There’s no debate about where the first Apple Waldorf salad recipe came from: the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City, in about 1893.
But there’s plenty of debate about what ingredients go into a classic Waldorf salad. The original recipe was extremely simple: red-skinned apples, celery, and mayonnaise. Over time various chefs (professional and amateur alike) have added other ingredients – walnuts, raisins or grapes, lettuce, sour cream, even marshmallows.
The great maitre d’ of the Waldorf at the time the recipe was created, Oscar Tschirky, is thought by some to have created the recipe. He was definitely a contributor of ideas to many of the recipes emanating from the Waldorf hotel kitchen, and coming up with an apple Waldorf salad recipe of only three ingredients doesn’t seem like the greatest culinary feat, on first blush. But Oscar was the first to publish it, in a cook book called simply The Cook Book, in 1896, and we can certainly thank him for laying the groundwork (in print at least) for countless variations and elaborations.
Our kids love a version with mini marshmallows in it, but I find the concept of marshmallows frightening in just about anything – not having much of a sweet tooth. In fact, this Apple Waldorf salad recipe is plenty sweet with no marshmallows and no sugar, which many recipes would have you add as well.
Another point of debate is on whether a Waldorf salad should contain lettuce. The fact is, if you start with the three basic ingredients – diced apples, celery, and mayonnaise – and embellish with other ingredients you fancy (or those you have on hand), you’ll probably wind up with a decent salad worth of the name.
This version is a more adventurous version of the lettuce and walnut conviction. I chose red seedless grapes instead of raisins because I found some very good ones at my greengrocer’s; but raisins will do – just soak them in warm water for a few minutes, then squeeze to remove excess moisture; this will plump them up nicely. And I toasted the walnuts to bring out their flavor more.
I made the version in the photographs for a big family gathering – there was more than enough to feed ten of us! I’ve cut the measurements significantly in the Apple Waldorf salad recipe below to make a salad that will serve four adults.
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 large red apples, cored then diced (leave skins on)
2 T lemon juice (find the best juicer here)
4 celery stems, sliced 1/4″ thick or less
1 green onion, white and a little of the green, minced
1 Belgian endive, leaves cut into 1-2″ sections
1/4 cup diced fennel or anise
6-8 leaves of romaine lettuce, cut into 1-2″ squares
1 cup seedless red grapes, removed from stems
1. Toast the walnut pieces in a skillet on medium low heat, stirring carefully. Don’t do anything else while you do this, unless you have a mind like a steel trap, as you may burn them. Once the walnuts give off a strong walnut aroma, remove the skillet from the heat and remove the walnut pieces from the skillet; place in a small bowl to cool.
2. Core and dice the apples; add to salad bowl.
3. Add the lemon juice to the apples and stir. This will help keep the apple pieces from browning.
4. Dice the celery. For the wider end of the celery stalks, add a couple of vertical slits so the resulting pieces aren’t too long. Add to salad bowl.
5. Mince the green onion, and add half of it to the salad bowl; keep the other half in case you decide you need more onion. Cut the endive and add as well.
6. The fennel or anise bulb is very optional – most people at our family dinner couldn’t even taste that it was there, but I think the licorice flavor adds a little something extra. Dice it and add. Make sure you don’t use the stalk of fennel or anise as it can be quite pithy.
7. Add the destemmed grapes, or raisins that have been soaked in warm water for a few minutes and then drained.
8. Wash, dry and cut the lettuce. If you’re planning some of this for leftovers, you may want to keep the lettuce separate, mix the other ingredients (including the dressing), then split the salad in half; add lettuce to the half you’re serving now, and add lettuce to the leftovers later, as the lettuce can get soggy after being in a salad for more than a couple of hours.
The simplest dressing for an apple Waldorf salad recipe is, of course, mayonnaise, but a blend of half mayo, half sour cream gives it a creamier flavor. I added a hint of paprika both for flavor and to give it a pleasant, slightly coral color.
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup sour cream (or yogurt)
1/2 tsp paprika
Mix these ingredients together and toss into salad.
Our kids like an Apple Waldorf salad recipe without lettuce or onions, and with marshmallows added – it makes a great dessert. Any way you make it, just about everyone seems to enjoy a Waldorf salad of one kind or another. My daughter, in fact, had leftover Waldorf for breakfast today!