Have you ever heard of Watergate Salad?

Besides obsessively playing Candy Crush Saga, I occasionally play this bizarre role-playing/trivia game on my phone called Quiz RPG: World of Mystic Wiz. You roam around sort of medieval/fantasy settings and collect spirits, all of which are beautifully drawn. You encounter enemies/bosses and have to answer trivia questions in order to proceed. Yes, I know it’s goofy, but it’s good for distracting your mind from other more important concerns, such as the sometimes exasperating levels in Candy Crush…

Playing Candy Crush is the only time I DON”T LIKE CHOCOLATE!!!

Okay. I’m better.

So anyway, I was playing Quiz RPG, and I got this question: “Which of these nuts is usually in a ‘Watergate Salad‘?” The answers were: walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, or Brazil nuts. I had no idea what the hell a Watergate Salad was, but I figured it was an American invention so I went with peanuts. This was the wrong answer; apparently pistachios were the correct nuts. I demolished the boss in the game, then I did some research on this mysterious salad.

It’s amazing how American cuisine likes to attach the word “salad” to various obviously unhealthy items. Perhaps this stems from potlucks; you know, you get stuck bringing a “salad,” but you really want to bring something that guests will enjoy, not just a bunch of greenery. Perhaps if just one ingredient is a fruit or vegetable, it could qualify as a salad. Even if your fruit is a maraschino cherry, it would count as a salad. With this logic, you could concoct pretty much anything and then assign your new recipe to the salad section of the menu.

The Watergate Salad’s origins are hard to pinpoint. Apparently it is not definite that it was invented by a chef at the eponymous hotel, nor can we pin down whether it originated in the Midwest or the Deep South. Perhaps Kraft Foods invented it merely to market their pistachio pudding mix. The name was attached in the mid-70s, however, and most likely is related to the scandal that took place at the time. It is also known as “green stuff,” or “pistachio fluff.” Most cooks who write about it love it—it is a great dish to bring to a potluck or to serve at a holiday. It definitely falls into the “Seventies Food Trends” category, but before you go all snobby/foodie and relegate all old-fashioned foods to the discard bin, remember that every decade has food trends that fall out of favor eventually. What will be ridiculed as the trends of the early 21st Century?

It is generally composed of these particular ingredients: Cool Whip, miniature marshmallows, pecans, pistachio pudding, and canned crushed pineapple in juice. Then there are many variations on this theme. You could add (or substitute) items such as: sliced almonds, maraschino cherries, fruit cocktail, chunky pineapple, sour cream, etc…

My automatic response to this salad was “blech,” mainly because I really don’t like marshmallows (just the actual candy’s texture; I’m okay with marshmallow creme, such as what you would put in a Rice Krispies Treat), but I was intrigued by the combination of flavors. Bob would probably love it, except for the canned pineapple. At first, I came up with the concept of an alcoholic beverage, which I was going to call “Deep Throat Delight.” But then I had trouble finding pistachio liqueur locally and I’m reluctant to order it through the mail; I’d hate to receive a broken bottle of booze. It’s probably expensive stuff, too. I’m keeping it in the back of my mind, however, so maybe you’ll see a future post about my seductively-named cocktail—we’ll see.

My other thought was a main dish/salad, so I came up with this—I hope you’ll like it.

Post-Watergate Salad

  • ½ tablespoon salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 ounce pecan halves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 ounce dry roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup light sour cream
  • ¼ cup light mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ pound cooked chicken, coarsely chopped
  • 3 ounces dried pineapple, coarsely chopped
  • ½ cup scallions, thinly sliced

In a small skillet, melt the butter. Add 1 teaspoon sugar and the cayenne. Add the nuts and sauté over high heat for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Combine the remaining sugar and the sour cream through the white pepper in a large bowl with a whisk until smooth. Add all the remaining ingredients and combine well. Cover and refrigerate leftovers. 

Works on a bed of lettuce, or served on crackers or bread.

Post-Watergate Salad

Just in case you want to make the original salad, here’s a link to a typical recipe with a lovely photo of a pile of green fluff: Authentic Watergate Salad. This blog claims the recipe originated at the Watergate Hotel, but again, I’m not sure anyone can back up that assertion.

This other blog is not exactly enchanted with the dish: The Alien Landscape of Watergate Salad.

Food is so subjective, don’t you think?

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