Apr 15

Viv’s Great American Food Adventure: Classic Salads


Classic American Salads


Italy has the Caprese, southern France has the Niçoise, and Thailand has Som Tam (green papaya salad). Every nation has at least one famous salad in some way or form, and America is no exception. In fact, America has THREE to its name, all of them globally famous: the Cobb salad, the Caesar salad and the Waldorf salad. And all of them has a bit of a story behind them.


Growing up, all my veggies were eaten hot, fresh out of the pan with lots of garlic. I remember my mother taking my sister and I to a restaurant once and I ordered a salad, not fully comprehending what it was all about. I think I must’ve been around six or seven years old at the time, but it felt terribly grown up to order a salad. Anyway, the salad came, accompanied by the kids’ speghetti plate. I was baffled … someone had obviously forgotten to cook my “veggies”, and this speghetti thing tasted vile (first time eating foreign food). Needless to say I didn’t touch my food and ended up getting a glare from Mum across the table. I settled for a bowl of cream of chicken soup in the end.


Two years later, aged eight, I was at a friend’s house on a playdate afternoon. She was French and an only child, but that’s besides the point. For lunch her mother made a cold rice salad which I think contained chicken, green onions and boiled eggs, and she served it with plain crackers … oh, how the French eat so well. But I didn’t know it at the time. I thought it was the weirdest thing ever to put in such a nice serving bowl. Ever one to speak my mind, I pointedly asked if she had prepared it for their pet cats (yikes!), to which she replied, “No, dear. This is for us”. I didn’t say another word after that … I didn’t eat her salad either. I simply ate the plain crackers silently coz Momma always said just because you have a problem with someone’s cooking, doesn’t mean you have to point it out and cause a scene at the table.


Salads and me didn’t mix again until much later on in life. To survive on the cheap in my college days I learnt how to make myself a chef’s salad and from then on my appreciation for salads grew. I like salads with a light creamy dressing, or plain olive oil and sea salt. Highly acidic dressings put me off, which is why I think today’s selection of salads appeal.




The Cobb Salad.





The Cobb salad made its debut in Hollywood, California sometime between 1926 – 1930, at the Brown Derby Restaurant. The story goes that one night the owner of the restaurant, a one Mr. Bob Cobb, was feeling rather peckish and, being bored of the monotonous fare of hotdogs and hamburgers, he decided to fix himself a little salad. He went to the refrigerator and pulled out whatever he could find; he chopped up some raw tomatoes, avocado, poached chicken, a hard-boiled egg, some cheese, chives and some pieces of bacon which he swiped from a busy chef. He then dressed it with some old-fashioned French dressing and the Cobb salad was born. It was an instant success, and today the Cobb salad has become quite the national favourite.



BrownDerbyRestaurant (640x403)

Brown Derby Restaurant, Hollywood
Picutre source: USgenweb Project/rootweb.ancestry.com



4 cups iceberg lettuce, romaine, watercress
1 avocado
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
4 strips crispy bacon
1 large tomato
cheddar cheese, cubed
1 poached chicken breast or smoked chicken, chopped





Traditionally, I think the dressing is a vinaigrette, made by combining lemon juice, vinegar, oil and Dijon mustard. But I am not a fan, so I made a light citrus mayo dressing instead. Only needed a few ingredients and it suited the salad perfectly.



1 tbsp lite mayo

1 tsp lemon zest

tiny squeeze of lemon juice

1 grated garlic clove

salt & pepper



Such a wholesome salad with all the good things one would want to have in a salad … mmm. Boiled eggs and avocado are so up my street; can’t have a salad without them. Just wished restaurants served more Cobb salads.





Caesar Salad.



Caesar Salad 3



Quite possibly the world’s most ordered salad, the Caesar salad is very popular even where I’m from. I think the creamy cheese dressing plus bacon bits appeals to a wide demographic. Restaurants like serving them because it doesn’t take a lot of time to put one together either, especially with the availability of pre-made dressings (oh, yes, I have seen kitchens using the stuff that comes out of a bottle).


