Some dishes now considered classics gained that status because they combine a few ingredients in a simple, but palate pleasing way.
One example is Waldorf salad, which lore suggests was first served at a charity ball for New York’s St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, March 14, 1893, over 129 years ago. That event was the first one ever held at the Waldorf Hotel, the salad’s namesake, which apparently had just opened for business the day before.
Edouard Beauchamp, the hotel’s first executive chef, and Oscar Tschirky, its first maître d’hôtel, created the menu for the ball. Tschirky wasn’t a chef, but he must have had some culinary prowess, because he is credited with creating the Waldorf salad and published his recipe for it in 1896 in a book called The Cook Book, by “Oscar” of the Waldorf.
His Waldorf salad was not complicated; a mix of prepared and cut apples and celery tossed with good mayonnaise. That mix of crisp, refreshing apple, crunchy celery and tangy, rich mayonnaise must have appealed, because the salad was a hit and it eventually began being served in other hotels, restaurants and people’s homes.
As time moved along, other ingredients were added to the salad, including at the what’s now called the Waldorf Astoria hotel, such as walnuts, other fresh fruit, particularly grapes, and/or dried fruit, such as raisins. You’ll even find recipes where mini marshmallows are added to the salad, a way-too-sweet addition I’m certain the refined Oscar Tschirky would not have approved of.
My version of salad sees thin slices of red apple, sliced celery, toasted walnuts and juicy grapes tossed with lemon-flavoured mayonnaise before being served on chopped lettuce.
This perfect for autumn salad can be served as a light meal or as a starter, perhaps for Thanksgiving dinner. The recipe serves four, but could be halved if only serving two, or doubled, if feeding a larger group.
My version of the classic salad sees an appealing, mayonnaise-tossed, apple, celery, walnut and grape mixture served on a bed of crisp lettuce.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: five minutes
Makes: four servings
1 cup (about 100 grams) walnut pieces
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 medium red apples, such as Spartan, Fuji or Honey Crisp, halved, cored and thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1 cup seedless red or purple grapes, left whole (if small) or halved (see Note)
8 cups chopped romaine or leaf lettuce
Place walnuts in a skillet and set over medium heat. Heat and stir walnuts until lightly toasted, about five minutes. Transfer walnuts to a plate and cool to room temperature.
Place the mayonnaise, lemon juice and parsley in a mixing bowl, season with salt and pepper, and mix to combine. Add the walnuts, apples, celery and grapes and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate apple mixture until ready to make the salads. It can be made an hour or so before needed.
To make the salads, divide the lettuce between four plates. Artfully arrange some of apple mixture on the lettuce on each plate and serve.
Note: I used B.C.-grown, deeply hued, coronation grapes in the salad. You’ll find them for sale at some stores offering a fine array of local produce.
Eric’s options: To make this salad more of a meal, you could also top it with cubes or crumbled pieces of cheese, such as aged cheddar, Gouda, goat or blue. Cheeses that will work well with the apples, grapes, celery and walnuts.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.