Ever since I was a kid, I’ve found myself simultaneously drawn to and repelled by Waldorf salad. The attraction, no doubt, originated in the discovery that something deemed a salad might be laden with fruit and nuts. Today it’s standard for apples, raisins, and walnuts to be added to salads, but growing up in the early 80s, as I did, a salad usually meant iceberg lettuce, a couple of sickly tomatoes, cucumber slices, and some julienned carrots. At the same time, I’ve always been repulsed by Waldorf salads because like many typical summery salads, they tend to be doused in mayonnaise, which I just loathe.
This recipe from Gourmet (October 1995) via Epicurious , takes the traditional Waldorf and tips it on its head to create a light, summery, and utterly healthy dish for those who, like me, appreciate a sweeter salad. The Waldorf, invented in the late 1800s at New York’s Waldorf Hotel (later the Waldorf-Astoria), typically consists of walnuts, apples, celery, and raisins, coated in a dressing of mayo and lemon juice, and served over lettuce. This incarnation is a much healthier spin, with fruit, fiber, and a whole lot of texture. Instead of drowning in mayo, the reinvented Waldorf is barely dressed, allowing its flavorful ingredients to shine through. Just a touch of orange juice and rice vinegar keep the salad moist and pull everything together.
The other big change from the traditional Waldorf is the addition of wheat berries. I was skeptical at first, having had made some not-so-hot wheat berry salads in the past, but here they were a lovely addition. Not only did they make the salad hearty enough to stand on its own, but they provided a slight nuttiness and a great chewy texture to balance the crisp apples and crunchy walnuts. If you don’t like wheat berries, you could substitute another grain like barley, but I think the wheat berries work very nicely. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at how well this recipe turned out and happy to have finally found a Waldorf salad that I can truly enjoy.
Reinvented Waldorf salad (4-6 servings)
4 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup wheat berries
2 tablespoons walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 Gala or McIntosh apple
1 Granny Smith apple
1 celery rib, sliced thin
2/3 cup packed fresh mint leaves, washed well, spun dry, and chopped
1/2 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup golden raisins (I substituted craisins)
2 scallions, chopped
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3/4 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1. In a saucepan bring water and salt to a boil and add wheat berries. Simmer wheat berries, covered, 1 1/2 hours, or until tender. Drain wheat berries in a colander and cool to room temperature.
2. Cut apples into 1/2-inch chunks and in a large bowl toss with wheat berries and all remaining ingredients. Season salad with salt and pepper and serve alone or over lettuce.