Tex-Mex Caviar

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Bill and I were invited to a potluck with some friends recently and our assignment was salad. So, I began thinking about salad options…hmm, something simple that isn’t your basic green salad would be nice. What about potato salad? Nope, don’t want to work that hard peeling, chopping, boiling and cooling potatoes. Ugh. What about pasta salad? Um, no, that’s more boiling and too much chopping. It needs to be something hearty but quick to make. Then it came to me…what about a corn and black bean salad? I happened to have most of the ingredients on hand so I started throwing them in a bowl. Corn, black beans, tomatoes, purple onion, green bell pepper…all came together quickly. Oh wait, cilantro would be good and yes, a sweet cumin lime dressing so I ran to the store, got the last ingredients and my salad was complete!

Next I took some photos and that’s when it hit me that this recipe may be Cowboy Caviar in disguise (which I honestly didn’t see when I started)! Google confirmed that is exactly what it was but I also learned about its predecessor, Texas Caviar:

“Texas Caviar is a salad of black-eyed peas lightly pickled in a vinaigrette-style dressing, often eaten as a dip accompaniment to tortilla chips. Texas caviar was created in the U.S. state of Texas around 1940 by Helen Corbitt, a native New Yorker who later became director of food service for the Zodiac Room at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas. She first served the dish on New Year’s Eve at the Houston Country Club. When she later served it at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, it was given its name, “Texas Caviar,” as a humorous comparison to true caviar, an expensive hors d’oeuvre of salt-cured fish roe. It has also been called Cowboy Caviar.” (Wikipedia)

More research led me to the original Texas Caviar recipe created by Helen Corbitt which contained black-eyed peas, cilantro, olive oil, red wine vinegar, serrano chili, red bell pepper, red onion, salt and pepper. Her recipe, often referred to as “pickled black-eyed peas” evolved over the years to the recipe we know as Cowboy Caviar. Chefs all over the country have created their own variations of this crowd-pleaser using a red-wine vinaigrette (like the original) or bottled Italian dressing.

My recipe has some of the original ingredients (red onion, cilantro and red bell pepper) as well as corn, avocado, tomatoes, black beans and a sweet cumin lime dressing giving it more of a Tex meets Mex kind of feel. Having created a version of Cowboy Caviar by accident and in honor of Helen Corbitt’s original Texas Caviar, I named mine Tex-Mex Caviar. No matter what you call it, I hope you enjoy this tasty and simple dish, filled with fresh ingredients, as much as I do!

Tex-Mex Caviar is great as a meal or side dish. But don’t hesitate to serve it with some salty tortilla chips for a hearty snack or appetizer!

Tex-Mex Caviar

  • 1 can corn (1 ½ cups) or 2 ears of corn
  • 1 can black beans (1 ½ cups)
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 red or green bell pepper (or half of each)
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • ½ purple onion
  • 3 T lime juice
  • 1 T rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Drain the canned corn or slice it off the cob. Drain and rinse the black beans. Peel and chop the avocado. Rinse and chop the pepper and cilantro. Peel and chop the onion. For best results, chop the avocado, pepper, cilantro and onion in small pieces similar in size to the beans and corn. Combine ingredients in a bowl and set aside while you make the dressing.

Combine the lime juice, rice vinegar, olive oil, sugar, cumin, garlic, salt and pepper in a bowl or mini blender. Mix well, pour over the veggie mixture and marinate for an hour; stir to combine and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve as a salad or a dip with tortilla chips.

Root Notes

  • I used canned corn originally but also tested with fresh corn on the cob which was crunchy and delicious. Two ears will yield exactly what you need. Simply shuck the corn, remove the silk and slice the kernels off. 
  • I used canned black beans but feel free to cook some dry black beans if you have that much ambition (which I don’t). 
  • Use whatever tomatoes you have on hand. Vine-ripened always taste the best. Petite medley snacking tomatoes, grape, roma, heirloom, cherry, campari or globe tomatoes are all good options. 
  • For the avocado, cut in half lengthwise, hold in the palm of your hand and remove the pit by hitting it (the pit, not your hand) with your knife and twisting. Then take your knife and make thin slices up and down and across the avocado, being careful not to slice through the skin! Scoop out using a spoon. 
  • Two small limes will yield 3 tablespoons of juice. 
  • You will want enough dressing to coat and flavor the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it. This recipe is a good amount but if you want more, just double it. 
  • For the oil, I recommend extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil as the healthiest options. Choose based on availability, price and your taste preferences. 
  • For extra zing, add a little chopped jalapeño or dash of cayenne or chili pepper to the dressing.
  • I’m a big believer in using whatever you have on hand for a recipe. If you don’t have all of the ingredients, just substitute in what you do have. No bell pepper? Use mini colored peppers, cucumber or zucchini. No red onion? Add white, yellow, green or a shallot (use 1/4 cup as shallots are more potent).  No cilantro? Use basil. No vine-ripened tomatoes, use some from the grocery store. No lime? Use more vinegar. No avocado? Don’t worry, just leave it out. No chips? Just eat it with a spoon like I do!

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