Cowboy Caviar Recipe

This easy recipe for Cowboy Caviar fun, colorful, and endlessly adaptable. Healthy black-eyed peas, vegetables, and beans bring good luck no matter when you eat them, so be sure to make a big bowl for your next barbecue or potluck.

Looking for some easy party snack ideas? I cracked the code to Chipotle's famous guacamole--it only took a few dozen tries, but oh, what delicious tries they were. Serve it with homemade corn tortilla chips and get out of the way! Or if you're feeling old school, how about Knorr's classic spinach dip, even better than the one you remembered.

 

Cowboy caviar in a bowl on a white plate with tortilla chips.
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This classic Tex Mex recipe has become one of my favorite ways to prepare beans. If you're a bean enthusiast, Cowboy Caviar is the ultimate recipe to serve at parties. It's naturally vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free, so everyone will be able to enjoy it. And trust me, they will.

Not only is it super quick to make, but it's very versatile. Cowboy caviar, also known as Texas caviar, Cowboy Salad, Dixie Caviar, or yes, even Redneck Caviar, can be a dip, salad topping, relish, side dish, you name it. It’s a constant at any Texas barbecue and a fabulous way to eat more beans and vegetables.

Everyone is different when it comes to sugar, I know. But at the end of the day, my goal is to have you LOVE what you make, and spread the word about Cowboy Caviar. Because it's that good.

Therefore, I've added some really delicious low-sugar suggestions for you in case you want a more savory bean salad, as well as suggestions for using different varieties of heirloom beans, in case you've got some dried beans lurking in your pantry.

Need Cowboy Caviar for a bunch of hungry guests? Click and slide the number next to ‘servings’ on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.

How to make Cowboy Caviar:

No exact ingredient quantities are listed below, because so many people love to make big batches of Cowboy Caviar. See the recipe card below for specifics.

Once you chop up the onions, tomatoes, cilantro, and peppers, all the rest is smooth sailing.
Cowboy caviar ingredients in various bowls.

  1. Get the beans ready. If you're using canned beans, be sure to drain and rinse them really well under cold water. If you're cooking your own bean medley, the beans probably don't need rinsing.
  2. To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the olive oil, sugar, white wine vinegar, chili powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  3. Then add the beans and all the vegetables to the bowl and mix everything together. Stir in the cilantro, cover, and chill in the refrigerator until it's time to party.
    Separated cowboy caviar ingredients in a clear bowl.

My tips for the ultimate Cowboy Caviar:

  • Feel free to improvise. Honestly, you can make this with any combination of beans that you personally enjoy. Mix it up and have fun! Use kidney beans, pintos, limas, cannellini, vaquero, or your best heirloom beans. Sometimes you can find the fresh black-eyed peas at the grocery store. Whatever you do, just make it! Hate cilantro? Leave it out!
  • Read this if you want to lower the sugar. I’ll be the first to admit that this dressing is on the sweet side, but that’s the way it’s made in the Midwest, and many people love it exactly how it is.
    However, there’s no reason to avoid making cowboy caviar if you’re trying to cut back on sugar. In fact, here’s a few different delicious options to make it less sweet without sacrificing one iota of flavor:

    • Add 1 tablespoon of sugar at a time to the dressing, blending well between additions and tasting, until it's sweet enough for you.
    • Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and a quarter cup of freshly-squeezed lime juice to the salad. (about 2-3 limes)
    • Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon maple syrup to the salad. (about 1 1/2 lemons)
    • Add 1 tablespoon honey and a dash of tequila to the salad. Bet you didn't see that coming!
  • Make ahead. If you’re cooking ahead of time, a few of the vegetables might soften a bit in the dressing, but the beans can be dressed ahead of time without a problem. One day in advance should be fine.
  • Storing. This recipe keeps about 3-4 days in the refrigerator. It doesn't freeze well.
  • Leftovers. Enjoy the leftovers inside an omelet, spooned over a grilled steak, or tossed with fresh greens for a quick lunch.
    Cowboy caviar in a bowl on a white plate with tortilla chips.

