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  • Writer's picturedeborahreinhardt

Lightened-Up Waldorf Salad

Diced apples, celery, pecans, and dried cranberries in a creamy yogurt dressing create a delicious update to a familiar side dish.

Waldorf salad, diced apples, celery, cranberries, pecans, on yogurt dressing served in crystal bowl
Lightened-Up Waldorf salad

I knew as a kid when a mixture of apples, celery, nuts, and grapes appeared on our table in one of Mom’s pretty cut-glass bowls, dinner was going to be special. We didn’t have Waldorf Salad unless it was a holiday or company was coming. It’s funny but I still see this traditional side dish as something offered on a special occasion.

So, when a friend recently invited me to dinner to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, I knew what I’d bring after learning apples were part of their holiday meal. Yes, I know traditional Jewish tables might simply have apple slices drizzled with honey, but my friend gave this Methodist some grace; she did, however, remind me that she’s not a mayonnaise fan.

“This only has a tiny bit,” I explained.

I’m happy to say it was a huge hit with her and the whole family! The secret to my Lightened-Up Waldorf Salad, you see, is a dressing made with vanilla Green yogurt; only 1 tablespoon of mayo is used, and that’s simply for balancing flavors.

My mom’s Waldorf Salad—the traditional recipe—contained a full cup of real (not light) mayonnaise. According to the website Nutritionix, a cup of traditional Waldorf is 247 calories with 20 grams of fat and 17 grams of carbohydrates, most of which coming from sugar.

By comparison, my lightened-up recipe has about 130 calories and 6 grams of fat, about the same in carbs (16.6 grams), but no added sugar. The flavored yogurt and sweet cranberries provide enough sweetness to the salad.

To make my Lightened-Up Waldorf Salad recipe, which yields eight servings, you’ll need these ingredients:

  • 3 apples, diced (recommend 2 Granny Smith and 1 Jonathan or Honeycrisp)

  • 1 large stalk celery, diced

  • ½ cup dried cranberries

  • ½ cup pecans, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

  • 1 (5-ounce) container vanilla Green full-fat yogurt

  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise

  • Fresh basil, optional garnish

home cook slices a green apple with chef knife in half on her cutting board

Directions for Making Lightened-Up Waldorf Salad

Wash apples but leave skin on fruit (it makes a better presentation). Cut “cheeks” off apples, moving around the core. Slice cheeks, then cut slices into thirds to dice. I like a finer dice for Waldorf Salad; your preference may be different.

Put diced apples in a mixing bowl and toss with lemon juice to keep fruit from browning. Granny Smith apples tend to turn much slower than other apples; another reason I like them in this recipe. By the way, do you know why apples brown after cutting them? According to the folks at Gladd, apples contain an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (PPO). When this enzyme encounters oxygen, it turns colorless compounds into a brown pigment called melanin. Science! Back to the recipe.

Soak dried cranberries in a mug of hot tap water for about 10 minutes to rehydrate them. Drain and add to apples.

Cut celery in half and remove strings. Cut each half into thirds and dice. Add to the salad.

Add chopped pecans (walnuts would also be a good substitute) to salad.

In a small bowl, combine yogurt and mayonnaise. Add to salad bowl and mix well until combined.

How to store Directions for Making Lightened-Up Waldorf Salad

Surprisingly, if kept in an air-tight glass container, this salad will keep three of four days in the refrigerator. The pecans may soften a little, but the flavor remains intact.

History of Waldorf Salad

As you’d suspect, Waldorf Salad originated at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, which has been closed for several years. First made in 1896 for a children’s hospital charity ball, it’s believed maître d'hôtel, Oscar Tschirky, created the original recipe that contained simply apples, celery, and mayonnaise. Nuts were part of the salad by the time a recipe appeared in The Rector Cook Book (George Rector) in 1928. Later iterations added fruit—often grapes—and other ingredients, including diced chicken. I've seen some recipes that change out celery for cauliflower! Okay, let's not get too crazy, people.

(Oscar Tschirky is credited with the original Waldorf salad recipe. The twin hotels are depicted in a sketch from 1915. Wiki Commons)


About the blog

Three Women in the Kitchen is an award-winning food blog offering today’s home cooks comforting, hearty recipes with a personal touch. The website also pays tribute to Deborah’s mother, Katie Reinhardt, and paternal grandmother, Dorothy Reinhardt (the “three women” in the kitchen). Whether you’re an experienced or a novice cook, you’ll find inspiration here to feed your families and warm your heart. Subscribe today so you won’t miss a single delicious detail.

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