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Charoset - Variations on a Theme

charoset on a seder table for passover

Charoset is hard to give amounts on, let alone ingredients! The upside is it’s a test-taster's little side feast for the more adventurous kitchen-dabbler. Experiment! Everyone is looking forward to this in the seder, right? We include an example below with approximate measurements, but the real fun is in coming up with your own spin. By the way, even though we love apple versions, no one commanded that you have to use them. As long as it looks somewhat like "mortar", has some "sticks-together" chopped fruits & nuts in it, plus the ability to successfully stay put for at least a few seconds or better on a piece of matzah - you're in solid. So perhaps ponder how interesting that could get, if you like… 

An Ashkenazi version:

  • 2 cups finely chopped apples (we're partial to the green kind, but use what you like)
  • 1/2 cup crushed walnuts (or other fun nut, like pecans or filberts or…)
  • honey to taste, like 3-4 tablespoons (it also helps bind your mix- e.g. "glue")
  • 4-6 tablespoons sweet red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • a pinch of nutmeg is nice
  • a touch of lemon juice is a good idea
  • of course, so is some grated lemon peel
  • a little ginger could get interesting…

(Our family is always hoping for leftovers, so this is the very minimal conceivable amount. At a big seder, beware that invariably more is needed). 

More Sephardi type ingredients:

  • finely chopped dates, dried fruit like apricots &/or prunes etc.
  • some honey
  • nuts – i.e. almonds or pistachios or…
  • maybe some cinnamon, cloves, cardamon, …
  • &/or some sweet wine, lemon, grated orange peel…

Mix up… test taste… try on some matza…

Make two or so versions, then test them on your guests – even play
 "who can guess what's in there?", just like in those chef shows :) !

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Matzoh Balls, aka Kneidlach, aka Kneidels

matzoh balls

— aka the perennial cloud vs. cannon ball debate...

Some swear by fluffy, others by solid. (Some of us enjoy both & say viva la difference!)

Proviso: It's hard to say "measure" when one makes these for decades & just does it by familiar end-consistency… in fact, matzoh ball batter-making sort of defies exact measuring. This is a do-it-by-feel sort of thing. Just accept that you will likely adjust as you go (so maybe don't start making matzoh balls for the very 1st time the day of the seder). However, we provide starting amounts to get you going & a few general tips. Also a few seasoning suggestions that may raise eyebrows at 1st glance (a jealously guarded secret until now)- they may sound a bit odd but how the taste turns out isn't how you might think. We've found it to be very popular with guests & family, who then always want to know "what's that something…" & then invariably ask for takeaway portion. (This author is not letting any of them know we put this online, since she enjoys confounding them for so long).

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup matzoh meal (the finer the better)
  • 1-2 tablespoons fat/oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons soup stock/broth (or water, if you must…)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried dill (or equivalent finely chopped fresh)
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Those last two ingredients add that je-ne-sais-quois that just somehow works, ok?

  1. Beat eggs really well.

  2. Mix seasonings with matzoh meal 1st, then add that all into eggs. Mix well (avoid clumps), using a fork.

  3. This makes a relatively small amount (who ever heard of such a thing?!), just to get you started- it should produce perhaps 8 largish or 12-15 smaller balls if left to its own devices (if you do no adding/adjusting along the way):

    Mix in your fat & broth.

  4. It should now be sort of looser consistency. If not, add a little more broth.

  5. Put mixture aside to sit covered for at least 15 minutes to firm up somewhat.
    You can also place it in the fridge if you prefer for about 1/2 hour or so.

  1. Meanwhile, fill a pot ~2/3 full with water, throw in some salt, & bring to a boil.

  2. Get a bowl of water to keep handy for this part, especially if you like neater roundish balls. Dip your palms in the water (shake off excess) ~ every 4-5 balls. Pinch up about a 2cm/1" diameter amount of mix, roll lightly between palms & drop into water. It will sink but soon enough fluff somewhat & rise to top. If you don't care about haphazard shapes or are rushing, then use a teaspoon instead that you dip in the water occasionally to avoid sticking.

  3. Boil those kneidlach for at least 15 minutes (longer if they are larger) to be sure they are completely done inside (we have impatient children here whose job it is to do quality control checking - together with a bit of broth - & they do this job with, uh, serious dedication. Also note neighbors passing kitchen window & looking in… because that may mean someone happens to drop by a bit later, like coincidentally around dinner time. Better to be prepared, right?)

