I am not quite sure why, but whenever I envision Waldorf Salad I picture a terribly gloppy, over dressed, creamy salad full of flavor and texture-but also full of fat and calories. For this reason, I never want to eat it, as it appears to be the anti-salad. By way of background- the Waldorf Salad was first created somewhere in the late 1890's at the Waldorf Hotel in New York city. Interesting to note, apparently it was not created by the chef at the Waldorf, but instead the Maitre d'hotel. Classically it consisted of simply apples, celery and mayonnaise laid over lettuce greens (walnuts, now a staple, were not added til later). I believe that this is why I have had so much distaste for it over time-too much mayonnaise. However, last night I was craving a refreshing salad, different from my usual artillery of dinner salads that I make for myself and decided to try to lighten it up a bit while making it a bit heartier for dinner.
I started off by dousing a few thin cut chicken breasts in raspberry vinegar, a little salt and pepper, and then a quick drizzle of canola oil. I heated my grill pan, and placed them in in a single layer once it was hot. The great thing about any flavored vinegar is that the flavor it imparts can be so light. A quick marinade will give the chicken this very light flavor which holds really nicely in the background. I've been semi obsessed lately with making salad dressing combining the vinegar and lime infused olive oil- delicious.
I digress. While the chicken was pan grilling, I started chopping my fruits and veggies- combining 3/4 of a granny smith apple, a handful or two of sliced green grapes, two stalks of thinly sliced celery, a few very thin slices of red onion (I add it to everything!), and then I crumbled in just a couple of handfuls of walnuts.
One thing I love about thin cut chicken breasts is how quickly they cook. A few minutes on each side-and lovely chicken is ready! Once the chicken was done grilling, I pulled it off, and laid it to the side to rest while I made the dressing. Again-I was trying to lighten this dish a bit, but I didn't want to lose the creamy factor all together. So in a small bowl I combined light mayonnaise, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and white balsamic vinegar. The finished product had a really nice flavor to it combining cream with tang and just a little bit of heat.
After cutting the chicken into bite size chunks, I added a few handfuls of salad greens, poured the dressing over the top and shook my salad so the dressing was evenly distributed-always the fun part of salad making. A quick plating, a pour of a crisp, cool glass of white wine, and dinner was served.
So I know that it isn't, in anyway way, classic Waldorf Salad- however it was a darn good take on it! Light and crisp with amazing texture combinations and great flavors-I loved it. The apples and the grapes added that great fruit sweetness without overshadowing the more savory components, which seemed to really ground the dish. What I really enjoyed was that the chicken seemed to tie the two together with providing the savory backbone, but the hint of fruit sweetness. Delicious. This is now definitely on my repertoire of salads-especially as spring and summer are fast approaching and simple, crisp and refreshing salad will be in high demand!