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This vintage Watergate Salad recipe is a classic 5-minute side dish or easy dessert that has been loved for generations! The sweet, creamy, and fluffy pistachio salad with pineapple, coconut, pecans, and maraschino cherries is a perfect treat for just about any occasion. Pair it with bbq at your next potluck, Easter ham, Thanksgiving turkey, Christmas beef tenderloin, or offer it as a fun green dish on St. Patrick’s Day!

Classic Watergate Salad recipe in serving bowls

How to Make Watergate Salad | 1-Minute Video

Recipe for Watergate Salad

If you’ve ever been to a potluck or enjoyed a holiday meal at Grandma’s house, then you’ve most likely enjoyed this beautiful green dish! Watergate Salad is a dessert salad that has been popular since the 1970’s, with the release of pistachio pudding mix. While there are many versions of the Watergate Salad recipe, General Foods was the first to publish a recipe for “Pistachio Pineapple Delight” back in 1975. No matter which version you enjoy, the basic ingredients remain the same today: pistachio pudding mix, marshmallows, Cool Whip, pineapple, nuts, and coconut.

Why do they call it Watergate Salad?

The recipe was originally called “Pistachio Pineapple Delight,” and has since been referred to as “Green Goop,” “Green Stuff,” “Pistachio Delight,” “Pistachio Salad,” “Pistachio Fluff,” “Shut the Gate Salad,” “Pennsylvania Puddle Pudding,” and “Green Fluff” — but it’s now most commonly known as Watergate Salad. It’s not clear where the name came from, but there are a couple of different explanations floating around.

Some say that an unnamed Chicago food editor renamed it Watergate Salad to promote interest in the recipe when she printed it in her column. Other rumors suggest that a Watergate Salad recipe was created by a sous chef at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC. Regardless of the origin, one thing is clear: this pistachio pudding salad is here to stay!

Front shot of Watergate Salad recipe on a blue wooden surface with red and white stripe towel in background

Ingredients for an Old-Fashioned Pistachio Salad Recipe

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a classic Watergate salad. As always, specific measurements and complete step-by-step preparation instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Instant pistachio pudding mix: use the smaller 3.4 ounce box of instant pudding mix. You do not need to prepare the pudding according to the package instructions — just use the dry mix.
  • Pineapple: a big can of crushed pineapple with its juices.
  • Nuts: for delicious crunch! I prefer pecans, but just about any nuts will work. Try pistachios, almonds, walnuts, or peanuts, too.
  • Coconut: sweetened, flaked coconut adds texture and a tropical flavor that pairs nicely with the pineapple in this dish.
  • Marshmallows: for sweet, fluffy, light and airy texture.
  • Cool Whip: fold the thawed, whipped topping gently into the other ingredients so that it doesn’t completely “deflate.”
  • Maraschino cherries (optional): the perfect finishing touch, and my kids’ favorite part of this dessert salad!
Ingredients for watergate salad

A Quick Note About the Pistachio Pudding

Make sure that you buy instant pistachio pudding mix. You only need the dry mix — you do not need to prepare the pudding according to the package instructions. A 4-serving small box is all that you need (either a 3.4 oz box of the regular instant pistachio pudding mix or a 1-ounce box of the sugar-free instant pistachio pudding mix). I use the sugar-free version because that’s all that my grocery store carries, but either variety will work!

Why is pistachio pudding green?

The Watergate Salad gets its beautiful pastel green color from the pistachio pudding mix. I assume the pudding has traditionally been dyed green because when you crack open a pistachio, the nut inside is a bright green color too!

How to Make Watergate Salad

Watergate Salad (or “Pistachio Fluff”) is very similar to ambrosia salad, with the sweet, creamy, and fruity combination of pineapple, marshmallows, and coconut. It’s one of those dishes that everyone loves, it can be prepared in advance, and it only takes about 5 minutes to stir together. No cooking required!

  1. Stir together the pineapple (and its juices), dry pudding mix, marshmallows, pecans, and coconut.
  2. Gently fold in the Cool Whip, cover, and refrigerate the salad for at least 1 hour.
  3. Garnish with maraschino cherries right before serving for a pretty pop of color and a bit of added flavor.
Process shot of making watergate salad
Stirring together Watergate Salad
Close shot of maraschino cherry on top of watergate salad recipe

What to Serve with Watergate Salad

Here are a few entrées that go well with the Watergate Salad original recipe:

Of course, you can also serve the Watergate Salad as a light and fruity dessert at any potluck, cookout, or dessert buffet. Love this flavor combination? You’ll love my Watergate Cake, too!

Is Watergate Salad healthy?

I’ve used sugar-free pistachio pudding and sugar-free Cool Whip for a lighter salad recipe. Each serving contains about 218 calories, 11 grams of fat, 12 grams of sugar, and 31 grams of carbohydrates. It’s a dessert salad — not a typical leafy green salad with the health benefits of veggies — so enjoy in moderation!

