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. Sue @ Frugal Gifts 2 Give

    Thank you! ;)5 stars

  2. Sue @ Frugal Gifts 2 Give

    This looks great Meggan! I can’t wait to make this for my nephew’s birthday party that’s coming up! This is just what I was looking for! Thanks for sharing!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thanks Sue! I hope you enjoy it. :) Happy birthday to your nephew!

  3. Susan Walsh

    HI Meggan

    Im in London and I made your dish this week to celebrate summer and as an interesting alternative to boring salad and served alongside steak.  I eliminated the sugar altogether and also used raw corn straight from the cobb. It was absolutely delicious!  I don’t think the dish needed any additional sweetness – the peppers and corn added enough in my opinion. Great, great dish and I have already passed it along to a load of friends who will be enjoying the dish across the pond this summer. Thanks again!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Susan, I’m so happy to hear that!!! Makes my heart sing. :) It’s true, the dish doesn’t really *need* the sugar. That’s just the classic recipe. I love when people modify it to their taste, and I’m positively tickled that folks in London are enjoying Midwestern food. That’s just the best! Thanks again!!!

  4. Sandy

    Do you think I could can this if I pressure canned it5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Sandy, I really have no idea! I don’t know anything about canning or whether special ingredients/methods are required. I used to have a guide to canning around… if I find it and learn anything, I’ll email you. Wish I could help more!

  5. Beka

    This was amazing!!!!! I could live on it!!! Oh yummm!!!!!! Perfection!!!5 stars

    1. meggan

      HOORAY! Thanks, Beka! So glad it worked out for you. :)

  6. Rachele

    Do you know how many calories are in a 1 cup serving?5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Rachele, I’ve now added a nutrition label for this recipe. It’s calculating 194 calories for a 1-cup serving (not including chips). It might be just *slightly* high because it assumes all of the dressing in the recipe is consumed, while in my experience a lot ends up at the bottom of the bowl. But, at least it gives you a pretty good idea of the calories. Thanks for your question!

    2. meggan

      Hi Rachele, I don’t know! I don’t really compute calorie information right now, although it’s clear to me that everyone wants this information. So, I’m trying to figure out the best way to go back and add it. Sorry about that!

  7. Christy

    Can’t wait to make tonight and serve at our fam jam tomorrow! I’m going to sub stevia in the raw (by half) for the sugar. Anyone ever try it with apple cider vinegar rather than white wine variety? Just curious. I’ll be slow cooking a BBQ pork roast and thought the flavor of apple cider would compliment the pulled pork sammies!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Christy, I have made this with apple cider vinegar and it’s great! I’ve also made it with red wine vinegar and just plain white vinegar too. It’s always a hit no matter which kind of vinegar. I agree the apple cider vinegar is perfect to go with the BBQ pork! I’m crashing your fam jam for sure. ;)

  8. April

    I made this today with a few changes. First, I omitted the sugar altogether. Sugar takes this healthy dish and turns it into an unhealthy dish, IMO, and is completely unnecessary. It adds no nutritional value to the recipe yet feeds the sugar frenzy that most SAD’s are fueled by.

    Next, I used red wine vinegar because that’s what I had on hand. I only used 1/3 cup olive oil because these ingredients are going to make their own liquid and I don’t want a drippy dish. I used red, yellow, and orange peppers to really give it a good visual. Lastly, I used cumin in place of the chili powder to give it a more southwest flavor. This turned out fabulous and I will make this again.5 stars

    1. meggan

      These are great changes! I have made Cowboy Caviar too with red wine vinegar and it’s one of my favorite changes. I completely understand on the no sugar front, that’s a wise choice although I aim to present the dish in its original form which is why I included the sugar. But it’s always good when people adapt to their own needs, that’s really what it’s all about. Just finding the inspiration for something and then making it exactly the way you might love it. And it sounds like it worked out for you so that’s great! Thanks for sharing all these ideas, I especially want to try to cumin. Take care.

  9. Paddy Starr

    We took this to old school cookout in Pittsburgh. Ribs, brats, and burgers. This was the vegan option. Inevitably, it was a big hit. Thanks, Aunt Tammy!5 stars

    1. meggan

      AWESOME! I love that this is accidentally vegan. LOL! Ribs, brats, and burgers… my stomach just growled. Thanks for sharing your story. :) Glad it was a hit. Happy weekend!

  10. Love it! I think this amount of sugar is perfect. I make my Cowboy Caviar different each time I make it, a lot depends on my mood. I’d never added sugar before but now that I’ve tried it this way, I can’t wait to do so again. As a Kentuckian, I tip my hat to you Midwesterners, you nailed it!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Joi, you’ve made my day! Thank you so much. :) I appreciate that you tried the recipe and I’m so happy it worked out for you. Have a great weekend and thanks again!

