In my half-Jewish family, latkes were a coveted once-a-year food. My health-conscious Catholic mother, who learned how to make potato pancakes from someone or other (certainly not my cooking-impaired Jewish father) made them on the first night of Hanukkah every year. We ate them just before lighting our menorah and saying the Hanukkah prayer. She always served them in the same way: layers of latkes with paper towels in between, and sour cream and apple sauce on the side. Pretty standard as latkes go.
Since I left home, I must confess I've been a bit lax in the menorah-lighting department. In the latke department, however... I excel. I've spent the past six nights making and tasting (okay, mostly tasting) latkes that are outside the traditional potato pancake box.
For those who have grown bored with the sour cream and apple sauce combo and are looking to reinvent the latke, I've rounded up some unorthodox (and un-reform, un-conservative and un-reconstructionist) alternatives—some I've tried and some I want to try—that are guaranteed to have you and whoever you're feeding latkes to gobbling away for the last two nights of Hanukkah:
Passover Latke: Combine two Jewish holidays in one! Though there may not be any unleavened bread on the Passover seder plate, there are a host of other ingredients that just happen to make excellent latke toppings. Use a spoonful of charoset, a mixture of nuts, grated apples, cinnamon and red wine, for a new take on the apple theme. Or, for the daring, use a dab of horseradish and a slice of gefilte fish. For a less literal interpretation of the horseradish motif, the New York Times has an excellent recipe involving whipped cream, horseradish, chives, black pepper and smoked trout.
Greek Latke: The same New York Times article recommends using Greek yogurt as a latke base and sprinkling it with pomegranate seeds and drizzling it with honey. You could also take a savory approach to the Mediterranean theme by using an olive tapenade, sundried tomatoes and feta cheese. Here's another idea: use Greek-style tzatziki yogurt and top with cucumbers, garlic, lemon and dill.
South-of-the-Border Latke: Top your latke with sour cream, and add cilantro, onion and a squeeze of lime. Throw some jalapeno peppers in with your potato mix to add a kick. Cooking Light has a great recipe along these lines.
The Breakfast Latke: If you think about it, latkes aren't so far removed from a veritable breakfast staple: hash browns. To add a savory taste, finely chop the sausage (turkey, to keep it kosher!) of your choice, and mix in a delicious fruit. (Figs work well here, or you could just choose a chicken apple sausage to give that hint of sweetness.) Drizzle with real maple syrup to finish, or use a gourmet maple butter to act as a medium for the sausage (or to keep it not kosher). Adventurous latke eaters could try eggs Florentine using a latke instead of the traditional English muffin. Who says latkes are only dinner fare?
The "Everyone Loves Caviar" Latke: Lox would probably be more appropriate here, but I tasted this style the other day and couldn't get enough of it. The Times recommends spreading salmon cream cheese on the latke and adding salmon caviar. This is one of the swankier options that will truly leave an impression on any Hanukkah guest.