Cowboy caviar is seriously perfect potluck party food — especially in the South, where tailgating season begins before the air turns crisp. Where once tailgating literally meant lowering the tailgate of a friend’s truck, opening a bag of chips and a can of beer, we now have tents, tables, and decor. Needless to say, the snacks have improved as well. Cowboy caviar is best made ahead; it’s filling but not heavy, and can be served at room temperature without any sign of congealed cheese or questionably warm mayo.
Although I advocate the use of canned beans, somewhere along the way cooks began taking convenience too far, replacing the simple vinaigrette with bottled Italian dressing. Using the store-bought dressing leaves the dip too oily, oddly sweet, and artificial tasting. In my mind there’s no need to take that shortcut when, with a few quick swipes of your knife and a whip of your whisk, you can have a dip that tastes fresh. I tuck cowboy caviar into scrambled egg breakfast burritos, toss it with cooked grains for lunch, serve it atop lettuce leaves for dinner, and of course snack on it with tortilla chips. It’s also why the flavors of cumin, chili powder, oregano, and lime feel right at home in this recipe.
What Is Cowboy Caviar?
Whether you call it cowboy caviar, Texas caviar, or even Dixie caviar, this is your standard bean salsa upgraded. In the 1940s, Helen Corbitt, chef, cookbook author, and Yankee transplant to Texas was tasked with catering an event using only Texas-grown products. The result was Texas Caviar, a black-eyed pea salad tossed with light vinaigretteand named with a slight wink to Corbitt’s ambivalence to using the humble black-eyed pea. My take on Corbitt’s creation uses a combination of black-eyed peas and black beans and adds a colorful array of crisp, fresh vegetables.
Your New Favorite Make-Ahead Party Snack
Cowboy caviar is an easy party snack, but I mix up a batch every few weeks to keep in my fridge for an easy lunch or a quick snack as I prepare supper. You can certainly serve the dip immediately, but it is also a prime candidate for a make-ahead meal, as the flavor only gets better as the beans and veggies marinate in the vinaigrette. Just be sure to take it out of the refrigerator a few minutes before serving to take the chill off.
Makes about 5 1/2 cups; serves 8 to 12 as an appetizer
For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons olive oil
Finely grated zest of 1 medium lime
Juice of 1 medium lime
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the cowboy caviar:
1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium Roma or plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 medium orange bell pepper, seeded and diced small
1/2 medium jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
1/4 medium red onion, small dice
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen corn kernels
Chopped fresh cilantro
Make the vinaigrette: Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until well-combined.
Make the cowboy caviar: Add the black-eyed peas, black beans, garlic, tomatoes, bell pepper, jalapeño, red onion, and corn to the bowl of dressing and toss until well-coated. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, then toss again and garnish with cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips, on a salad, or in a tortilla.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in a covered container for up to 1 week.
Make ahead: The vinaigrette can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored an airtight container in the refrigerator.