My version is simply a variation on the well-known Waldorf salad, named after the New York city luxury Waldorf hotel (later renamed the Waldorf-Astoria). The salad was created in the late 19th century by the famed Swiss chef employed at the Waldorf, Oscar Tschirky who is also credited with creating Eggs Benedict and a number of other culinary delights. He penned The Cookbook by Oscar of The Waldorf, published in 1896, available as a free download through the Internet Archive (just click on the book’s title for the link). There is quite a good photo of the author – a late 19th century celebrity chef – just opposite the title page.
However, Waldorf Salad will always be enshrined in my mind with the episode from that classic British comedy series, Fawlty Towers. It all begins with an American guest, Mr Hamilton, at a dysfunctionally run hotel in the British seaside town of Torquay. When Mr Hamilton asks for a Waldorf salad, the rather snobby innkeeper, Basil Fawlty (played by John Cleese), rather than admit his ignorance, responses with an emphatic statement that they were all out of waldorfs. But, faced with Mr Hamilton’s continued determination to have his Waldorf salad, Basil is sent into a tizzy of finding the ingredients for this unknown “foreign” food, which you can see in the short clip from YouTube below. Of course, there is much more subtle comedy to the episode than my description, due to both the excellent script and the acting of the highly talented cast. Well worth watching – as are all the Fawlty Tower episodes. Our DVDs have certainly seen a lot of use with repeated viewings.
A Waldorf salad, as a rather exasperated and red-faced Mr Hamilton shouts to Basil Fawlty, consists of celery, apple, grape and walnut in a mayonnaise dressing. But, if you look at Oscar Tschirky’s original recipe (in the image below), it had only three ingredients: apples, celery and mayonnaise.
I knew this salad, growing up in the US, as apple, celery and walnut in a creamy (mayonnaise-based) blue cheese dressing. In fact, it is still a popular salad, of which numerous variations have been created – just do a google search and you will see what I mean. The one below is my variation on the theme.
Chicory “Waldorf” Salad
The primary difference between my variation and a true Waldorf salad is the substitution of chicory for celery. And, in defence of Jane Grigson, I must say she indicates in her Vegetable Book that chicory can be used in place of celery in a Waldorf salad. She also provides the recipe for a chicory Waldorf-like salad in her book, Good Things, combining chicory with apples, walnuts, raisins, and a mild cheese, dressed with a mustard-flavoured mayonnaise. My variation, however, also substitutes the mayonnaise for a lighter Greek yogurt-based dressing which includes that British king of blue-veined cheeses, Stilton.
- 2 large chicory heads
- 1 crisp dessert apple
- 40g walnut halves (or substitute a small handful of sunflower seeds for a nut-less version)
Clean and dry the chicory heads. Remove the very end of the core, separating the outer leaves. Continue cutting and peeling away leaves until the small centre leaves have been exposed.
Slice the leaves and the small remaining core into thin slices. Place into your salad bowl. Peel and core the apple. Cut into quarters, then each quarter in half before slicing into small pieces. Add these to the chicory.
Chop half the walnuts into rough chunks, leaving the other half whole. Set these aside while you make the dressing.
Blue Cheese Dressing
Although I prefer to use Stilton, any good quality blue cheese such as Rougfort or Gorgonzola Piccante can be substituted. It should be crumbly rather than creamy.
- 50g Stilton (or other blue cheese)
- 100g Greek yogurt
- 2 Tablespoons good quality (preferably organic) cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey
Crumble the blue cheese and add with the other ingredients in a small mixing bowl.
With a fork, stir and mash the cheese into the yogurt until the dressing is smooth, but still with a few small chunks of cheese.
Fold the dressing into the chopped chicory and apple. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts, decorate the the whole ones and serve.