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Pistachio salad is a creamy cold dessert that primarily consists of pistachio nut-flavored instant pudding combined with canned fruit. The dish is also commonly referred to as Watergate salad. It is thought by some to have originated in the United States in the mid-1970s as a marketing tactic for instant pudding mix. The historical explanation of how the dessert was invented or how it was given the alternative name of Watergate salad has not been conclusively proven.
The basic ingredients for a traditional pistachio salad recipe tend to include prepared pistachio-flavored instant pudding, canned pineapple chunks with their own juice, processed whipped topping, and chopped nuts. Although the recipe’s name refers to pistachio nuts, some recipe variations call for chopped almonds or walnuts instead because these nut variations tend to be less expensive in some regions than fresh pistachio nuts. Other variations of the ingredients for the standard salad recipe include canned mandarin oranges or fruit cocktail in place of the canned pineapple chunks. Miniature marshmallows or shredded coconut may also be stirred into the salad for extra flavor and texture.
The process of making a pistachio salad does not traditionally require any cooking. The instant pudding is prepared following the directions on the package, which generally consist of combining the powdered mix with cold milk and letting it sit until it thickens and firms up slightly. The pudding is then combined with chopped nuts, canned pineapple and juice, and processed whipped cream topping and chilled.
Although pistachio salad may be served immediately after preparing it, many recipes recommend allowing the dish to chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour. Chilling the salad allows the flavors of the various ingredients to meld together. The dish can usually be safely stored for about three days in the refrigerator.
Pistachio salad also forms the basis of an expansion on the recipe, commonly referred to as Watergate cake. The salad itself is reserved and used as a frosting for the cake. The cake is generally made of yellow cake mix, pistachio flavored instant pudding mix, milk, oil, eggs, and a carbonated ginger ale or lemon-lime flavored drink. Once baked, the cake is topped with the salad and is often garnished with chopped nuts, shredded coconut, mini marshmallows, or canned fruit.