Lauren Chattman

Lauren Chattman is a cookbook author, freelance writer and former professional pastry chef. Her recipes have appeared in

As a child, I was a hot dog purist. No ketchup or mustard for me. I preferred the straight shot of garlic and salt I got from a plain dog. All of that changed in college. I shed my fear of condiments when I became a regular consumer of the chili cheese dogs at Danny's Dogs in Brunswick, Maine, and I discovered what most people already knew: Yes, a hot dog tastes good enough unadorned. But it tastes much better when it's covered in spicy bean and beef chili and gooey cheese.

Since then, I've been open to the expanding array of hot dog toppings suggested by various hot dog vendors (Los Angeles food truck king Roy Choi's kimchee and salad-topped hot dog is legendary), restaurateurs (Danny Meyer serves a hot pepper and relish-topped hot dog,) and Food Network stars (Bobby Flay smothers a hot dog in guacamole, salsa and crushed tortilla chips).

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There are few rules these days about what you can put on top of hot dogs. Olives and feta cheese take them in a Mediterranean direction. A salsa made of avocado, mango and tomato nudges them south of the border. Crumbled potato chips deliver welcome crunch. Potato salad turns a humble snack into a one-dish meal.

The question first becomes: How do you cook these dogs before dressing them? Grilling and pan-frying are great if you like a little crispness and caramelizing. But there's always a danger they will dry out if left on the grill or in the pan too long. In my opinion, boiling is best because it produces a plump and juicy hot dog that practically pops when you bite into it.

For topped dogs, I prefer lightly toasted buns, which won't disintegrate under the weight of beans, barbecue sauce and cheese, and can absorb excess moisture from a delicious but damp cucumber salsa.