A make-ahead recipe with a cheeky name, this bean-based dip, commonly served with tortilla chips, is equally delicious as a salad or salsa. Perfect for family meals and casual entertaining, Cowboy Caviar is always a hit!
Some may be wondering. What exactly is cowboy caviar?
To clarify, there are no fish eggs in cowboy caviar! Also called Texas caviar, this cheekily titled delight is made with black-eyed peas and an assortment of vegetables that are marinated in a sweet and sour dressing and then drained.
Commonly served as a dip with tortilla chips, my family also enjoys the bean-based dish as a side salad or salsa.
And like so many great recipes, this one is flexible. You can add an additional can of beans or some chopped tomato, vary the peppers, fold in some fresh herbs, or ratchet up the heat.
The original recipe came from my sister-in-law, Melissa, who brought it to a family dinner many years ago. At the time, the marinade contained twice the amount of sugar, and she mentioned wanting to reduce it.
I played with the ratios and made a few other tweaks as I prepared this salad/dip over the years. In the process, I also came to appreciate how truly adaptable the recipe is.
My personal favorite additions are twofold: creamy avocado, which provides extra oomph and takes this recipe from dip to salad territory, and a hint of heat to balance the sweet and tangy flavors.
The dressing for this dip or salad is unique in that it’s essentially a marinade. The wholesome mixture of beans and vegetables steep in it all day, or overnight if possible, and then it’s drained off.
So while there is sugar in the recipe, albeit far less than the original recipe, most of it is removed before serving. The result is a lovely sweet and sour flavor that makes this dish a family favorite. Those who don’t typically gravitate towards this flavor profile may enjoy increasing the heat, which can be accomplished with a heftier dose of cayenne and/or the optional hot pepper.
My family will tell you that Scoops corn chips offer a fabulous chip upgrade to the classic tortilla chip. The extra thickness and crunch is truly a treat.
I’m a “mixer,” so when serving as a salad, I let it mingle with the other items on my plate, from bites of grilled chicken or shrimp to potato, tuna, or macaroni salad, grilled vegetables, and cooked grains. Like a good condiment, it perks up so many things.
When we pack a cooler for an occasional weekend away, I often reach for this recipe. It travels well, and I like that I can make a big batch in advance and serve as an appetizer one night. Then, leftovers provide welcome lunch fare or something extra on the dinner plate over subsequent days. Plus, it’s a healthy, filling option, which people often appreciate.
- 1 (15-ounce) can black eyed peas, rinsed and well drained
- 1 (11-ounce) can shoe peg corn, drained (may substitute 1½ cups fresh cooked or frozen and thawed corn)
- 1 green pepper, seeded and diced (a mix of green pepper and yellow or orange bell pepper is a nice option)
- 1 (2-ounce) jar pimento, drained and chopped (may substitute ½ a red bell pepper)
- ¼ cup red onion, minced
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 avocado, diced (optional but recommended!)
- Optional: tortilla chips if serving as a dip
- ½ cup (112ml) olive oil
- ½ cup (120ml) apple cider vinegar
- ½ cup (96g) sugar (this will be part of the marinade and most will be drained off)
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- In a large bowl, combine the black eyed peas, corn, bell pepper, pimento, and onion. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, combine the olive oil, vinegar, and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring regularly, just until the sugar is dissolved. Once the mixture comes to a boil, this won’t take long. Cool slightly, and then pour over the bean mixture and stir.
Cover and refrigerate all day or overnight if possible. Before serving, pour the mixture into a strainer or colander; drain and discard the marinade. (Tip: If some of the olive oil has solidified on the surface, simply let the mixture sit at room temperature until it softens and then drain). Add the salt and pepper, and then stir in the avocado. (Helpful hint: if you expect leftovers, you may wish to use the avocado as a topping as it browns over time.) Serve as a side salad or as a dip with tortilla chips. You may also enjoy as a salsa on grilled chicken, fish, etc. Leftovers will keep for 5-7 days.
•The recipe is easy to double. In that case, I often use one can of black eyed peas and one can of pinto beans. Black beans could also be used.
•For a more protein-rich variation, I’ve added one can of black beans to the recipe as stated, and there is enough marinade to accommodate. If you go a little heavy on other ingredients that you enjoy (for example, I’ve added 2 whole bell peppers of varying colors) and the marinade doesn’t quite cover all, simply give the ingredients a stir once or twice as they marinate.
•If you’re a fan of cilantro, you could stir in a quarter cup, minced (or to taste), before serving.
•A minced jalapeño pepper may also be added. Remove the seeds and veins for minimal heat, or add the seeds back to taste.
What are pimentos? A small jar of pimentos, which are the little pieces of roasted red pepper that green olives are often stuffed with, is a holdover from the original recipe that may easily be replaced with diced red bell pepper or roasted red peppers if you have them on hand. Sometimes, It’s easier to use something fresh. Other times, the convenience of a pantry item may be helpful.
And what about Niblets? My sister-in-law, Melissa, introduced me to Niblets, a variety of canned corn by Green Giant. With these, the corn is vacuum packed and steam-cooked in the can, and the flavor is reminiscent of freshly picked corn. Fresh, frozen, or another canned alternative may be used instead. Also note that the Niblets cans are 11 ounces. They contain the same amount of corn as the standard 15-ounce can but use less water in the canning process.