Celeriac Waldorf

I think I encountered Waldorf salad for the first time when I was 17.  Oddly, given that the dish is traditionally American, this encounter took place in Scotland, where I was visiting a friend.  Helen had a potluck party for me, and one of her friends (really the friend’s mother) contributed Waldorf salad, since of COURSE an American would want American food when abroad! 

I’d never eaten Waldorf salad before, and I must admit that I was horrified at the idea.  It’s only within the last several years that I’ve cottoned to the idea of fruit in savory dishes, and only a few years  before that did I finally accept that celery was a food and not a stringy, bitter poison.  (A lot of that had to do with discovering good celery, but I’m still not the biggest fan thereof).

I loved apples and walnuts, but the addition of celery took it beyond the pale, and mayonnaise?  With APPLES?  My gorge rose at the very thought.  I had, however, been Raised Right, and so I ate a portion, smiled and said thank you.  (I still horrified all of Helen’s friends, much to my sorrow, with my bizarre American manners, and inability to remember that in Britain, the word ‘pants’ does not mean ‘trousers,’ but ‘underwear’).  I don’t think that anyone ate more than a bite of that salad, and the next morning Helen surreptitiously tossed the leftovers in the garbage.

That one encounter catapaulted Waldorf Salad into my mind’s Revulsion Hall of Fame.  Every time I saw a recipe for it, I shuddered.  I blame its infamy for the length of time it took me to finally enjoy fruit in salads. 

Sometime, in these last eleven years, I discovered celeriac (also known as celery root).  I don’t know what possessed me to buy it for the first time–it’s so craggy and gnarled that it could almost be mummified, and on top of that, it has the word CELERY in its name. 

In any case, I did buy it, and, surprisingly, loved it.  Celeriac does taste like celery, but milder, sweeter, and with none of the stringy, hard texture that I found so objectionable in the latter.  I ate it in every possible way–mashed, steamed, made in hash browns, into gratins, and, most traditionally, into celeriac remoulade, wherein raw, grated celery root is mixed into a mixture of highly seasoned, usually homemade mayonnaise and a little cream, then eaten as a salad.

Last week, however, I was reading a new vegetable cookbook and noticed a title in the table of contents: Celeriac Waldorf Salad.  First I was shocked, and then I was intrigued.  The idea wasn’t as bizarre as my reaction had indicated.  As aforementioned, celery root DOES taste like celery.  And celeriac remoulade dresses the vegetable with mayonnaise.  And once I think I made that mayonnaise with walnut oil.  Hmm. 

After some considerable contemplation, I overcame my prejudices and made the recipe.  I peeled and grated a medium-sized celery root.  I peeled an apple (one of the Wealthies that I brought back from Wisconsin).  I tossed the shreds of both items with lemon juice, then salt and pepper, then mayonniase, some herbs, a little white wine vinegar.  I spooned the salad into a bowl and topped it with some dark-toasted walnuts. 

Huh.  It was pretty fabulous.  The mild sweetness of the celery root and the tartness of the apple contrasted nicely, and the lemon perked them both up (as lemon usually does).  The background was full of the grassiness of the herbs and the deep warmth of the nuts, while the creaminess of the mayonnaise tied everything together.

I do not think this alchemy could have been achieved in a Waldorf made with regular celery.  Aside from the aggressiveness of the flavor, in a Waldorf salad, both the celery and the apples are cut into cubes, making it almost impossible for the flavors to blend, and rendering the experience a bit like trying to eat a mouthful of pebbles.

Unlike most lunches, which I eat at lightning speed, so as to be off doing more pressing things, this one I savored, enjoying each nuanced bite. 

Published in: on September 23, 2007 at 6:37 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. i had a waldorf salad at THE waldorf astoria in NYC a few years back, and it was definitely made with matchstick sized CELERY ROOT! and apples, with lemon juice, mayo/yogurt dressing, and walnuts.

    it’s official!

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