A sort of Waldorf Salad (with mint ribbons)

“I’ve had a big day”.

This is what my niece Pia told me last week. She spooled through the door to her house, put down her backpack (with a smiling owl on the back) and sprawled out on the couch.

It had been a big day for a four year old at day care.

It seems there had been an extended and vexing game of hide and seek.

She said she just wanted chicken for dinner. I can understand why. I’m feeling just the same.

I’ve had a big day, well, a big weekend. First there was a hen’s/ bachelorette for19 women in Sydney on Saturday. After the dance class, after the banquet (where I  dangerously partook in the ‘Devil’s Trinity of Drinking’ champagne/ white wine and then red wine), there was more dancing. My job was to follow a disheveled bride-to-be around a bar with a tall glass of water and a straw  ‘Just three more big sips’ was my mantra. She hated me at the time. She thanked me the next morning.

Then The Hungry One arrived in Sydney. It’s the first time I’ve seen him in 11 days. We went to brunch. We went down to Bondi Beach.

And then I elected to cook for 11 at my sister’s place. There were five children under four in the house. There were renovations going on. There were preparations for big weeks at work to get underway.

It’s busy.

There was a big ocean trout and some salads, including the beans with almonds, yogurt and burnt butter which I do on the side of my seabass ‘cooking for one’.

There were a couple of sauces, including a mint and basil aioli. And then once the kids were all in bed the Devil’s Trinity made another appearance. Spent; the beverages rolled; celebratory champagne made way for white wine and then the red.

There’s no rest for the wicked.

This morning I helped get two ankle biters out of the house while my sister took her littlest one and  bustled off to work.

This is the perfect lunch or dinner for the close of a big day.

It’s soothing. It’s quick. It feels classy. It would even go very well with a glass of white wine or champagne (leave the red. I promise. You’ll thank me later).

It’s a twist on a Waldorf Salad.  This salad may have first been invented out of necessity at the Waldorf Hotel. Celery, mayonnaise, chicken, walnuts are the key elements. You can keep your celery, you can keep your wrinkled nuts and your finery. Here I’ve gone for chunks of fennel and the crunch of almonds. The only thing delicate are some ribbons of mint.

I’m eating my salad at my sister’s table, while waiting for her children to come home and for the evening ride to start again. There are toys on the floor and washing out on the line. The green apple that’s in with the chicken and almonds is the fruit my nephew didn’t finish at breakfast. The avocado is what’s left from dinner last night.  So are the chicken thighs.

It’s just the thing to give me the energy for when they all return.

Which is a good thing.

I’m learning that here in my sister’s house after one big day, you can bet there’ll be another one tomorrow.

Bring it on.

(I don’t know how she does it).

Chicken ‘Waldorf Salad’

Serves 2

Shopping/ foraging
1 cooked and cool/ just warm chicken thigh per person, cut into chunks the size of a wine cork (you could also use a bought bbq chicken)

2 tablespoons of basil aioli (either make the aioli and add the puree of 12 basil leaves, or add a teaspoon of pesto to a tablespoon of aioli)

2 teaspoons of toasted flaked almonds

1/2 bulb of fennel, cut into small chunks

1/2 Granny Smith green apple, cut into small chunks

12 mint leaves, rolled like a cigar and cut into ribbons

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: 1/2 avocado, cut into dice. Croutons or chunks of bread to have on the side.

Here’s how we roll

1. Combine the chicken with the aiolli, fennel and apple.

2. Gently add the avocado and sprinkle the almonds over the top.

3. Lay the mint leaves over the top of each other. Roll into a cigar and slice thinly to create little ribbons.

4. Add the mint, salt and pepper.  Eat with bread, or on its own.

  1. I always thought granny smith apples make such a great salad because they are so crunchy and mixed with other vegetables, they lose a little of their sourish taste too!

  2. I love Waldorf salad but I like your take on it as well – anything with fennel is a good thing in my book!

  3. I know your sister's life, it is my life. Busy, messy, full of love. And good food when I have the energy. Could you be our adoptive aunt and make a 'sort of Waldorf salad' for us? Pretty please?

  4. I've never had Waldorf salad -I'm not very good at mixing sweet and savoury, and the idea of including apple scares me slightly 🙂 Definitely need to expand my horizons as the rest of it sounds lovely. V. impressed by you cooking for all those people too!

  5. I always like your "sort of" dishes– the Nicoise salad was beautiful and this looks great too. And that "I've had a big day" made me so happy!

  6. Fennel and apple, chicken and aioli…- oh so good!

  7. I don't think I have ever had a Waldorf salad. Not really popular in Greece.
    I have certainly heard of it though and Ferran Adria has his own version in his new cookbook for home cooks.
    I love how yours looks and those mint ribbons are so cute! I have to give this salad a try!

  8. I like the taste of mint. It adds a very zesty taste to any recipe.

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