Watergate Salad — The classic side salad that’s light, sweet, fluffy, and creamy! Made with just 6 ingredients including pineapple, pistachio pudding mix, marshmallows, maraschino cherries, pecans, and whipped topping!
A one-bowl, stir-together, 5-minute recipe that’s perfect for casual events, parties, and family dinners. Everyone loves this one!
Watergate Salad Recipe
Watergate salad is light and fluffy sweet fruit salad made with crushed pineapple, pistachio pudding mix (which gives the green color), marshmallows, maraschino cherries, and pecans.
The ingredients are enveloped in creamy whipped topping, which helps give this easy Watergate salad recipe its fluffiness and lightness.
It takes just 5 minutes to make, one bowl, stir everything together, and everyone in the family loves it!
Why Is it Called ‘Watergate Salad’?
It’s been said that Watergate salad is named as such because it was served in the famous Watergate hotel in Washington, D.C. during the time of the infamous Watergate scandal in the early 1970s.
So if this salad looks vintage to you, that’s because it is!
Chances are your grandma or mom served it back in the day for casual summer family dinners, for Fourth of July or Memorial Day, or it may even have made the party spread at a Christmas holiday dinner table or holiday buffet spread.
Watergate Salad Ingredients
For this classic pistachio pudding salad recipe, you only need a handful of easy-to-find ingredients including the following:
- Crushed pineapple with juice
- Pistachio instant pudding mix
- Miniature marshmallows
- Maraschino cherries
- Cool Whip or similar whipped topping
How to Make Watergate Salad
It really doesn’t get any faster or easier than stirring ingredients together and that’s exactly how you make nostalgic Watergate salad! Here are the basic steps for this pistachio pudding fruit salad:
- Stir together the crushed pineapple and juice with the pistachio pudding mix
- Stir in the marshmallows, cherries, and pecans.
- Fold in the Cool Whip and garnish with extra cherries and pecans.
- Chill for 1 hour before serving and enjoy!
Classic Watergate salad is essentially a pistachio ambrosia salad, so yes, you do need to use pudding mix.
Specifically I use Jell-O Instant Pistachio Pudding Mix. You need two 3.4-ounce boxes.
I’ve never seen sugar-free nor cook’n serve versions but in case they exist, I have never personally tried using them and always grab the classic instant version.
Also, you are not making actual pudding. You are just stirring the dry pudding mix in with the crushed pineapple and juice.
My grandma and my mom always use pecans in this retro green salad with marshmallows so that’s what I do, too.
However, you could use chopped walnuts if you prefer. Or maybe even try shelled pistachios to play up the pistachio theme.
If for some reason you have a nut allergy or really detest nuts in desserts, then just omit the nuts.
Some form of whipped topping, aka Cool Whip, is required for Watergate salad. I suggest using regular full-fat Cool Whip or Light, but not Fat-Free.
That’s because the lighter you go, the more watery and “flat” rather than fluffy the whipped topping becomes which makes for a less-than-impressive Watergate side salad.
You need two standard sized tubs, or 16 ounces in total.
I don’t recommend making Watergate salad more than a couple hours in advance of when you plan to serve it. It tends to deflate and not look quite as pretty as time passes so make it the day you plan to serve it.
How Long Does Watergate Salad Last?
After you mix together your Watergate salad, which should take you all of 2 minutes, you need to cover and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour before serving.
I like to garnish my salad with a few extra pecans and a couple whole maraschino cherries for a nice visual pop of color.
This vibrant green pistachio marshmallow salad will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 3 days, however it may not stay as fluffy as time passes.
Tips for The Best Watergate Salad Recipe
When you’re talking about such an easy side salad for easy-breezy backyard get-togethers, summer holidays like Memorial Day or Fourth of July, or even as a Christmas side dish, there’s not much to screw up!
Be careful not to get more than a few drops of maraschino cherry juice into the Watergate salad mixture because it doesn’t look pretty when mixed with the green pistachio pudding.
If you love marshmallows like we do, feel free to bump up the quantity to closer to 2 cups.
Don’t shortchange the chilling step because it definitely tastes better chilled!
What to Serve with Watergate Salad
This pistachio pudding fruit salad pairs well with all of your favorite potluck dishes! Serve the homemade Watergate salad with one of more of the following:
- Amish Pasta Salad
- German Potato Salad
- Broccoli Salad
- Slow Cooker Baked Beans
- Pesto Chicken Caprese Salad
- Grilled Pork Chops
- Black Bean Burgers
Pin This Recipe
- 20-ounce can crushed pineapple with juice (do not drain)
- two 3.4 ounce packages pistachio instant pudding mix (not cook 'n serve)
- 1 1/2 cups miniature marshmallows
- 1 cup maraschino cherries, halved; plus a few more whole cherries for garnishing
- 2/3 cup pecans, lightly chopped (walnuts may be substituted; or omit the nuts if preferred)
- 16 ounces Cool Whip or similar whipped topping, thawed (2 standard sized tubs)
- To a large bowl, add the pineapple with juice, the instant pistachio pudding mix, and stir to combine. Note - you are not making pudding here; just add the dry pudding mix and stir it with the pineapple and juice.
- Add the marshmallows, cherries (Tip - don't get too much cherry juice into the bowl because when mixed with the green pudding, the color will become less pretty), pecans, and stir to combine.
- Add the Cool Whip and lightly fold to combine.*
- Cover the bowl tightly and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.
- Before serving, garnish with a few whole cherries and additional pecans, if desired. Watergate salad will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 3 days although will deflate and be more watery as time passes. I recommend making it 1 to 4 hours before you plan to serve it.
* I suggest using regular full-fat Cool Whip or Light, but not Fat-Free. Because the fat creates the fluffiness which is a hallmark of Watergate salad. Also I have found that the brand name Cool Whip tends to be a bit fluffier than store brands or generic brands from my personal experience.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 382Total Fat: 24gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 125mgCarbohydrates: 40gFiber: 3gSugar: 31gProtein: 5g
More Fruit Salad Recipes:
Ambrosia Salad — This classic fruit salad is made with pineapple, mandarin oranges, grapes, coconut, and tossed in a light and creamy, tangy-yet-sweet dressing! The EASIEST side dish ever — just add everything to one bowl and stir! A family favorite side dish that’s always PERFECT for holidays, events, and parties!
Tropical Fruit Salad — This tropical fruit salad features fresh fruit that’s tossed in pineapple juice, coconut and almond extracts, and piña colada mix. Don’t worry, this easy fruit salad is non-alcoholic!
Vanilla Fruit Salad – The easiest fruit salad ever thanks to a secret ingredient! Make it for your next party and watch it disappear!
Waldorf Salad — Classic and timeless, apple Waldorf salad is always a crowd favorite especially when apples are in season! It makes a great holiday side dish that your guests will devour thanks to a sweet and creamy dressing that coats a mixture of apples, grapes, celery, walnuts, and more! A highly flexible recipe so feel free to substitute, get creative, and make it your own.