This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.
My mother's pistachio salad does not contain real pistachios. There is not a single leaf of lettuce, nor the slightest drizzle of dressing. Instead, it falls into that particular category of salads that are bound together by gelatin or mayonnaise or, in this particular case, Cool Whip.
With its marshmallows, walnuts and pineapple, it's more dessert than side dish, although it was always served as such at my family's cookouts in the 80s, sidled up next to the hamburgers and hot dogs. Her pistachio salad was a green, unidentifiable mass, a distant cousin of the sour cream-laden ambrosia salad but with the unmistakable flavor of pistachio Jell-O interspersed throughout.
I was curious as to where the salad came from, and after a bit of digging, I found that it has Midwestern roots (which makes sense—my Connecticut-born mom got the recipe from her friend, Becky Stadelman, who is from Ohio). Interestingly, it was christened "Watergate salad" in the 1970s by a writer who thought that the name made it sound more glamorous or official, despite having absolutely no connection to The Watergate Hotel or Nixon. "Green Goop" is another popular—and highly appropriate—name.
If you own a bowl, and you can stir, you can make it. Take an eight-ounce container of Cool Whip. Stir in one package of Jell-O pistachio pudding powder (not prepared pudding, just the powder itself), a can of crushed pineapple (and the juice), a cup of mini marshmallows and half a cup of chopped walnuts. Let it hang out in the fridge for around five hours to set into a firm, semifreddo-like consistency, and you're done.
Making it now as an adult, I am struck by how artificial it tastes—but there's something oddly satisfying about the texture: The marshmallows absorb some of the pineapple liquid, almost melding into the Cool Whip, and you get a burst of tropical flavor from the pineapple and a little hint of crunch from the walnuts.
These days, I probably wouldn't serve it alongside all-beef franks. But as an unexpected topping for vanilla ice cream? Pistaschi-oh, yeah.
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