Watergate Salad is a cool and creamy dessert salad that is a family favorite and always a hit! Loaded with pistachio pudding, pineapple, marshmallows, and pecans, this is a treat that everyone enjoys!
This Watergate Salad has served me well over the years. It’s on every holiday menu I create and my family expects it for Christmas, Thanksgiving, and all the rest. I don’t mind that at all! I love this recipe because it’s super easy to make. This creamy dessert can also be made ahead so it’s easy to add to any busy holiday meal.
What is Watergate Salad?
Unlike traditional salads full of vegetables and leafy greens, Watergate salad really isn’t a salad at all, but a dessert made with instant pudding, whipped cream, and delicious add-ins like crushed pineapple and nuts.
If you’re from the Midwest you are probably fully experienced with dessert salads, as this area of the country is now well-known for its expertise in creating them. All types of sweet, fluffy dessert salads can be found at potlucks and holiday tables.
This type of dessert salad was made popular around the time that instant gelatin was first made available to the public, around 1930, and the Watergate salad came after Pistachio pudding was created, in 1975.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
- No Cooking. This dessert requires no cooking and is mixed together in one bowl. It is so fast to make and super easy. Anyone with any level of cooking skill can make watergate salad! This recipe is perfect for the summer months because no heat is required. Your house will stay cool while you make dessert.
- Shortcut Ingredients. No need to get fancy. We’re using tub whipped topping, canned fruit, and instant pudding to make this pistachio salad recipe super easy. You can find all of the ingredients at your local supermarket.
- It’s So Pretty. I can’t get enough of the soft, minty green color of this dessert. It’s a beautiful addition to any holiday spread or potluck table.
Watergate Salad Ingredients
- Pistachio Pudding: You’ll need one box of pistachio flavored instant pudding mix. JELL-O is the most common brand, but a store brand will work too. I prefer the regular variety, but there is a sugar free/fat free version if that fits your dietary needs better. Be sure to pick up instant pudding mix, rather than the cook and serve type.
- Crushed Pineapple: There are many types of canned pineapple, so make sure you grab the right one! For this recipe you want unsweetened crushed pineapple in juice, not syrup. Syrupy crushed pineapple is too heavy for this recipe.
- Miniature Marshmallows: these add bulk and chewiness to the fluffy salad. In a pinch you could chop up full sized marshmallows, but minis work perfectly.
- Chopped Nuts: You can use either pistachios or pecans. I prefer pecans so I used them here, but either is acceptable.
- Whipped Topping: Again, I prefer the regular version, but low fat options are available too. Thaw your whipped topping before mixing.
- Maraschino Cherries: These are our garnish. The bright red is so striking against the green of the salad, and perfect for Christmas.
Complete list of ingredients and amounts can be found in the recipe card below.
How to Make Watergate Salad
- Make Pudding: In a large bowl, combine the pistachio pudding mix (uncooked) with crushed pineapple and the juice from the can. Make sure that the pudding has dissolved.
- Add mix-ins: Fold in the marshmallows and the nuts.
- Fold in Cream: Gently fold in the whipped topping.
- Let Set: Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with maraschino cherries and crushed pecans or pistachios.
Recipe Success Tips
- Don’t overthink it! This recipe really is as simple as it sounds. Mix everything together per the instructions and you’ll have the perfect Watergate salad.
- Be Gentle. The whipped topping shouldn’t be stirred into the pudding mixture, but rather folded in. Use a rubber spatula to slowly cut down to the bottom of the bowl and then lift up and fold over. It’s ok if there are some streaks of white.
Watergate Salad Variations
Since this is a fairly old, traditional recipe, there have been hundreds of variations created over the years. What I’m sharing with you here is the original recipe, as far as I understand. I’d love to hear in the comments how you make yours special! Here are a few things you could try:
- Use Mandarin Oranges – Substitute mandarin oranges for all or some of the crushed pineapple for a sweeter, juicier salad.
- Add Coconut – I’ve seen many recipes where sweetened, flaked coconut is added for both texture and flavor. Try adding ¼ to ½ cup to the mix.
- Use different Nuts – try almonds or walnuts, or leave them out altogether if you prefer.
- Add more Cherries – You can chop up maraschino cherries and add them right into the mix instead of using them for garnish only.
Frequently Asked Questions
As this salad became popular in Washington D.C. during the time that President Richard Nixon resigned from office, due to the Watergate scandal, it seems that the name just came because of the timing. Nobody can really pinpoint who started calling it that, but the name stuck. And while you no longer can find Watergate salad on lunch menus in D.C., the recipe lives on through home cooks across the country.
An 8 oz. tub of Cool Whip or other whipped topping is 3 cups. If you’re using a larger sized cool whip container you may need to measure out the correct amount.
Watergate salad is a dessert salad. Much different than a traditional salad, dessert salads are more of a pudding than a salad and more of a dessert than a side dish. Sometimes this dessert is called pistachio delight or green delight. That term seems to make more sense than the word salad, but alas, it is what it is! Whatever you want to call it, it’s still delicious.
The recipe calls for the powder from a box of instant pistachio pudding mix. Instant pudding works in dessert salads because it will set up quickly without adding any heat. Cook and serve pudding won’t thicken up properly in this recipe.
Enjoy making this American classic Watergate Salad! Make sure to pin this recipe so that more people can enjoy it too.
- 1 3.4-ounce package pistachio flavor instant pudding I use JELL-O
- 1 20-ounce can unsweetened crushed pineapple in juice NOT SYRUP drained but ¼ cup reserved
- 1 ½ cups white miniature marshmallows
- 1 cup chopped pistachios or pecans
- 8-oz tub whipped topping thawed, 3 cups in total
- Maraschino cherries for garnish
- Large bowl
- In a large bowl combine the pistachio pudding mix with crushed pineapple and the juice. Make sure that the pudding has dissolved.
- Fold in the marshmallows, and nuts.
- Finally, gently fold in the whipped topping.
- Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Garnish with maraschino cherries and crushed pecans or pistachios.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.
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