Dan Asher’s earliest Hanukkah memory is an unmistakable aroma in his dreams.
“I’d wake up and know right away what was going on,” Asher says. “I could smell the grated potatoes and onions and garlic frying in hot oil. It was amazing.”
Asher is the chef/partner at Boulder’s River and Woods, Denver’s Ash’Kara and other eateries. He grew up in Montreal learning how to make those traditional potato pancakes standing on a step stool next to his mother’s stove.
“She would shred the potatoes on a box grater and then squeeze out the water using a kitchen towel,” he says. “She also taught me the trick of putting cold water on your arms when you’re frying so splatters of hot oil hit the cold water, not your skin.”
Besides latkes with homemade applesauce, Asher recalls early Hanukkah menus featuring brisket, molded gelatin smoked whitefish salad with cucumber scales, rum balls, loaves of braided challah and bags of chocolate coins.
“Mom would not deviate from her recipes,” Asher says. “When I started working in restaurants when I was 14, I would start improvising. I would say: ‘Mom, you’re so afraid to change.’ She would say: ‘Danny, why would I experiment? I know it’s going to work out perfectly the way I’ve always done it.’ I realized she was also passing down family history.”
Asher and his family will welcome 15 people to their Jamestown home for a Hanukkah meal this year, when the Jewish festival of lights takes place from Dec. 7 to 15.
His menu will include two latke variations. “My mom’s latkes keep it traditional, and we’ll make my funky farm-forward root vegetable version with beets, carrots and sweet potatoes, too. My 10-year-old loves working with me on latkes. The other two are [too] young to be around hot oil,” Asher says. There will be applesauce, and the adults get sour cream with harissa spice paste for a little bit of heat.
As many families are finally getting back to large group festivities, the chef offers his best hosting advice.
“Anything and everything that you can pre-make and stage is best,” Asher says. “I’m a huge advocate for the oven set to 200 degrees to use as a hot holding unit, for things like latkes. You don’t want to make them to order.”
The point, he says, is to actually enjoy being a Hanukkah host. “When the doorbell starts ringing, hanging out and socializing are your main priority along with refilling glasses of wine.”
Asher also stresses why it is so vital to keep the gathering as stress-free as possible.
“Hanukkah is a beautiful, scheduled time when people sit down and eat together. It’s always a meaningful experience creating memories with your family and friends,” he says.
Certain things should be banned from the table to create a rich celebration, Asher suggests.. “This is not the place for politics or family conflicts and personalities,” he says. “You take a deep breath, have a good sense of humor, and have a little more kindness and a little bit more empathy.”
Chef Asher says he’s planning on participating in a live online international event Nov. 30 called Live Braid (livebraid.com). “It’s a global challah-braiding event that is literally just saying: ‘We need to peacefully come together and break bread,’” he says.
Community events: The Lafayette Menorah Lighting (5:30 p.m. Dec. 7) in Lafayette Festival Plaza on South Public Road includes live music and graffiti art, sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and hot apple cider.
The Boulder Community Menorah Lighting is 5:30 p.m. Dec. 11 on the 1300 block of Pearl Street featuring music, sufganiyot, latkes, hot cocoa and Hanukkah favors.
Local Hanukkah Food Sources
Blackbelly Market: The Hanukkah at Home package features challah and quarts of matzoh ball soup. Brisket available at the butcher counter. blackbelly.com
Kenny Lou’s Deli: Part of Lafayette’s Button Rock Bakery, the deli offers a complete Hanukkah takeout menu featuring brisket, matzoh ball soup, latkes, kugel, doughnuts and apple cake. buttonrockbakery.com
River and Woods: The restaurant’s Zimmer Honey Challah is a pre-World War II recipe given to Dan Asher by a Holocaust survivor. Loaves available every Friday with pine-lavender butter.
Pizzeria Alberico: The Dec. 8 Hanukkah at Bubbie’s meal includes a trio of latkes, matzoh ball soup, radicchio salad, pizza with smoked salmon and salmon roe, and sufganiyot. pizzeriaalberico.com
Finding Challah: Local sources of challah bread loaves include Moe’s Bagels, Breadworks, Dry Storage and Moxie Bread Co. In Longmont: Longmont Bakery, Babette’s Bakery and Whistling Boar catering. Also: Rosenberg’s Kosher in Denver.
Seasons Eatings: Sweet Rescued Flavors
Preserves handmade in Boulder using locally picked fruit by the nonprofit Community Fruit Rescue are available for the holidays. Order pear sauce, apple butter, applesauce and dried apple chips. fruitrescue.org/store.html
Local Food News: Tasteful Longmont
Get local vegetables, honey, baked goods, gifts and more at the season’s finale of the Boulder Farmers Market Winter Market, Dec. 2-3 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds in Longmont.
Longmont’s Journey Culinary offers a series of classes/dinners including Christmas Spanish Tapas Dec. 15; Peruvian Christmas Dinner Dec. 8 and 21; and a Dec. 15 Noël Francais Dinner. journeyculinary.com/class-calendar
Founded in Longmont in 2004, Ziggi’s Coffee recently announced 50 new franchise locations in the Atlanta area.
The winners of the Longmont Latino Chamber of Commerce La Feria del Tamal 2023 tamale competition are: Danny’s Tacos Y Tortas, Longmont (1st place); Adelita’s Kitchen, Westminster (2nd place); and Mi Lola, Boulder (3rd place).
Denver’s Que Bueno Suerte hosts a Tamalada – a tamale making class/gathering – on Dec. 2, 9, 16 and 23. Reservations: quebuenosuerte.com
Words to Chew On: It’s About Sex
“Food is about agriculture, about ecology, about man’s relationship with nature, about the climate, about nation-building, cultural struggles, friends and enemies, alliances, wars, religion. It is about memory and tradition and, at times, even about sex.”
– Mark Kurlansky
John Lehndorff co-hosts Kitchen Table Talk with Dan Asher on KGNU-FM on the first Thursday of each month. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org