Healthy watergate salad that’s still sweet, fluffy and delicious, but instead of instant pudding mix and marshmallows, we’re using Greek yogurt, coconut whip and real pistachios.
Watergate salad was one of my favorite things to eat growing up. My mom would make it every year for Easter and for summer cookouts.
If you didn’t grow up in the south you might be wondering what the heck watergate salad is, so let me fill you in real fast.
What is Watergate Salad?
This “salad” goes by a lot of names… I’ve always known it as Watergate Salad but apparently, it’s also known as Pistachio Delight, Shut The Gate Salad, Green Goop, Green Fluff or Green Stuff. Lots of official names. 😉 Traditionally it’s made from pistachio pudding mix, canned pineapple, whipped cream, crushed pecans and marshmallows. This recipe originated in the mid-1970s when instant gelatin was a new invention.
How is This a Salad?
I don’t know if this is a southern thing or just old school, but we had so many dessert salads growing up! My mom always made watergate salad and my grandma would make something called strawberry pretzel salad which has a pretzel and butter crust, a layer of whipped cream and cream cheese, all topped with strawberry jello.
And apparently, there is a “salad” called Candy Bar Salad with apples, whipped cream and snickers (so delicious but…?!) Need a walk down memory lane? Check out this round-up! LOL! You can also read some really interesting information on the history of Jell-O salads here.
Making Watergate Salad With Real Food Ingredients
My mom used to make watergate salad “healthy” by using fat-free Cool Whip and sugar-free pistachio pudding mix. I recently looked at the ingredient lists for these items and they were scary! I immediately decided I needed to find a way to make watergate salad with real food ingredients.
The sugar-free pistachio pudding mix has aspartame and food dyes while Cool Whip has corn syrup as the first ingredient and hydrogenated vegetable oil as the third. No thanks! Here’s how I made this version healthier:
I really wanted to use fresh pineapple but when I tested the recipe with it, something always tasted off so I’m using canned crushed pineapple (that’s packed in juice not syrup) for the recipe. The flavor is perfect and it brings a familiar texture to the dish as well.
Instead of the pudding mix, I opted to use vanilla Greek yogurt (I like Siggi’s) blended with spinach for the green color and a little almond extract. And of course, for the pistachio flavor I’m using chopped pistachios!
For the whipped cream, I recommend using frozen coconut whipped cream. I tried making the recipe with homemade coconut whip several times, but none of those batches turned out. The homemade coconut cream separated and became thick. Plus, I found that the store-bought coconut whipped cream added the best fluff and sweetness, making this healthier watergate salad more similar to the real deal. I recommend using the SoDelicious Coco Whip.
At first, I skipped the marshmallows all together, but in a couple test batches I added chopped dates to replace the marshmallows and I really liked the substitution. The dates are optional for the recipe, but I think they are fun addition if you want to find surprise bites of soft and sweet throughout the “salad.”
Here’s What You Need
canned crushed pineapple – buy the kind that is packed in juice, not syrup. The flavor and texture are perfect to use in this healthy updgrade.
Greek yogurt – I recommend buying full-fat Vanilla greek yogurt for this recipe. If you need this recipe to be dairy-free you can sub in a non-dairy yogurt!
spinach – not traditional, but this is blended with the greek yogurt to get that iconic green color! It doesn’t hurt that it boosts nutrients a bit too!
almond extract – another addition to help make the flavor similar to if we were using pudding mix.
pistachios – traditional to watergate salad, chopped pistachios offer such a great crunch to this dish!
coconut whipped topping – combined with the greek yogurt to give the light and fluffy texture this dish usually has.
medjool dates – these are completely optional, but I love the texture they bring to this dish. They also add that extra bit of sweetness that marshmallows traditionally added.
How to Make Healthy Watergate Salad
It’s super simple to put together this recipe! Start by adding your vanilla Greek yogurt, almond extract and spinach to a blender and blend until the spinach is completely chopped up and the mixture is green.
Next, take out a large bowl and add the drained pineapple, coconut whipped topping, pistachios and granola. Pour the green Greek yogurt mixture over top of the ingredients and use a spatula to gently combine the ingredients. Add in the chopped dates if you’re using them.
Place the bowl in the fridge for 2-3 hours to chill before serving. Enjoy!
If you’re like me and grew up with this salad, I hope you like this healthier version. I can’t wait to hear what you think!
How to Store
You can keep leftovers covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.
It’s a great make-ahead dish to serve at parties! Just follow the recipe, store it in your fridge, and take it out when you’re ready to serve.