Cooking

Where's Waldorf?

The classic, mayo-laden hotel salad gets a refresh
Modern Waldorf salad
Photos: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table

This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.

When dishes are named after people or places, there's a certain amount of reverence that comes along with them—and perhaps a tendency to dot every i and cross every t the exact same way it's always been done.

Take the Waldorf salad, which dates all the way back to the 1890s, when it was first made at New York City's Waldorf Hotel (which later became the Waldorf Astoria). Its combination of mayo-laden apples, celery and walnuts served on a bed of lettuce calls to mind eating in the time of grand ballrooms; dining captains; and warm, lemon-scented towels handed out after every course. But as much as we love an old-fashioned, gloppily-dressed mayo salad, let's face it: The Waldorf is in need of a refresh, hence our more invigorated version (see the recipe).

Store the vegetables in ice water before assembly to keep them crisp.

It's worth noting that as we update classic salads all month (check out our take on the wedge), one thing is clear: We never want to take a dish totally away from its roots. So with this Waldorf, we've kept the walnuts (and candied them to add more flavor and crunch), celery (here, shaved, with its leaves woven throughout the salad) and apples (cut into matchsticks for easier spearing).

There's some fresh, new stuff in there, too: Bibb and bitter lettuces replace the usual sad, wilted greens; quartered radishes add a pop of color and peppery flavor; and pickled raisins lend a hint of brine.

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The dressing is where the heavy lifting (or rather, the lightening up) comes in: Gone is the mayonnaise, replaced with a decidedly cooler, lemon- and mustard-spiked Greek yogurt dressing, rounded out around the edges with a touch of heavy cream. It still has the smooth, luscious mouthfeel that mayo brings but with a lot more flavor and less glop.

With its elegant presentation and nuanced flavors, our updated salad is still something you could picture eating in a very nice dining room, with a white tablecloth and proper place setting laid out before you. But we hope you'll tuck your napkin into your shirt, because this Waldorf mayo not take itself too seriously.

And it only took 125 years.

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