This Watergate Salad recipe is not Keto-friendly, low-carb, or dairy-free.

Horizontal shot of two glass dishes full of pistachio salad

Storage

The salad needs at least 1 hour to chill in the refrigerator and “set up” before serving, and can easily be made a day ahead. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2-3 days. After about 24 hours, however, the texture of the salad is less fluffy.

Can I freeze Watergate Salad?

I do not recommend freezing this recipe, since the texture of the marshmallows will be “off” when thawed. The salad will not maintain its fluffy texture and will be watery, too.

Pistachio Fluff Recipe Variations

  • Any nuts will work in this salad, so feel free to swap out the pecans and use walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or pistachios instead.
  • If you’re looking for a similar green fruit salad, you can try this version with lime Jell-O and cottage cheese.
  • Both regular and sugar-free pistachio instant pudding mix will work in this dish. Just make sure that you buy the smaller (4-serving) box.
  • To serve a larger group, double all of the ingredients.

Tips for the Best Watergate Salad Recipe

  • How to Make Watergate Salad Fluffy: Do not thaw the Cool Whip on the countertop. Instead, allow at least 4-5 hours (or overnight) for the Cool Whip tub to thaw in the refrigerator. This will maintain its fluffy texture. Next, make sure that you gently fold the Cool Whip into the salad — do not stir. This will maintain the air in the whipped topping.
  • Prepare the Salad in Advance: The salad needs at least 1 hour to chill in the refrigerator and “set up” before serving, and can easily be made a day ahead. The salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. After about 24 hours, however, the texture of the salad is less fluffy.
  • Some versions of Watergate Salad incorporate the maraschino cherries into the salad (rather than just using them as a garnish). If you’d like to do this, I recommend rinsing the cherries and patting them dry first. Otherwise, they will turn your salad pink.
  • Garnish with whipped cream, the maraschino cherry, and additional chopped nuts.
Two bowls of watergate salad with cherries on top

More Fruit Salad Recipes to Try

Classic Watergate Salad recipe in serving bowls

Watergate Salad Recipe

5 from 1 vote
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 0 minutes
Chilling Time 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 8 people
Calories 218.3 kcal
This vintage pistachio salad is a classic sweet treat — with just 5 minutes of prep!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 (20 ounce) can crushed pineapple, NOT drained
  • 1 (3.4 ounce) box instant pistachio pudding (or use a 1-ounce box of sugar-free instant pudding)
  • 1 cup miniature marshmallows
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ½ cup sweetened coconut flakes
  • 1 (8 ounce) container frozen whipped topping (such as Cool Whip), thawed
  • Maraschino cherries, for topping

Instructions

  • In a large bowl, stir together pineapple (and its juice), dry pudding mix, marshmallows, pecans and coconut. Gently fold in the whipped topping.
  • Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (and up to 24 hours).
  • Give everything a gentle stir just before serving. Garnish with maraschino cherries.

Video

Notes

  • How to Make Watergate Salad Fluffy: Do not thaw the Cool Whip on the countertop. Instead, allow at least 4-5 hours (or overnight) for the Cool Whip to thaw in the refrigerator. This will maintain its fluffy texture. Next, make sure that you gently fold the Cool Whip into the salad — do not stir. This will maintain the air in the whipped topping.
  • Prepare the Salad in Advance: The salad needs at least 1 hour to chill in the refrigerator and “set up” before serving, and can easily be made a day ahead. The salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. After about 24 hours, however, the texture of the salad is less fluffy.
  • Some versions of Watergate Salad incorporate the maraschino cherries into the salad (rather than just using them as a garnish). If you’d like to do this, I recommend rinsing the cherries and patting them dry first. Otherwise, they will turn your salad pink.
  • Any nuts will work in this salad, so feel free to swap out the pecans and use walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or pistachios instead.
  • If you’re looking for a similar green fruit salad, you can try this version with lime Jell-O and cottage cheese.
  • Both regular and sugar-free pistachio pudding mix will work in this dish. Just make sure that you buy the smaller (4-serving) box.
  • To serve a larger group, double all of the ingredients.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/8 of the saladCalories: 218.3kcalCarbohydrates: 31.5gProtein: 1.7gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 3.6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1.6gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gSodium: 140mgPotassium: 114.9mgFiber: 1.8gSugar: 12.5g
Keyword: Green Fluff, Pistachio salad, watergate salad recipe
Course: Dessert, Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

    1. Hi, Lynette! I honestly have no idea. It’s not an easy product to recreate because it has such a unique flavor and color. Do you have other instant pudding mixes available? You might be able to make a similar dish with a vanilla flavored pudding mix and then add a bit of almond extract. That would be my best bet!

  1. 5 stars
    I absolutely love this salad. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life and die happy—which it looks like I might be doing, since I’m the only one in the house!!!
    I don’t remember having this growing up, so this was a very special treat when my former mother in law made it every Thanksgiving. Thank you very much!!!!