Nutty, creamy and crazy-flavorful Keto-Friendly Watergate Salad (aka Pistachio Cheesecake Mousse with Pineapple and Cherries) will transport you right back to the summer potlucks of your youth!
Summer potluck foods are some of my most memorable childhood food memories. There was my mom’s famous baked beans, for starters. And her taco salad. And her creamy mayo-based dressing for topping tomatoes right out of the garden. And my grandma on my dad’s side made this sort-of pineapple slab pie with vanilla frosting that was topped with almonds and cherries, which sounds weird as heck, but was actually pretty fabulous (in an over-the-top sugar rush kind of way).
On rare occasions, some kind of ambrosia salad would turn up (usually brought by a distant relative, no one in my close family made it). The minty green-colored one with the nutty flavor was always my favorite…the Watergate Salad!
Remaking a Watergate Salad into something that’s a bit healthier has been on my list of things to do for quite some time now. I kept putting it off because I was making it overly complicated. I wanted to come up with from-scratch healthy recipes for pistachio pudding, homemade marshmallows, and whipped topping. What a process!
In the end I realized that the whole point of Watergate Salad was simplicity. I decided to go with something that’s similar to Watergaate Salad; I used a base of cream cheese made into a mousse-like mixture with whipped cream folded in. It’s flavored with fresh pineapple (a little goes a long way), vanilla, almond extract, and pistachio. You can add pecans and/or shredded coconut to really take it over the top.
My version has just 7g net carbs per serving (remember net carbs = total carbs – fiber) if you make it with stevia (see the Notes below the recipe for an easy way to reduce it to 5g per serving). And if stevia isn’t your thing, honey is delicious and you only need a touch!
What is Watergate Salad?
Watergate salad is a type of dessert salad (also served as a side dish) similar to ambrosia. It’s usually made out of pistachio pudding mix, whipped topping, canned pineapple, and marshmallow. Supposedly, it’s a popular treat to bring to potlucks in Mid-Western and Southern states, but it also made frequent appearances at potlucks that I grew up with in Buffalo.
Why is it Called Watergate Salad?
One of the things I find most interesting is the intermingling of culture and cuisine. That’s the case with this salad, the origin of which is the stuff urban legends are made of. Like any good mystery, the rumors floating around are what make it intriguing.
General Foods (now Kraft Heinz) released their recipe for Pistachio Pineapple Delight (using two of their products, Jell-O instant pistachio pudding and Cool Whip whipped topping) in 1975. Rumor has it that after that, a Chicago food editor renamed it “Watergate Salad” to promote interest, and the name stuck (although both the editor and article are somehow unable to be located).
In June 1976, the Denver Post published a recipe for Watergate Salad, supposedly dreamed up by a sous chef at the Watergate Hotel.
It’s been said that the name of this salad comes from “Watergate Cake”, which is also full of nuts.
Both the Watergate salad and cake came out during the time of the Watergate scandal in the 1970’s. While there isn’t a direct relation between these recipes and the political scandal, one theory on the origin of the naming of these dishes makes a correlation: cover up whatever is inside and tuck it away (Watergate Salad is a mix of a bunch of things, covered, and then put in the fridge; similarly, Watergate Cake has a “cover-up” icing and is topped with nuts).
No-Bake Summer Dessert Recipes
In the hottest months of summer, most of us won’t go near the oven. When I lived up in Buffalo we didn’t have central air conditioning; we had window ACs for the bedrooms and fans for the rest of the house. Even though it was only sweltering hot for a couple months out of the year, during July and August I don’t think I turned my oven on even once. Even here in Florida where there’s central AC, I try to avoid turning on the oven during the hottest months. No-bake desserts are a must if you’re going to a summer potluck or BBQ!
Here are a few more no-bake dessert recipes perfect for summer months:
- Mini Frozen Peach Coconut Cream Pie with Almond Crust from Healthy Sweet Eats
- Keto No-Bake Vanilla Cheesecake Mousse with Fresh Blueberry Sauce from The Keto Queens
- Healthy 5-Ingredient Cake Batter Freezer Fudge from Ambitious Kitchen
- Vegan No-Bake Chocolate Brownie Bite Truffles from Healthy Sweet Eats
- Yields: 5 servings
- Serving size: 1/5 of recipe (about 1/2 cup)
- Calories: 224
- Fat: 21
- Saturated fat: 11
- Trans fat: 0
- Carbohydrates: 9
- Sugar: 6
- Sodium: 98
- Fiber: 2
- Protein: 3
- Cholesterol: 61
- 4 oz (115 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup diced fresh pineapple
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
- 1-2 packets stevia (or 1 to 2 tablespoons honey if keeping it low-carb isn’t a concern)
- 3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream, whipped to stiff peaks
- 1/4 cup unsalted shelled pistachios, chopped, divided
- 10 cherries, divided (see Note)
- Beat together the cream cheese and pineapple in a large bowl until the pineapple is crushed and the mixture is well-blended. Beat in the vanilla extract, almond extract, and stevia.
- Add 1/4 of the whipped cream and stir to combine. Use a rubber spatula to fold in the remaining whipped cream 1/4 at a time. Chill for 15 minutes and then fold in 3 tablespoons pistachios (reserving 1 tablespoon for garnish).
- Mince 5 cherries and fold them into the mousse. Halve the remaining 5 cherries, and use them as garnish.
- Serve chilled, topped with the remaining pistachios and cherries.
Other Optional Add-Ins: I like to add 1/4 cup chopped pecans and 3 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut for both flavor and texture.
Make-Ahead: This can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored covered in the fridge. Note that it will stiffen slightly, but still have a mousse-like texture.
Nutrition Information: The nutrition info for this recipe was calculated using stevia (not honey) and fresh cherries (not maraschino or Amarena).
Carbs: Each serving has 7g net carbs per serving (remember net carbs = total carbs – fiber) if you make it with stevia. To get it down to about 5g net carbs per serving, omit the cherries.