At Passover, whatever’s on a Sephardic Seder plate makes its way into the meal, too, and onto the table throughout the entire week. In my family, harosi is one of the holiday’s most treasured extended pleasures.
Making the harosi each year was one of my grandpa’s favorite cooking projects, as far back as anyone could remember. He made huge batches of it – huge! – with real loving care for both the tradition and for the family. At the Seder we always placed several generous bowls of it around the table to enjoy through the meal, and afterwards, Papú would gift each of us a jar or two – labeled with our names, and swaddled lovingly in acres of paper towel and rubber bands – so we could each keep spreading the love throughout the weeklong holiday. We spread it on matza. We spread it on cake. On cheese. Over ice cream. On spoons – it’s great straight from the jar. Ottoman Sephardim eat spoon sweets, and harosi is one more.
Harosi represents the mortar used in building the Great Pyramids of Egypt, but please let any similarity end there! As a little girl raised on delicious Sephardic food, I was convinced that at the Ashkenazi religious school I attended, they took this mortar business a tad too literally. Each year as part of our Passover lesson, they’d break out the paper plates and serve us a nasty snack of soggy, grainy, grated apples, raw, wilted and brown from oxidation, with huge hunks of walnuts and waaay too much cinnamon. I wondered, were we supposed to be eating raw cement for real? It never held together in any sense, and I truly didn’t mind when the dubious treat invariably fell from the matza and onto the floor. Even at five, six, seven years of age, in those moments I took great, if quiet, pride in my culture’s culinary superiority. (To be fair, my Ashkenazi grandma was a sensational cook, and hardly alone at that among Ashkenazi cooks. But she wisely left the harosi-making to her Sephardic in-laws).
Granted, I don’t consider my family’s harosi to be easy on the eye. It’s an opaque, purplish-brown mush, frankly, and there’s no way around that. But it’s luscious and sweet, really one of the uniquely delicious treats of Passover. Savor it all week, with some cheese and a glass of chilled white, over ice cream or Greek yogurt, or straight from the spoon. If mortar really did taste like this, those Pyramids wouldn’t have stood a chance.