There are only a few dishes iconic enough to pull off having their own names; the Caesar salad, the Margherita pizza, Chicken a la King, and Hoppin’ John are the Stings and Madonnas of the food world. Another such dish is the Waldorf Salad. Created in the 1890s at the famed Waldorf Hotel, the salad was dreamed up by Oscar Tschirky, who included it in a cookbook of dishes featured at the hotel.
The original Waldorf was simple: apples, celery, a little lemon and freshly made mayonnaise. Since the salad’s splash onto the culinary scene more than one hundred years ago, plenty of cooks have had their way with it. It is common to see a Waldorf studded with walnuts and grapes, or even cauliflower. Some chefs do away with mayo and improvise dressings made from cream, yogurt or sweet vinaigrettes.
The charm of the Waldorf lies in its irresistible combination of crunchy-sweet apples, crisp celery and rich dressing. Don’t hold yourself to the tried and true; you can make an apple salad that is just as appealing with your own tweaks. Chopped apples with toasted nuts, grated carrots and jicama can make a great crunchy salad base. Toss in cooked whole grains, like wheat berries or wild rice, for a chewy, more filling salad. Top it with cooked chicken or cheese cubes for a main course salad that will surely satisfy.
Apple salads are best made without peeling the apples, since the peel adds special crunch, nutrients and color. For a lean dressing, stir together yogurt, lemon and honey (instead of mayo), or go with a lemon vinaigrette. For an Asian take on the Waldorf, substitute coconut milk for mayo and add water chestnuts, celery and scallions.
The Waldorf Salad may be an oldie, but it’s still a goodie. It just goes to show the timeless appeal of apples, no matter how you dress them up.