Having enjoyed a variety of crisp homegrown apples over the last few weeks my taste buds have been calling for one of my favourites, a Waldorf salad. The ingredients are perfectly seasonal right now, and this salad is so well known that it hardly needs a recipe, unless, like Basil Fawlty, it has somehow escaped one’s notice, in which case you are in for a treat. Oscar Tschirky is credited with the creation of the Waldorf salad, whilst working as maître d’hôtel at the then Waldorf Hotel, New York, around 1893. In 1896 he published a cookery book, in which the original recipe appeared, comprising apples, celery, and mayonnaise. Walnuts, it seems, were a later addition, as are various other ingredients that now find their way into this simple but delicious salad.
Aside from the now well established addition of the walnuts, there are other variants than one might consider. Common amongst them is the addition of grapes or raisins. I much prefer sultanas to raisins, some of which can be nasty gritty little things, and I have always added them to my Waldorf salad, as, to my mind, they add a flavour and texture that is otherwise absent. The usual combination of juicy sharp apples, crunchy celery, creamy mayonnaise, and the richness of the nuts, is complimented by the sweetness and chewy texture of the sultanas, and I think they are a great addition. I must try it sometime with grapes, as I suspect these contribute similar qualities. One addition I really do not like to see is white cabbage, which seems quite prevalent amongst supermarket offerings. Although I enjoy cabbage in salads, to include it in a Waldorf salad does not make sense to me; it is just not the same thing anymore. A further variation is in the use of yoghurt instead of mayonnaise. I have never tried it, but I think I will stick with mayonnaise, although in either case the salad should not be swimming in dressing as it sometimes seems to be.
Waldorf salad is best prepared and eaten fresh, and it only takes a few minutes. Like all simple recipes, it relies on the quality of its few ingredients; if made with limp celery or mealy or insipid apples, the whole thing will be quite disappointing. The apples should be crisp, juicy, and with a little acidity. A good aromatic dessert type is ideal. Whether the apples are peeled or not is a matter of personal preference. I tend to peel them, as I think the texture of the salad is better without the skin. The celery must be crisp; thus, the outer stalks are to be preferred over the heart. Some recipes suggest that the walnuts be lightly toasted, but I prefer not to add such a smoky flavour.