Waldorf salad has claimed a place for itself as an American classic, a dish that since its creation more than 100 years ago, has become a table favorite. Variations of the Waldorf abound, both simple and complex, but the foundation always remains the same. It comes down to three simple ingredients: red-skinned apples, celery and mayonnaise.
Oscar Tschirky (1866-1950), once maître d’hôtel at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, gets credit for the original Waldorf salad recipe. From its introduction in 1893, Tschirky’s salad became one of the hotel’s signature dishes and a favorite of diners. Cole Porter gave a nod to the dish in his 1934 song “You’re the Top” with the lyric “You’re the top, you’re a Waldorf salad. . . ." The Waldorf salad also claimed the spotlight in a March 1979 episode of the British sitcom "Fawlty Towers."
Tschirky includes his Waldorf recipe in his cookbook "The Cook Book, by Oscar of the Waldorf,” published in 1896. Tschirky gives easy-to-follow instructions: “Peel two raw apples and cut them into small pieces, say about half an inch square, also cut some celery the same way, and mix it with the apple. Be very careful not to let any seeds of the apples be mixed with it. The salad must be dressed with a good mayonnaise.”
That classic combination inspired dozens of variations. Chopped walnuts became the first addition to the dish served at the Waldorf Astoria, and over time, became a key ingredient along with raisins or grapes. In the mid-1900s the dish saw this variation: lemon Jell-O, apples, celery and walnuts with a whipped cream and mayonnaise dressing. Imaginative cooks adapt the original recipe by tossing in chicken, turkey, ham, pineapple, mandarin oranges, dried cherries or cranberries and blue or cheddar cheese. Some chefs prefer tart apples or pears to red-skinned apples, or pecans instead of walnuts. Others flavor the salad with lemon, honey, cinnamon or nutmeg.
Recreate the classic Waldorf salad with this recipe:
3 medium Red Delicious or other sweet red-skinned apples, cut in 1-inch cubes (about two cups cubed) 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1 cup thinly sliced celery ½ cup mayonnaise
Toss apple cubes with lemon juice. Add celery and mayonnaise and stir to evenly coat the apple and celery pieces. For a variation, add ¼ cup chopped walnuts, raisins or sliced red or green grapes.
Apples and celery give Waldorf salad a nutrition boost, but lightening the mayonnaise dressing reduces fat and cholesterol, making it an even healthier dish. Use reduced-fat or fat-free mayonnaise, or plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt, in lieu of full-fat mayonnaise. Add a small amount of walnuts or grapes to up the heart-healthy fats, antioxidants and fiber.