The Thick, Sweet Condiment Every Seder Needs

Each year, in the days leading up to Passover, Ziggy Gruber makes up to 1,500 pounds of charoset. For comparison, my mom won’t make more than a pound of chopped fruit and nut mix, and there will be some left over. But when has Gruber ever done anything on a small scale?

David, whose name is Ziggy, is a third generation butcher. His grandfather, Max, arrived in New York via Budapest around the turn of the century. He found work in the city’s delicatessens until 1927, when he opened his own, the Rialto Deli, with his brothers-in-law. The Rialto, they claim, was the first deli to open on Broadway, just two years before the Great Depression hit. Amid the angst of the times, the Rialto flourished, serving Ethel Merman and the Marx Brothers. All three. Decades later, Ziggy’s father opened his own grocery store on Madison Avenue and called it Genard’s. By the time Ziggy arrived, the family had moved on, closed their prospects in town, and opened a grocery store in the decidedly quieter Spring Valley, New York.

Ziggy never really had a chance: at the age of eight, his grandfather would pawn him off to uncles and friends, send him to caterers, plan him behind the counter. As Ziggy would say, he was born to be a caterer. Fast forward a stint at Le Cordon Bleu in London and a few years cooking in some of the best kitchens in town and Ziggy has returned to the States to open his own grocery store. This time on the opposite coast.

He opened Ziggy G’s in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard in 1990, but what started out as a success quickly went sour after a dispute with an owner forced Gruber to close the place and return to his native New York. It wasn’t until 1999 that a family friend, fellow deli owner and restaurant broker called Gruber with a proposal. Come meet this guy. His name is Kenny, and he dreams of opening a Jewish grocery store in the heart of — of all places — Texas. Kenny & Ziggy’s opened in Houston later that year. They’ve since been featured in Guy Fieri’s exploration of all things epic, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” and were the focus of a 2015 documentary, aptly titled “Deli Man.”

To enter Kenny & Ziggy is to enter the pandemonium manifesto. It’s 7,500 square feet and lively, the walls are lined with picture frames – some filled with sketched caricatures of celebrities, others with photos of celebrities, posing jovially with staff and owners of the deli. The tables are always, always full. A rotating crate of cakes and pies greets you at the front door. For the Jews of Houston, it is an institution. For all the others, it is also an institution.

Most things in Houston are large and heavily air-conditioned. Kenny & Ziggy’s is no exception. The menu, like any good Jewish restaurant, is a little novel and the portions are the kind parents warn children to divide: Reubens and knishes a mile high for days, mounds of whitefish bigger than the most friendly scoops of ice cream.

In the days leading up to Passover, the kitchen receives an overwhelming wave of orders. Particularly for their charoset. Sweet and fruity chutney is the peak food of Passover, and like everything else on the seder plate, it’s steeped in meaning. It represents the mortar that the Jews, enslaved in Egypt, used to build and lay bricks. At its core, charoset is just fruits and nuts, chopped into a semi-cohesive paste. In its fullest form, it offers a myriad of interpretations. It can be sweetened with Manischewitz or livened up with dates, made crunchier with pistachio chips or silky with jam. Like Judaism, the charoset bends to the whims of local traditions. In Egypt, they might forego apples and opt instead for dates and raisins as a fruity base; in Italy, some add chestnuts. It is a malleable formula that is eaten on Passover, with a little horseradish, to remember that what is sweet must always be accompanied by what is bitter.

Ziggy’s recipe for charoset was given to him by his Hungarian grandfather, the original butcher. It’s an Ashkenazi recipe — with apples and cinnamon, bound by apricot jam and blackberry wine — that Ziggy and his kitchen team will spend the next few days preparing by truckload, literally. Every year, the deli sends two refrigerated tractor-trailers worth of sticky dough to families in Houston. If you’re in their orbit, why not order from the Ziggy himself? For those who are a little further from the delivery area, do not hesitate to make your own.