Variations and good substitutions:

  • Canned beans are perfectly fine, but you can also cook your own beans. Dried beans are extremely economical and much lower in sodium. However, it requires more work than opening cans of beans. Cook the different bean varieties separately, as cooking times may vary depending on size and age of the dried bean. How many dried beans makes a can? You need to cook 1/2 to 3/4 cup of dried beans for every 15-ounce can of beans the recipe calls for.
  • How to cook dried beans. After rinsing in cold water and picking out any debris, bring the dried beans to a boil in a big pot of water. Boil for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender. If you plan on adding salt, add it halfway through cooking. As soon as the beans reach the desired tenderness, drain off the cooking water and let them cool.
  • Vinegar. Instead of white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar are both great substitutions.
  • Frozen corn. The original Cowboy Caviar recipe called for extra-sweet canned corn--sometimes called shoepeg corn or super sweet. But go ahead and use thawed frozen corn kernels or freshly cut corn off the cob, if you like.
  • Avocado. Avocado is good with everything. If you want to add chunks of avocado to Cowboy Caviar, choose just barely soft avocados, so they hold up in the salad without getting too mushy. Also, the avocados may darken over time, so the salad may not last as long in the refrigerator.
  • Spicy. Add a few chopped seeded jalapeño peppers to the salad for a little kick, or maybe a sprinkle of Tajin hot pepper.
  • Cowboy Caviar with Italian dressing. If you want to use Italian dressing-- and many people do-- just don't make the vinaigrette in this recipe. Start with using about 1 cup of dressing, taste it, and see if you think you need more. (I might add a little chili powder, too.)
Cowboy caviar in a bowl on a white plate with tortilla chips.

Cowboy Caviar Recipe

This easy recipe for Cowboy Caviar fun, colorful, and endlessly adaptable. Healthy black-eyed peas, vegetables, and beans bring good luck no matter when you eat them, so be sure to make a big bowl for your next barbecue or potluck.
4.75 from 144 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Appetizer, Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 12 servings
Calories: 182kcal
Author: Meggan Hill

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar or to taste, see notes
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1 pound Roma tomatoes seeded and diced
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black-eyed peas drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15 ounce) can black beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 (11 ounce) can super sweet corn, drained (see notes)
  • 1 red onion diced
  • 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro or parsley, from 1 bunch

Instructions

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, sugar, white wine vinegar, chili powder, and salt. 
  • Add tomatoes, black-eyed peas, beans, corn, red onion, and bell peppers. Stir to combine.
  • Stir in cilantro. Cover and chill until serving time.

Video

Notes

  1. Regular canned sweet corn or frozen corn may be substituted for the extra sweet corn. The closest measurement for either option is 3/4 cup, but feel free to use the whole 15-ounce can of corn.
  2. 1 sweet onion or a bunch of green onions may be substituted for the red onion.
  3. A single bell pepper may be substituted for the 1/2 cup each of chopped red and green bell peppers.
  4. In the Midwest, we like the sugar in this recipe. I personally think it tastes great. BUT. If you think 1/4 cup sugar sounds like too much, feel free to use less. Perhaps add 1 tablespoon at a time. A couple of readers have suggested this is way too sweet and they were disappointed. It breaks my heart. You can always add more vinegar and salt if you want to try to save your batch. But I swear, this is how we eat it in America's Dairyland. And we love it.

Nutrition

Calories: 182kcal
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  1. Ashley

    I just made this for the first time and absolutely loved it! I left out the cilantro because my husband hates it, and as you recommended I started with only a tablespoon of sugar and I found that to be perfect! I think if you are looking for more of a salty savory flavor, one tablespoon of sugar is perfect! Will definitely be making this again and again, thanks so much!!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thanks so much for your comment, Ashley! Glad you started off small on the sugar and loved it. :) And yes, leave out the cilantro if someone isn’t a fan! It’s the easiest thing to do and nice to have one less ingredient to buy. :) Take care and thanks a lot!

  2. Nancy Hebert

    To be true to the recipe I made it pretty much exactly like it is written. I did substitute  Poblano pepper for about 1/3 of the bell pepper. My red onion was too strong apparently because it overpowered the dish. I too found it to be too sweet with 1/3 cup of sugar unless using it strictly as a relish. I’m not crazy about black eyed peas so using this as a relish to mix with the black eyed peas we also had for new years made both dishes more palatable. I would make this recipe again but with only 1/2 the sugar, maybe less.

