Albóndigas de Pesach
I’ve always been superstitious about throwing away keys. It could be a tiny gold key to a tweenage diary, an extra hotel key I forgot to return, or a loose spare to a forgotten door in a past dorm, house or apartment. I’ll be ready to toss it then have a last minute misgiving that makes me put it back in the drawer, giving in to the anxiety that I’ll be faced with a lock I can’t open. That’s probably why I was so fascinated when I heard about Jewish families in Spain who kept the keys to their homes after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. A poignant detail in a larger history that’s always stood out in my mind. Convinced it was a misguided policy of Queen Isabella’s that would soon be corrected, they kept their keys with them. Another story I heard soon after that’s very popular, is about a man who stopped by a local bar in Toledo to ask directions to the house where his family had lived five hundred years before. Sent to a nearby address and carrying the key they had saved, he came back a few minutes later, shaken, only able to get out the words, it worked.
These were the stories I had running around my mind when I decided to make something from A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain’s Secret Jews by David Gitlitz and Kay Davidson. I’m always rifling through the Strand shelves and Housing Works tables for books and this is one of my favorite finds. With matzah piling high in the grocery stores, I decided to try a Passover recipe for haroset is formed into small balls then rolled in sugar and drizzled with vinegar (not honey). Each recipe has a name and a story and this one comes from Diego Díaz Nieto. Descended from a family of Portuguese conversos, he traveled through Flanders, Ferrara, Venice, Rome, Genoa, Barcelona and finally Mexico where his description of haroset was recorded by inquisitors in 1601.
The authors tried to focus on ingredients that would have been available during the period but, comparing it to other recipes on Epicurious, Saveur and similar sites, I considered making a few changes. Unsure if it could hold it’s shape, would a few pulses in a food processor really be so bad? If it’s traditionally served at Passover, couldn’t I swap the vinegar for sweet wine? In the end, I followed the recipe. It had found its way so improbably to my Brooklyn kitchen that it only seemed right to prepare it as written.
Diego Díaz Nieto’s Albóndigas de Pesach/Diego Díaz Nieto’s Haroset Balls
Barely adapted from A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain’s Secret Jews by David Gitlitz and Kay Davidson. The original recipe worked as promised, mashing not processing. I only made minor notes to indicate which tools I used. I also ended with almost twice as much haroset as indicated so I made minor changes to the amount of rolling sugar and vinegar needed.
2 apples, cored and finely diced
6 tablespoons almonds, chopped
6 tablespoons dates, chopped
6 tablespoons raisins
12 chestnuts, cooked and peeled
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar, plus more as needed.
White vinegar to drizzle
In a large mixing bowl, combine the diced apples, almonds, dates, raisins, and chestnuts. Mash together the ingredients using a potato masher or similar tool (I used a pastry cutter). Add one tablespoon of sugar and cinnamon and mix. Place the remaining sugar in a bowl.
Form the haroset into 1-inch balls. Roll them in sugar and place on plate. Add more sugar as needed.
Arrange the haroset balls on a platter or individual plates. Spoon the vinegar over them, approximately 1 tablespoons to three balls. Let them stand until vinegar is absorbed and eat with a fork or serve on matzah.
Serve immediately or refrigerate until serving.
Makes 25-30 1-inch balls.