Recipe: Ziggy’s Charoset


  • 4 cups Golden Delicious apples, hand-chopped
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 3/4 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup Manischewitz blackberry wine
  • 3/4 cup smooth apricot jam
  • 2 cups chopped walnuts
  • 1 pinch of sugar, plus more to taste


  1. Mix everything and refrigerate.

Now that you have your charoset recipe, here are 10 more Passover menu ideas from our editors:

1. Martha’s Potato Kugel

Since noodles aren’t on the table during Passover, opt for the oft-overlooked potato kugel. This version is suitable for Passover, made with matzo flour, eggs, and lots of grated potatoes and onions. If you’ve never tried potato kugel, think of it as the casserole version of a potato latke – crunchy edges, with a creamy, tender center.

2. Chest of Ruth

This is a fairly classic brisket recipe for Jewish holidays with a not-so-classic ingredient: pickle brine. The FoodieYogi reviewer writes, “I think the pickle juice is the secret ingredient, plus the obvious love of the recipe from the creator!” While the added love is non-negotiable, pickle brine is really just a smart vinegar substitute that cuts down on waste and adds a little sweetness. (But feel free to use vinegar if you don’t have pickles in the fridge!)

3. Sweet and Smoky Breast

Bring some Texas flavor to your Seder table with this recipe inspired by grilled brisket. The best part of this recipe? It’s even better the next day, so you don’t get stuck in the kitchen at the last minute. Author Leah Koenig adds, “Make it the night before, then reheat the sliced ​​meat, onions, and braising liquid in the oven until hot and bubbly; the flavors really come through after straining. overnight or two in the fridge.”

4. The Great Tzimmes for Easter

Tzimmes is a traditional Ashkenazi Jewish side dish that is especially common during holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover. Root vegetables like sweet potato, yam and carrot are cooked with dried fruits until they are sticky, sweet and delicious. It’s the perfect way to round out your Seder table and a welcome addition to fatty brisket, starchy kugel and, of course, sweet nutty charoset.

5. Alice Medrich’s New Classic Coconut Macarons

Coconut macaroons are perhaps the most ubiquitous Passover dessert. But these the macaroons aren’t the ones I remember from the Seder tables of my childhood (a bit stale, ripped from plastic grocery wrapper). These cookies, from baking expert Alice Medrich, are also known as “Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies,” which should tell you everything you need to know.

6. Brown Butter Matzo Brei

If you have leftover charoset the next day, my favorite way to enjoy it is to lean on its sweet side by serving it over matzo brei with maple syrup. This brown butter brei is a welcome update to the standard recipe and adds a nutty, toasty flavor. And yes, I have not yet found a recipe not improved by brown butter.

7. Vegan Matzo Ball Soup

It’s by no means a traditional matzo ball soup (considering it’s not made with chicken broth or egg-based dumplings), but it’s a delicious comfort food to eat. during Passover. The matzo balls are made with chickpea flour and aquafaba (the starchy liquid from a can of chickpeas), which creates the necessary texture – the balls are fluffy, but still have enough body to do not collapse completely in the hot vegetable broth. Oh, and about that broth. It’s made from scratch using a delicious combination of root vegetables, whole black peppercorns, parsley and other chickpeas.

8. Garlic sautéed asparagus with toasted sesame

The beauty of Passover is that it always falls at the height of spring, which means you’ll have your pick of seasonal vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, beans, radishes, ramps and rhubarb. This asparagus preparation is a little more interesting than a simple steam-and-serve, but it is just as easy to cook and accompany with a breast or a roast chicken.

9. Barbara Kafka’s Easiest Roast Chicken

If you want a break from the usual brisket, try serving roast chicken for the seder this year. This recipe couldn’t be easier to follow, and it comes together in less than an hour, making it a simple and far from daunting option for new hosts.

10. Roasted Spring Root Vegetables in Horseradish and Thyme Butter

Bursting with a multitude of seasonal vegetables, this crowd-ready recipe is the perfect Passover side dish.