Cowboy Caviar (Melissa’s Make-Ahead Salad or Dip)
Yield: 1 quart (4 cups)
The unique preparation of this versatile recipe involves an easy, sweet-and-sour marinade that is drained off before serving. Serve as a dip with tortillas chips, a side salad, or as a salsa for chicken or fish. Perfect for a potluck and leftovers keep well for the better part of a week.

For the salad/dip:

  • 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

For the marinade:

  • 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


  1. In a large bowl, combine the black eyed peas, corn, bell pepper, pimento, and onion. Set aside.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

A few more things:

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.



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