy resemblance to meat. A hard-boiled egg, also symbolizes the festival sacrifice offered in Temple, but with the difference that hard-boiled eggs, the first food offered to mourners, symbolize mourning. On Passover night, one egg symbolizes mourning over the destruction of the Temple.
And there’s haroset – a sticky brown paste of blended fruit, nuts, wine, and honey. Haroset symbolizes the mortar that Jews used in building storehouses (and some say, pyramids) in Egypt.
The recipe for haroset varies from one ethnic stream to another, but all include fruit and nuts. It’s the one really tasty thing on the seder plate, and everyone looks forward to eating it. Children especially love haroset, of course, relishing matzah well smeared with the leftovers as a snack during Passover week. On seder night, the sweetness of haroset makes a joyful note among all the symbols of suffering – maybe a hint of the redemption to come.
300 grams dates, chopped
6 tablespoons water
1/2 to 3/4 cup sweet red wine (or grape juice for those who don’t tolerate alcohol)
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 cup ground, blanched almonds
10 ground chestnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
Cook the dates, water, and wine in a small pot, over low heat, until you have obtained a uniform mass – about 5 minutes.
Add the walnuts, almonds and chestnuts; stir and mix in well. Add the spices.
Stir a few minutes longer to incorporate all the ingredients.
Remove from the heat and continue stirring a few minutes longer. Allow to cool before serving. Refrigerate if keeping leftovers, up to one week. Enjoy!
More Passover recipes on Green Prophet:
Image and adapted recipe of Moroccan haroset via Nana10.