My late Mom’s Waldorf Salad is a a versatile vintage salad recipe featuring crisp apples, crunchy walnuts and a delicious lemon spiked dressing. Like so many vintage recipes, Waldorf Salad has evolved dramatically over the years, and it seems like everyone has a different version in their recipe box. It goes without saying that my Mom’s version is my favourite, and always gets rave reviews when I serve it. However, in my opinion, there is no wrong way to prepare this versatile salad, although its creator might disagree with me.
The History of Waldorf Salad
Waldorf Salad was created by Oscar Tschirky for a society luncheon at New York City’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 1893. It was a deliciously easy and fashionable way to serve 1500 people, especially as salads were just coming into vogue at that time. Oscar’s recipe, as published in the The Cookbook by Oscar of The Waldorf, is a simple paragraph. It calls for two raw apples cut in one inch dice, along with some celery “cut in the same way”. Oscar finished this very short recipe with “The salad must be dressed with good mayonnaise.” Of course, Oscar must have upped the quantity of apples and celery when he made the recipe for the 1500 people!
I am lucky to be able to say that I have eaten Waldorf Salad all over the world, including at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York where Oscar Tschirky first created it. On a visit a few years ago, I was intrigued to see that even there they have deviated from the original recipe, including not only some delightfully addictive candied walnuts but also diced celeriac and microgreens. The dressing was spiked with truffle oil, making the flavour ever so slightly earthy.
Oscar did not use walnuts in his original recipe. Apples, celery and mayonnaise were the only ingredients. Not only did my Mom include the walnuts, she also liked to add diced cooked chicken breast. I like both these additions, but I have no hesitation in leaving out the chicken if it’s a day we are eating meat free or if I have vegetarian guests.
The Salad Dressing
Mom originally included lemon juice in her Waldorf Salad simply to keep the apples from going brown. Happily, it also adds a delightful tang and freshness to the dressing. Speaking of apples, I like to use red ones if I can as their skin gives a wonderful colour to the salad.
It’s important to use your favourite mayonnaise. Mom always used Miracle Whip. I’m not sure Oscar would have approved but I sure did! That said, I actually prefer to use Hellmann’s Extra Light Mayonnaise now as I like the flavour and it is lower in calories. Again, I can feel Oscar scowling at me, but never mind.
Doesn’t Waldorf Salad Included Grapes?
As I mentioned above, the ingredients for the original recipe for Waldorf Salad were simply apples, celery and good mayonnaise. Grapes were not a part of Oscar’s recipe, nor my Mom’s, but if you want to include them, please don’t let me stop you. I suggest you halve the grapes as it makes the salad easier to eat and it looks pretty.
Is Waldorf Salad Gluten Free?
If the mayonnaise you use is gluten free, then yes, my Mom’s recipe is naturally gluten free. (Most mayonnaise is gluten-free but please check the label to be sure.)
Is Waldorf Salad Healthy?
All the ingredients except the mayonnaise are wholesome. Apples, celery and walnuts all offer numerous health benefits and contain vitamins, minerals and fibre. I try to add as little mayonnaise as possible – just enough to bind the salad together.
How Can I Make This Recipe Vegetarian or Vegan?
For a vegetarian version of this recipe, simply leave out the chicken. To make the recipe vegan, leave out the chicken and use vegan mayonnaise.
Serving Waldorf Salad
You can either serve the salad from a serving bowl, allowing everyone to help themselves, or divide it between four plates or salad bowls for a main course salad. (The recipe will serve at least 6 as an appetizer or side.) I like to serve Waldorf Salad over lettuce, but it’s perfectly fine on its own. This recipe is great for buffets and is easily doubled or tripled to serve a crowd. Leftovers will keep for up to 24 hours in the fridge. They also make a great packed lunch the following day.
Vintage Waldorf Salad – Printable Recipe
- 3 apples, cored and diced (cut into small squares) Do not peel the apples.
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 5 sticks of celery, diced This is about half a cup.
- 2 cooked chicken breasts, diced Leave out for a vegetarian or vegan option.
- ¾ cup walnut halves
- 8 tablespoons good mayonnaise Use your favourite brand, be sure it is gluten-free and/or vegan if required
- ½ teaspoon celery salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried flat leaf parsley, optional
- Put the diced apples in a large mixing bowl.
- Stir in the lemon juice.
- Chop most of the walnuts roughly, keeping a few halves aside for garnish.
- Add the diced celery, cooked chicken breast and chopped walnuts to the apples in the large mixing bowl.
- Add the mayonnaise, a bit at a time, until the ingredients are well coated. You may need slightly more or less mayonnaise.
- Sprinkle the celery salt and ground pepper over the top of the salad and stir through thoroughly.
- Taste the salad for seasoning, adding a bit more pepper if you feel it is needed.
- Transfer the Waldorf Salad to a serving bowl and if time allows, refrigerate for about an hour before serving.
- Toss the reserved walnut halves over top for garnish.
- Sprinkle with parsley before serving, if desired.
- Refrigerate leftovers and use within 24 hours.