During the gilded age, the maitre d’hotel of the Waldorf Hotel in New York, Oscar Tschirky, created the Waldorf salad. In 1896 the recipe appeared in a cookbook and the salad proved to be a classic through the years. Waldorf salad became so famous it was featured in the Cole Porter song “You’re the Top” in 1928.
For classics, simplicity is key, whether it’s Mozart in music or Goya on canvas. Classic implies balance, clarity of form, objectivity and emotional restraint, ancient Greek Apollonian standards.
When Oscar of the Waldorf invented the salad, it was comprised of only apples, celery and mayonnaise on a bed of lettuce. Not long after, walnuts were added. This deceptively simple salad has been a favourite side or light entrée for over one hundred years.
Naturally, when you have a simple classic, some smart-alecks will come along and add something or change something. That’s okay, if it is really good, perhaps it could get it’s own name. People add chicken, turkey, confit, grapes, raisins etc. etc. to it. Others (or maybe even them) will season the mayo or suggest yoghurt. That’s okay, but will it stand the test of time? Well that doesn’t concern us here. We just want to know if it tastes good.
I see an updated Waldorf salad recipe in a delightful cookbook by Deirdre Davis a contributor to Bon Appetit magazine. Entitled: Side Dishes Creative and Simple, it has a Waldorf salad that employs Bulgur. I love bulgur and cook it like rice pilaf.
Forty years ago I could hardly find bulgur except in ethnic markets in big cities. A health food store clerk looks puzzled and asks what bulgur is. I say it is cracked wheat that is par-boiled and dried. She looks at me strangely. But now, bulgur is commonly available.
Although this is not the classic Waldorf salad, it’s really terrific. I have changed her recipe a little, because I’m really interested in the bulgur. You can enjoy this vegetarian dish on meatless Monday or some other day you eschew meat; or add meats to it if you prefer. WALDORF BULGUR SALAD is a light, clean, refreshingly delicious dish, which of course can be freely varied.
Serves about six
1 cup of medium granulation bulgur
4 tablespoons of good olive oil, or walnut oil, divided
1 cup of hot water
2 large stalks of celery, chopped
1 large green apple, chopped, peeled if you wish
½ cup of broken walnuts
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons lemon juice, more if desired
Romaine or red leaf lettuce or your choice
Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a saucepan and turn on the heat. Add the bulgur and stir until thoroughly coated. Add the water, bring to a boil and then cover and let stand a few minutes to cook tender. If necessary add more water Taste it to see if it is soft. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Add the celery, apple, walnuts, ½ teaspoon salt and some pepper and 3 tablespoons of oil. Mix thoroughly. Marinate in the refrigerator at least one hour to blend flavours.
When ready to serve, toss the salad and taste for salt, pepper and lemon juice. Serve over chopped lettuce.
This is a little like Tabouli of course, but I think it is a wonderful chilled dish and I hope you’ll try it.