  3. melolexx

    Loved this recipe for new year’s potluck appetizer! Used 1/4 cup sugar and a 1/2 tsp of black pepper but otherwise made exactly as you have it. I agree the sugar it partly what makes this “cowboy caviar” vs. a more tex-mex style recipe. It also makes it kind of a special treat. Thanks !5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you so much Melissa! I’m making it myself, too. You must be from the Midwest if you love the sugar too. :) I think just that little tweak makes it so good and different. Happy New Year!

  4. This a great healthier option! Love it! Colors are fantastic, and flavors awesome!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thanks Bec! I’m planning to try it soon with coconut sugar for those who prefer that. :) Thanks again!

  5. Nadine

    Do you think it would be ok to freeze the leftover?

    1. meggan

      Hi Nadine, I am not sure it would hold up well. The flavors would be fine, but I suspect the texture would be quite mushy after freezing and thawing. I wouldn’t really recommend it. Thanks for your question!

  6. Staci

    Would you consider this more of an appetizer or a side dish? Looking forward to trying this. Thank you!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Staci, I consider this more of an appetizer (served with tortilla chips like salsa). However, if you wanted to be healthy, you could eat it as a side dish or a topping to grilled meats, something like that. However, traditionally it is an appetizer. I hope you love it! Thanks for your question. :)

  7. Can’t wait to make this, thanks for sharing. Always looking for a new side for myself, or for impressing my guests! I love your blog! Keep up the good work!5 stars

  8. Sam

    Wow, really love this salad! (w 1T sugar, and a jalapeno!).  Found this by accident when I was looking at your ancho chile powder technique (from poblano peppers, we have a bunch growing), and made it to surprise my wife.  I bookmarked this site to find some more treasures!  Thanks.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Sam! Wow thank you so much! :) Sounds like you made a pretty fantastic version of the Cowboy Caviar. So excited you have poblano peppers growing. That’s definitely my favorite pepper! Thank you so much and have a great day. :)

  9. Nadine

    I have made your cowboy caviar (with less sugar) several times now. Everyone loves it! This is great for parties and potlucks because it won’t go bad (or taste bad) if you can’t keep it chilled the whole time. Thank you so much for giving me a delicious way to eat my veggies! 5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Nadine, that is so great to hear! And you are right, it’s nice to have something that won’t spoil because of mayo or whatever. It is definitely the best way to eat vegetables and beans! :) Thanks so much for trying the recipe and I’m glad you like it.

  10. Karen

    I tried this at a birthday party yesterday and it was amazing! And I don’t usually like beans! The version I had also had chick peas in it and they used Garlic Expressions dressing and marinade. I think there are a lot of variations you could do with this recipe.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hey Karen! I will definitely have to seek out that dressing, it sounds fabulous. So glad someone made Cowboy Caviar! It’s so good and like you said, the sky is the limit! Have a great week!

  11. bb

    Just made this Cowboy Caviar and it’s delicious. The sweetness reminds me of Three Bean Salad. Thank you!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi BB! Three Bean Salad is on my list to post next, it’s really good. :) Thanks so much for trying my recipe and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Take care.

  12. Cindy

    I make this all the time, love it! Side note: try substituting apple cider vinegar for white wine vinegar, gives it a nice tangy bite! I usually add the juice of 1 lime as well, it brightens up all of the flavors. Also makes an awesome topping for scrambled eggs or omelettes. This has been a family favorite for years!!!!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Cindy! Your tweaks sound awesome, especially the part about eating the Cowboy Caviar with eggs omelettes, Hellloooo high-protein breakfast! In the best possible way! Thank you so much, have a lovely day. :)

  13. Pam Pew

    Love this!  But, here in New Mexico we add green chillis to everything.  So, I added some chopped roasted mild green chillis and made a double batch hoping for leftovers (there are 4 of us). No such luck!  Finished it in one day.  The kids asked me to make more tomorrow….5 stars

    1. meggan

      Green chiles are great in this recipe! I’ve tried it myself. They are good in everything, like you said. :) I cannot believe the four of you ate A DOUBLE BATCH in one day. Wait – I can believe it. So happy to hear that, thank you Pam!

  14. Cassandra Mangiafico

    Can I substitute cannelini beans for black eyed peas?

