Watergate Salad

published Apr 26, 2024
Watergate Salad Recipe

This cool and creamy retro dessert is sure to surprise and delight you.

Serves6

Prep5 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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two Watergate salads with whipped cream and cherries on marble surface
Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Whether it’s the aroma of my mom’s cheddar swirl bread warm from the oven or a serving of creamy chicken divan casserole, nostalgic foods immediately bring me back to my childhood dinner table more so than any photograph ever could. That’s why — despite the decades and food fads that pass — there are some retro recipes that will never leave us. 

Like strawberry pretzel salad and ambrosia salad, Watergate salad is not of the leafy lettuce variety, and only came into being with the introduction of a new product on the market: pistachio pudding mix. The recipe was originally named pineapple pistachio delight, and didn’t adopt the reference to the Watergate hotel and scandal until decades later. (If you love delight-ful desserts we have several, including strawberry delight and chocolate delight.)

Whether you call it Watergate salad, pineapple pistachio delight, or any of its other monikers (Pistachio Fluff or Funeral Salad), we think you’ll love this light-as-air dessert.

Why You’ll Love It

  • The flavors — somehow — really work! Take just one bite, and this fruity, nutty, marshmallow-y dessert will surprise and delight you. 
  • It’s a perfect party conversation starter. Whether guests grew up eating Watergate salad or are trying (and loving) it for the very first time, everyone will have something to say about this dish.

Key Ingredients in Watergate Salad

  • Pistachio instant pudding mix: This recipe caught on with Jell-O’s introduction of pistachio pudding mix in 1976, and it’s what gives Watergate salad its recognizable soft green hue. 
  • Crushed pineapple: A small can of crushed pineapple and its juices hydrate the instant pudding mix. 
  • Mini marshmallows: A cup-and-a-half of mini marshmallows adds to the fluffy, light texture of the salad.
  • Nuts: Chopped walnuts or pecans are the classic choice, but I like leaning into the pudding’s flavor profile by stirring chopped pistachios in instead. 
  • Frozen whipped topping: The cloudlike texture of Watergate salad comes from folding whipped topping into the pudding mixture.
  • Maraschino cherries: Lean into the retro vibes of this salad by finishing each serving with a ruby-red maraschino cherry.
Credit: Photo: Ryan Liebe; Food Styling: Brett Regot

How to Make Watergate Salad

  1. Combine ingredients. Stir the chopped nuts, crushed pineapple (and its juices), instant pistachio pudding mix, and mini marshmallows together until well-combined. 
  2. Fold in whipped topping. Fold the whipped topping into the pistachio mixture with a flexible spatula until no white streaks remain. Use a gentle folding motion to maintain the light and airy texture and avoid deflating the whipped topping.
  3. Chill. The pudding mix in the Watergate salad firms up when chilled, so it’s best to transfer to serving dish(es) before refrigerating.
  4. Garnish and serve. Top each serving with a dollop of whipped topping, a stem-on maraschino cherry, and a few chopped nuts. 

Helpful Swaps

Storage and Make-Ahead Tips 

  • Make ahead: Watergate salad is the perfect make-ahead dish. Mix the ingredients and refrigerate up 2 days in advance (although it will deflate as it sits). Wait to garnish until ready to serve. 
  • Freeze: Spread the salad into a parchment-lined freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Cut into squares and serve frozen or thaw overnight in the refrigerator. Marshmallows will develop a delightfully springy texture when frozen. 
  • Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.

What to Serve with Watergate Salad

Watergate salad is served as a side salad or dessert for holidays and potlucks. Here are some dishes we recommend to complete the meal.

Watergate Salad Recipe

This cool and creamy retro dessert is sure to surprise and delight you.

Prep time 5 minutes

Serves 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) container

    thawed frozen whipped topping

  • 2/3 cup

    shelled unsalted pistachios, pecans, or walnuts, divided

  • 1 (8-ounce) can

    crushed pineapple in 100% juice (do not drain)

  • 1 (3.4-ounce) package

    instant pistachio pudding mix

  • 1 1/2 cups

    miniature marshmallows

  • Maraschino cherries with stems

Instructions

  1. Place 1 (8-ounce) container frozen whipped topping in the refrigerator to thaw overnight if needed.

  2. Coarsely chop 2/3 cup shelled pistachios, pecans, or walnuts. Transfer 1/2 cup to a large bowl; reserve the remaining for garnish.

  3. Add 1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple and its juices, 1 (3.4-ounce) package instant pistachio pudding mix, and 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows to the bowl and stir to combine. Add 2 1/4 cups (6 ounces) of the whipped topping and fold together with a flexible spatula until combined. Refrigerate the remaining whipped topping.

  4. Transfer the salad to a large serving bowl or divide into individual dishes if desired. Cover and refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Garnish with the remaining whipped topping, reserved nuts, and maraschino cherries before serving.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Watergate salad can be made up to 2 days ahead without the garnishes and refrigerated until ready to serve. The salad will deflate upon refrigeration. Garnish just before serving.

Freeze: Transfer Watergate salad into a freezer-safe container and freeze for up to 3 months. Cut into squares and serve frozen or thaw overnight in the refrigerator. The texture of the marshmallows will change upon freezing.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 2 days. The salad will deflate upon refrigeration.