Made correctly, latkes rank as one of the holiday season's top foods—a crispy, salty, somewhat greasy item that elevates the potato, normally relegated to a mere backup performance, into a starring role on your table. But several years ago, my wife, who is Jewish, and some friends and I started wondering: What if, rather than just offering the traditional sour cream and applesauce with latkes, we turned the party up a notch?
Thus were born Ultimate Latkes.
Less a dish than what restaurant industry P.R. people might call a "dining concept," Ultimate Latkes combine well-made basic latkes with a huge spread of potential flavorings and toppings that guests can mix and match however they like.
The trick is to offer a broad spectrum of ingredients and toppings that go well together. You can go in any direction you like, but to kickstart your imagination, I'd recommend three different avenues for exploration—the Waffle House, nachos and loaded baked potatoes.
The Waffle House connection is obvious: hash browns, which are the highlight of any meal at the diner. Just run through the Waffle House hash browns menu for possibilities. Sautéed onions ("smothered") and diced jalapeños ("peppered") are two terrific options, and can be either applied after the latkes are made or woven into the fabric of the grated potatoes before the latkes are cooked. Consider "covering" those bad boys with melted cheese after they come out of the pan.
If you're feeling extra friendly toward your holiday guests, you might offer to "scatter" the latkes to their liking, and if you want to really wow them, you can offer chopped and grilled tomatoes ("diced") or sautéed mushrooms ("capped"). Be sure to serve them with a bottle of your favorite hot sauce, too. Crystal works well if you're going the Waffle House route.
To take your latkes on a Tex-Mex detour, offer anything that would taste good on nachos: more chopped onions and jalapeños and gooey cheese, plus guacamole or sliced avocado, black olives, pico de gallo and chopped cilantro. Also consider putting out strip-shaped corn chips to add crunch, or even black beans. If you're going tref, some chunks of bacon would work, too. More hot sauce, this time Valentina, will also be necessary. Want to incorporate a pitcher of margaritas into your holiday tradition? Go wild.
A somewhat simpler theme would nod to loaded baked potatoes. Stack your latkes with sour cream, chopped chives, grated cheese and crumbles of bacon. I'd prefer that to a baked potato any day.
However you gussy up your latkes, you'll need to still serve the classics. Sour cream would go great with almost all of what's listed above. For a fun science experiment, make your own sour cream at home by mixing whole milk with some type of acid and letting it sit overnight. (You can find tons of recipes online.) And perhaps replace bottled applesauce with a homemade apple compote. Extra labor, for sure, but you can't make something called Ultimate Latkes without putting in the work.