Chicken Waldorf Salad

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Waldorf Salad

All photos/art by Amy Traverso

Yesterday it felt like summer, today it’s back to early spring. My appetite goes all over the map during these in-between weeks. One day I want hearty food, the next day light. The same thing happens in the early fall, when we’re still eating summer tomatoes and peaches, but starting to see squashes at the market.

This salad makes a very good lunch or light supper for a day just like this. It’s a modern interpretation of the classic Waldorf Salad–a creation of Oscar Tschirky, the first maitre d’hotel of the Waldorf Astoria in New York.

The classic Waldorf salad was just apples and celery in mayonnaise. Over time, raisins and walnuts were added. But I’ve never been a fan of fruit in mayonnaise, or raisins in salads. So I replaced the raisins with red grapes and tossed them with apples and lettuce in a simple lemon vinaigrette. Then I mixed chicken, celery, and lots of toasted walnuts in a creamy dressing of Greek yogurt with mayo, lemon juice, tarragon, and onion. It’s like a chicken salad mixed in with a green salad combined with a fruit salad. And all those parts come together in a fresher, more flavorful whole.

Chicken Waldorf Salad

Note: A 1 1/2 pound rotisserie chicken will give you enough meat for this salad.

Active time: 30 minutes; Total time: 30 minutes

Makes: 4 servings as a lunch entree, 6 as a side dish

For the dressings:

1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice, divided

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided

1/3 cup (about 3 ounces or 100 g) reduced fat Greek-style yogurt

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon (see Notes)

1 teaspoon honey

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons minced sweet onion, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia

For the salad:

2/3 cup walnut pieces

1/2 pound breast and/or thigh meat from a rotisserie chicken

1 1/2 large celery stalks, sliced crosswise very thinly

1 cup halved seedless red grapes

1 medium apple (I recommend Cortland, Gala, Ginger Gold, or Fuji for salads because they don’t brown quickly) cored and cut into thin wedges

6 ounces butter lettuce

Equipment: 8- to 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet

  1. First, make the dressings: In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon lemon juice with the olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Set aside. In another small bowl, stir together the yogurt, mayonnaise, tarragon, honey, lemon zest, remaining salt, and pepper. Stir in onion. Set aside while you prepare the salad.

  2. Toast walnuts in skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Pour into a medium bowl and let cool as you prepare the chicken: Remove any skin and tear the chicken into 2- or 3-inch strips. Add to the bowl with the walnuts. Add the celery and the yogurt dressing and stir so that everything is evenly covered.

  3. In your serving bowl, toss the lettuce, grapes, and apple slices with the lemon-oil dressing. Spoon the chicken mixture over all. Use your hands to lightly fluff the leaves and grapes, just to make it look pretty. Serve on chilled salad plates.

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