  4. For storage purposes, add about 2cm/1" of broth with the kneidels in a plastic container that locks shut well.

  5. A kneidel always tastes best when freshest, but they will freeze just fine for some days if you have to prepare in advance. Just defrost, then put them in a pot over low heat with about 1-3 cm. broth, cover tightly & gently steam-heat them up. Then shut heat & keep covered if you are waiting a while before serving.

Of course you also need some Basic Soup Stock:

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Basic Soup Stock (vegetarian)

kid drinking soup

This is an all-purpose soup stock base, either fine alone or to build on in a zillion directions (some of which may show up as recipes later in the year in other packets).

  • 1 big soup pot & stirring spoon
  • 1 complete bunch of celery, including the leaves (the darker & nicer the better)
  • 1 additional whole giant celery root (plus whatever is attached to it)
  • a few parsley roots
  • 8 carrots
  • 1-2 large fist-grab-size bunches each of fresh parsley & dill
  • (put a few sprigs of that dill to side to dry on toweling after washing. Mince fine and store in covered little bowl to use later to sprinkle fresh on top of soup right before serving)
  • 1/2 bulb's worth of garlic (you can chunky-chop the cloves if you prefer)
  • salt & black pepper to taste
  • tablespoon or so of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • a bit of oil/fat of some kind
  • Optional: Besides the above, you can add whatever you like. For example, if you want a "sweeter" soup, add more carrots, a large onion or two, & some light-green zucchinis. If you want a slightly thicker soup, add some potatoes. If you accidently throw in too much salt, by the way,
  • throw in a potato or 2 to suck some of it up.
  1. Peel roots & wash veggies well.

  2. Yes, you are really using those amounts (it kind of melts/sink down, ok?).

  3. Chunk if you like (or not) & throw into pot to boil for a few hours into stock.

  4. Add water if needed as you go, or conversely- boil down to concentrate taste & stir once in a while if you remember.

  5. You can freeze this stock fine for some weeks. You can strain for consommé/broth if you prefer. It's very useful for making some other dishes, as well as a slew of varied soups. If you concentrate it down, like to save on freezer space, just gradually add water to taste when heating later to use. *You can also do "cup-of-broth" by freezing a concentrated version in an ice-cube tray. Throw a few in a mug of hot water when needed.

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Pineapple'd Sweet Potato Mash

  • 5 sweet potatoes
  • 3-4 tablespoons parve margarine (or butter, or any other substitute you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (really varies completely by taste preference)
  • 8 oz. crushed canned pineapple, plus the fluid
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  1. Sweet potatoes: Peel & cut in chunks. Simmer in covered saucepan in 2 in"/5 cm. of water for 35 min. Drain & mash.
    Add rest of ingredients, put in a serving dish & you're set. Serves ~6.

  1. Variation: you can drain the potatoes to mash but save the fluid & use it to simmer the other ingredients for a short amount of time to soften & heat them, so that they end up a bit more compote-like before mixing in.

sweet potato crushed pineappls
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Farfel Full of Mushrooms & More

a bowl of mushrooms
  • 1 cup or so of sliced mushrooms(more if fresh, as there's more shrinkage than with canned.
  • Besides, we just love mushrooms so need no excuse…)
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 3 cups matzah farfel
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 2 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3/8 cup butter (or parve margarine or even oil- whatever you prefer) for farfel sauté
  • small amount olive oil for veggie sauté
  • 3 cups "liquid" (see below)
  • 2 tablespoons sherry or merlot (optional use & amount, same as some herbs above- you
  • could add other herbs too& you likely know by now we love lemon peel) 
  1. "Liquid": If using canned mushrooms, pour liquid they came in into measuring cup. Add to that with water until you get to 3 cups fluid total (for the farfel). If using fresh mushrooms, just use 3 cups water.

  2. Sauté veggies in garlic, parsley & cooking wine. If you like fresh parsley instead of dried, chop some up & throw that into your sauté too. Place to side for time being.

  3. Beat eggs in large bowl. Mix in farfel & remaining seasonings.

  4. Melt butter in large skillet or wide-based shallow pot. Sauté farfel mixture, which is ready when crumble-like & browned.