    1. meggan

      Hi Cassandra, yes absolutely! Sometimes canned black eyed peas are hard to find, so just substitute whatever you have on hand or can locate. Cannelinis are great. Thank you so much!

  15. Joanne

    Hi Meggan I have yet to make this and looking forward to it. My question is,,if I were to use dry beans and soak them would you know the quantity? I have a big bin of 7 beans and would like to soak them and use them for your recipe but I am uncertain how much I should use. Any idea??? Would I have to cook them after I soaked them? Clearly I have not done this before…lol.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Joanne! First, you will definitely need to cook the beans after you soak them. The package should tell you how to cook them (it’s probably something like, boil them for an hour, or faster if you use a pressure cooker although I’ve never used one myself). I looked up the conversion of dried beans to canned beans. You’re replacing 2 cans of beans (the black-eyed peas and the black beans), and it looks like 1/2 to 3/4 cup dried beans = 1 can of beans. So, it’s up to you if you want to use 1 cup total or 1 1/2 cups total. Depends on how many you’re feeding, I think! There will be MORE than enough dressing/sauce if you want to go with 1 1/2 cups of dried beans and cook those up. Good for you for putting your giant bag of beans to work! Good luck and thanks for your questions. I love to feel useful. :) Take care!

  16. LaShelle

    I have been making Cowboy Caviar a lot this summer. The recipe I use is very similar to yours. Each time I make it, I add something a little different. It depends what is in the fridge. In fact, I just made a batch to take to my cousin’s for tomorrow. We are going to be making several batches of pear strudels. We are going to need to snack on something to keep our strength up. Lol. For the dressing though, I have been using a roasted garlic olive oil with balsamic vinegar that I purchased at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo. That stuff is AMAZING! I use it in everything.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Roasted Garlic Olive Oil with Balsamic Vinegar….?!?! That sounds AMAZING!!! Pretty sure I could drink that straight. And yes, I’m so happy you throw “whatever” in your Cowboy Caviar, not everyone is comfortable doing that but it’s such a good way to be! It’s different every time, you can use stuff up, and you don’t get bored. Pear strudels? Sounds exhausting. :) Good luck to you! Thank you so much for sharing!

  17. Carol

    I have an intolerance to corn what would be a good sub?

    1. meggan

      Hey Carol! You could just leave the corn out entirely and not worry about it, or you could add another bean (or bell pepper) in its place. Another commenter added pineapple instead of sugar, that sounds pretty good to me too! I feel like diced up cucumber would also work. Good luck!

  18. We up in Michigan don’t use the sugar at all. nor does it have the red or green peppers. Instead, we have avocado, tobasco sauce, white not sweet corn, green not red onion, and only the black beans. I’m excited to try this version!5 stars

    1. meggan

      LOVING your variation Kelli! Especially the avocado. :) Thank you so much for sharing!

  19. Melissa

    I normally don’t comment on many recipes but I have to say- this is great! I’ve had it before but never made it and it turned out great. I don’t think it was too sweet at all! I only added half the sugar to the dressing at first, but after tasting it decided it was still too bitter with the vinegar and oil so added the rest of the sugar and it is perfect. Doesn’t taste at all sugary which I was worried about after reading some of the reviews. (I am also in the Midwest- MN here!) it’s just like all of the other recipes o have tasted before- actually I think it’s better! Thanks!!5 stars

    1. meggan

      So great to hear Melissa! Makes me so happy. :) I love MN and was in Minneapolis/Hanover at the beginning of July. It’s one of my favorite places! Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed it and it worked for you. And yes – all the sugar for me, please. :) Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

  20. Carol Van Loon

    Wowwweee!! Oh my goodness! Had this at a birthday party and my hubby and I LOVED this!!Now I have to make it all the time! My hubby requires it to be in the fridge at all times! Have given batches to a lot of people and they ask for the recipe and, of course, I give them your site! I do want to say that my hubby doesn’t like me using sugar, so I only put in half the sugar and may try honey the next time. Keep the fantastic recipes coming and THANK YOU to Aunt Tammy! 5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you so much Carol! That’s all just so fantastic. :) I appreciate you spreading the word about my little ol’ blog! I think other readers have used honey in the recipe with great results, and I’m planning to try that myself at some point. Just so I can write in the variation! Thank you again for your kind words and support. :) Take care!

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