Give your Waldorf salad a modern makeover with these easy twists

Lilly Higgins: It is a classic salad for good reason, but this version is even more delicious

Waldorf salad is such a deliciously retro dish. It’s one of those fancy 1970s dinner party staples that used to be served in a cut crystal bowl. It was created for a charity ball in 1893, at the famous Waldorf Hotel on Park Avenue in New York. Despite all of this glamour, it really is quite a practical, handy salad to have in your repertoire and perfect for bringing to family barbecues, or just having in the fridge to dip into over a few days.

I would never have been excited about it until I made it myself. It has a really gorgeous combination of textures and flavours — crunchy celery, apple and nuts, sharp lemon juice, sweet grapes, all bathed in a creamy dressing. I like to serve mine on a bed of salad leaves rather than coating the entire salad in dressing. The essential ingredients are apples, celery, nuts and grapes, all mixed with mayonnaise. I mix the mayonnaise with yogurt for a lighter, sharper dressing. I use quite sweet red apples but toss them in lemon juice first so they don’t discolour and to add some sharpness. Cutting the apples and celery into very fine dice makes it much more pleasing to eat. I keep the apple skins on for a pop of colour. Fresh seedless grapes make this so refreshing, but I’ve seen versions where sultanas are used instead.

Walnuts are the usual nut of choice for this salad but I find them to be mouth-puckeringly bitter. They dampen the mood of this sweet-and-sour dish, so I opt for pecans. I always toast them so they have some good crunch while maintaining that distinctive buttery interior.

Summer really is the season for white pepper. It’s the secret ingredient in my coleslaw, potato salad and Waldorf. It brings a peppery aromatic heat invisible to the eye and always makes such a difference in terms of seasoning. Adding some flat-leaf parsley breaks up the mayonnaise-soaked colour of this salad. You can also use a vinaigrette dressing instead for a brighter, fresher-style Waldorf.

This salad is ideal with a roast or barbecued chicken, on a sunny day. Or serve it in endive or cos lettuce leaves for a smart starter. Fold in a tin of drained cooked lentils or chickpeas for added protein and to make this more substantial. I’m such a fan of chopped salads — they’re a great way of ensuring lots of vegetables are on our plates for each meal. They can be quite relaxing to make, too, once you have a bit of time and a good chopping knife. Changing up the ingredients and dressings can result in entirely different salads. I’ve often added radishes, or pears to this — they go so well with a little blue cheese crumbled over, and those toasted pecan nuts.

Recipe: Waldorf salad