The original salad was a simple affair consisting of whole lettuce leaves, coddled egg yolks, Parmesan cheese and croutons. It did not contain either anchovies or poached chicken. Caesar Cardini (1896 – 1956) is credited with inventing the said salad in his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico (although the family actually lived in San Diego, USA). It was a busy Fourth of July weekend in 1924 when supplies in the kitchen were depleted. So to improvise, Cardini took some lettuce leaves, Parmesan cheese and some croutons, made a dressing and dramatically tossed the salad at the table in front of his guests.



Caesar Cardini (1896 - 1956)  Picture source:

Caesar Cardini (1896 – 1956)
Picture source:



When the dressing was ready the leaves were coated with it and placed whole on a wide, flat dinner plate with the stems facing outwards, enabling the diner to pick up the leaves and eat them with the fingers. It turned out to be quite the hit and soon everyone was driving down to Mexico to have their share of Caesar’s salad, including the Hollywood glitterati. The late Julia Child even mentions her memory of eating there in the 1920’s, and mentions it in her book From Julia Child’s Kitchen:


” … One of my early remembrances of restaurant life was going to Tijuana in 1925 or 1926 with my parents, who were wildly excited that they should finally lunch at Caesar’s restaurant. Tijuana, just south of the Mexican border from San Diego, was flourishing then, in the prohibition era. . . Words spread about Tijuana and the good life, and about Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, and about Caesar’s salad.

My parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remembered his every move, but I don’t. They only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them. Two eggs in a salad? Two one-minute coddled eggs? And garlic-flavored croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese? It was a sensation of a salad from coast to coast, and there were even rumblings of its success in Europe“. – Julia Child



Caesar salad



Chicken Caesar Salad

2 cups Romaine lettuce

1 poached chicken breast, cold


Parmesan cheese

1 egg yolk

1 clove garlic, finely grated

2 fillet’s anchovies

2 tsp Worchestershire sauce

120 mls olive oil

salt and pepper



I do appreciate all varieties of Caesar salads, so long as their dressing is good and strong. I almost always go for the chicken variety, and having bacon on the top is just a bonus. And the lettuce has to be crisp and cold.





Waldorf Salad



Waldorf Salad




The Waldorf salad was created and made famous by Oscar M. Tschirky, the maitre d’hotel of the Waldorf, New York City in 1896He worked at the hotel, which subsequently merges with the Astoria across the street to become the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, from 1893 – 1945. On it’s opening night, it is said he created this salad using only apples, celery and a mayonnaise dressing … the walnuts were added some years later. Oscar Tschirky was so famous that for some it was considered a great privilege to rock up to at the hotel and meet him in person.



Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf Hotel, NYC Picture source: cocktail101.org/

Picture source: cocktail101.org/



His interests also included compiling menus and food items served at the hotel, and in 1896 he published a cookbook called The Cook Book, which included the recipe for his original Waldorf salad. Today, the waldorf has been updated and can include various lettuce leaves, walnuts and even poached chicken (to add a protein profile to the plate); a lite, crisp lunch all in one.



The grand Waldorf-Astoria as it is today. Picture source: Five Star Alliance/ Luxury Hotels NYC

The grand Waldorf-Astoria as it is today.
Picture source: Five Star Alliance/ Luxury Hotels NYC



Waldorf Salad with Chicken

6 witlof leaves, whole

50 g poached chicken

handful of toasted walnuts

1 stalk celery, chopped

1 apple, sliced thinly or cubed

Lite mayonnaise

squeeze of lemon juice

salt and pepper


Waldorf Salad2







1. The History of Cobb Salad. Food History© Chef Stephen Block & Chef Stephen Holloway (1998 – 1999) http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/CobbSalad.htm

2. The Food Timeline/ FAQ Salads © Lynne Olver (2000) http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodsalads.

3. The Authentic Waldorf Salad: The Old Foodie© (2007) http://www.theoldfoodie.com/2007/03/authentic-waldorf-salad.html#uds-search-results

4. History of Salads and Salad Dressings: What’s Cooking America © Linda Stradley – USA (2004) http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/SaladHistory.htm

5. Oscar of the Waldorf. Not by Bread Alone: Americas Culinary Heritage, RMC Library. http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/food/elegant_table/Oscar_of_the_Waldorf_L.htm


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