  5. Add the water or liquid. Simmer, tightly covered, until all liquid is absorbed (usually takes about 10-15 minutes).

  6. Mix sautéed veggies into farfel. Serves~ 8-10.

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Papa's Potato Kugel or Potato Kigel

(pronunciation depending somewhat on the particular Ashkenazic background,
sort of like the 'potayto-potahto' debate)

  • 6 potatoes, medium-sized, peeled
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried dill
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon celery seed or dried leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon or so black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil (or whatever you prefer)
  • 1/4 cup matzoh meal
  • Optional: ~1/2 cup or so of pre-cooked chopped spinach &/or chopped broccoli &/or stringbeans, etc. also goes well in this. However, if you increase much more than that 1/2 c. amount in the vegetables part, then perhaps use 3 eggs & 1/3 cup or so of matzoh meal, plus a touch more on the seasonings.
  1. Grate potatoes, carrot, onion.

  2. Add all remaining ingredients. Mix well.

  3. Bake in greased baking dish at 375 F./ 190 C. until top has somewhat golden & crispy edges. Baking time takes more or less an hour, depending on how thick you decided to make this- try not to go much above 2"/5 cm or so. (It also depends on your oven, plus size of baking dish. If your kugel is thicker, even though this will take longer- perhaps cover loosely with foil until really cooking [to avoid burning top & undone middle]. Then uncover to brown for the last 20 or so minutes).

Serves ~6-8.

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Cran-apple Kugel Kraze

  • 5 matzot
  • 5 eggs (beat well)
  • 3 large Granny Smith apples (peel & grate)
  • 2/3 to 1 cup honey (by taste preference)
  • 2/3 to 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons very softened or melted parve margarine (or butter)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (e.g. "Craisons")
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • (We like to put them in a bag -closed well- & take a small hammer to 'em.
  • Put a towel underneath to avoid damages &/or do this on a floor or with a wood cutting board)
  • 1 rounded tablespoon finely grated orange peel
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Optional: cut some of the sweet with a bit of fresh lemon juice- it’s a good combo.
  1. Break up the matzah into smallish pieces. Put in bowl, add enough water just to soak for 1 minute. Drain & press out any excess water.

  2. Mix in remaining ingredients well, pretty much in order provided.

  3. Transfer batter to greased baking dish.

  4. Bake in oven at 350F./176 C. for ~1 hour
    (until it's firm- check that inside is done with fork or toothpick).

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Sauteed (and/or Stewed) Eggplant Salad


Eggplant is a versatile & much-utilized vegetable in Israel & the Mideast.

  • 1 eggplant, chopped into 2 cm/1" cubes
  • 1 small medium-chopped onion
  • 2 stalks medium-chopped celery
  • 1 red + 1 orange sweet bell pepper (or whatever colors/tastes you prefer),
    chopped into 2 cm/1" cubes
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A few sprigs chopped parsley- save a third for after cooking.
  • A few sprigs chopped cilantro (or alternatively use dill by taste preference-
  • folks often have definite opinions one way or another about cilantro)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes sliced in halves
  • (or 2 tomatoes, preferably plum-type, skinned & chopped into 2 cm/1" cubes)
  • handful or so of black (preferally pitted)olives (any type you like should generally work just fine)
  • salt & pepper to taste (Mrs. Dash is a good substitute for the salt if necessary)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar (by your taste preference)
  • Olive oil to sauté with.

*If you need to keep to low sodium, skip the salting step below.

  1. Sprinkle eggplant lightly with salt & put aside for 15 min. - 1hour.
    (Some just leave this overnight in fridge; others don't do it at all & have little problem, but it's kind of worth the extra small bother if you are into frying).
    Either press out liquid afterwards
    or here's an alternative method -
    Place in a colander, with a weighted plate smaller than the colander pressing down on the eggplant.
    (the liquid of the eggplant is no problem if you are stewing more than frying or sautéing.)

  1. Heat some olive oil together with the minced garlic for a moment.

  2. Add onion, celery, peppers.

  3. When they brown & soften a little, add in eggplant.

  4. Add just enough water occasionally as needed to avoid scorching. For stewing instead, use less oil & somewhat more water.

  5. As the eggplant starts to soften, add tomatoes, olives & herbs. Cook another 10-15 minutes over a small to medium fire (depending on if the eggplant is done & how mushy or not you like your tomatoes).

  6. Put in serving bowl, add lemon juice (or vinegar), salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle remaining parsley on top.

  7. Optional- also really nice with some pine nuts mixed in afterwards too.

  8. Another option- for slightly spicy, cook with a small red chili pepper, de-seeded & chopped.

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Matzah Brei... perfect in its simplicity

matzah brei
  • 4 matzot
  • 2-3 beaten eggs (by personal preference)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • ~ 2 or so tablespoons butter
  • Optional- applesauce, sour cream, jam, other like toppings
  1. Soak matzot in water for a minute or so. Drain & press out excess water. The matzot will be naturally crumbly at this point.

  2. Add eggs, salt & pepper.

  3. Heat butter in skillet. Then add your mixture & let it cook for 1-2 min. When set & browned on bottom, turn over the entire mass, & cook other side to brownish. Serve hot; enough for 2-3 people.

  4. Optional - can also serve with applesauce, sour cream, jam, maple syrup or other like toppings.

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Bubbi's Too-Popular Matzoh Meal Pancakes

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup matzoh meal
  • 1/2 cup more or less of water (see below)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of black pepper
  • optional- 1/4 cup melted butter
  • Plus oil (or butter) for frying
  1. Combine ingredients. If you don't use butter in the mix, maybe add more water. Water generally varies depending on how you prefer these pancakes- plumper or thinner & crispier. Do a small test batch & then adjust your ingredients' proportions to suit as needed.

  2. Heat oil or butter in skillet (you will likely need ~1/2 cm / 1/4" oil depth).

  3. A generous tablespoon's worth of batter more or less usually works best. Turn once, browning each side. Drain well both sides on paper toweling.

  4. Optional- serve with sour cream, applesauce or jam.

  5. *Be forewarned, neither the author nor her grandmother has ever gotten away with making only a dozen of these around anyone, which is about what these amounts would produce at a 4" size on the thinner, crispy side (people seem to always get surprisingly excited at this something-so-simple food, it sometimes takes on almost an event-like quality). Also, we almost always made these with no butter in the batter at all & used oil to fry, but figured we'd throw in the butter version also in case you tasted them that way somewhere :) . Wear comfortable shoes or pull up a high stool… you may be producing these for your crowd for a while longer than you expected…

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Boomwailas (= yummy dessert puffs)

Not boom. Boomwailas!

The background for this is Sephardic- Spanish/Greek. In some households these were fried in a special pan, which had spaced, 3"-wide depressions to neatly fry each boomwaila. In lieu of that, use a deep frying pan or saucepan, with enough oil to cover your boomwailas. (This recipe is really almost a cross between loukoumades & zelebies). 

* This dish has been both family- & student-tested repeatedly. Everyone was very happy both in helping to prepare & then in consuming all evidence thereafter. (Just don't let younger kids do the frying part).


  • 2 tablespoons very softened parve margarine (unless it’s a dairy meal)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • finely grated peel of one small lemon (may vary to taste)
  • 1 cup matzoh meal
  • Optional: ginger to taste (e.g. 1/8-1/2 teaspoon)


(experiment & vary to individual taste;
you may also save a small amount of your lemon peel to use in the sauce):

  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • water (amount of watering down by taste preference)
  • [see other additions in directions below]
  1. "Softened" margarine (or butter)means let it sit out awhile, then 'shmoosh' it around in main mixing bowl with a soup spoon. Or melt quickly & gently in a pan.

  2. Separately - beat eggs really well until fluffy, then mix into margarine.

  3. Add ingredients in order given. Each addition should be mixed in well.
    Note: Eggs aside, the author has only done the mixing by hand. She has no idea if this could be done with a mixer (just like does anyone use a mixer to make their matzoh balls?).

  1. When oil is *really* ready, take a lightly oiled spoon (the longer the better for safety). Pick up a dollop of batter to carefully slide into frying pan/pot. A 'dollop' = about the size of a rounded teaspoon. Well, don't go larger than a ping-pong ball.) Fry until golden brown. Remove (with tongs if available or a slotted spoon, etc.) & drain well on paper toweling.

*Frying tip:The first bubbling/"boiling" you see is actually air moisture boiling off the surface of the oil. Wait a while longer for the oil to truly heat & boil. Food absorbs less oil this way.

*It's good to do a test-batch:This is like 'Matzoh Ball Science" - some like denser, some like fluffier - testing tells you if you need to vary your matzoh meal & water amounts a little.

  1. Sauce: Mix ingredients over low fire in saucepan. (The honey will soon become easier to mix). Can vary amounts to taste & dilute somewhat with water also if preferred. You can add finely grated lemon peel &/or orange peel.

  2. Pour over each serving. You can also sprinkle cinnamon &/or crushed walnuts or almonds, etc. on top. Can be served hot or cold.

See Also Koby's Favorite Dessert
Concocted by a kid & fun to make.