  11. Carol

    Great recipe!!!!! Everyone’s tastes are different and l found this recipe way too oily!!! No worries, l rinsed the dressing off with water and started again. This time l added 1 tsp chilli powder, 3 tbls lemon juice and a table spoon of maple syrup. Amazing!!! Thanks so much for sharing!!! My son is a vegan and l’ve never tried black eyed peas until now. I will be adding them in more of my recipes. 5 stars

    1. meggan

      Thank you, Carol! I’m so glad you were able to make it work for you. I do think it’d be easy to leave the oil out of this, and I’m glad you were smart enough to rinse it off and start over rather than just wasting it. Good job. :) I will definitely try your variation; it’s a lot healthier! Especially for people who are vegan or not eating refined sugar. Many thanks. Take care!

  12. Jessie Hill

    I sure wish cilantro was not in the recipe . I’m one of t,he people that follows a recipe exactly. If you change or add to it it is a different recipe. Anyhow I wasted a lot of stuff and next time I will leave cilantro out and will not put the dressing on till time to eat.

  13. Jessie Hill

    I have to say I have never used cilantro before. I am telling you to sniff it at the store and if it smells like soap leave it there. I thought well maybe it taste great but oh my goodness I had to throw the whole bowl out cause it all tasted soapy to me. 

    1. meggan

      Hi Jessie, I am so sorry to hear about your troubles. Basically, there is a gene in some people that causes them to think cilantro tastes like soap (my mom has this gene, so does Ina Garten, and it sounds like you do too). So, it will be all cilantro that strikes you this way, not just some. I would suggest just leaving cilantro out if you make my recipe or any others, because I don’t think you will like it under any circumstances. You could also substitute parsley if you want to but it is not necessary. For those of us who like cilantro, we can never get enough. I will update the recipe to say that parsley is also an option. I am sorry again for your troubles! Take care.

  14. Theresa

    I just made this tonight as a trial to see if it would be good for an engagement party I’m hosting for my daughter this summer. I’ve got to say it is yummy as is, I made it as directed. It is so fresh tasting! Thank you for sharing!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Theresa, that is SO great to hear! Smart of you to test the recipe in advance, just in case. I’m glad it’s going to work out for you. Congratulations to your daughter, how exciting! :)) Take care and thank you!!

  15. Lindsey

    I made this for a cookout this evening and it was a HUGE hit! Friends of mine had made “cowboy caviar” but said they hadn’t had it as good as this recipe! The midwest version is a keeper. Thanks for sharing!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hey Lindsey! That’s great news! :) I’ve seen other versions of Cowboy Caviar too, usually more like regular bean salsa or sometimes with avocado. I love this sweet version and I appreciate that you gave it a try! Also happy to hear everyone liked it. That’s not always the case. :) Take care and thank you so much!

  16. Catherine

    This recipe is absolutely delicious.  I ended up not adding the sugar at all and added a clove of minced garlic to the dressing. It was so good…it even tasted batter the next day!!! Thanks for a great recipe!!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Catherine, I’m so glad you liked it! Yes, it’s pretty delicious even without the sugar. Like a fantastic bean salsa, I think. Especially with that garlic mixed in! Glad you made it work for you. :) Take care!

  17. Jill

    I have never left a comment before, but here we go!  My son tasted Cowboy Caviar at Costco a few years back and I was floored he went back for seconds. He’s not a huge veggie eater. Needless to say, they stopped carrying the product and life went back to normal. Last week I found this recipe on Pinterest and thought, “why not?”.  Well, I will tell you that I’ve made it twice this week and it will be on our menu indefinitely. I took out the cilantro because I hate it. And my kiddo won’t touch a tomato to save his life, so those are gone too. But it didn’t alter the taste at all. BRAVO! I am uber thankful and impressed.5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Jill! This is all so wonderful. It is one of my favorite ways to eat veggies too, and also to convince others to do so. :) I had no idea Costco ever carried Cowboy Caviar either, that’s so interesting. Yes, ditch the cilantro! I do the same thing for my mom. You made my day, maybe even my week, so thank you so much for sharing your story. :) Take care!

  18. Amy hill

    Does this stay nice & fresh if I make the day ahead?5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Amy, I would say the veggies (the peppers, mostly) lose some of their crunch if they sit over night. But, I still think it tastes delicious. If anything, you could mix the salad dressing part separately and assemble a bowl of all the beans and veggies, and just toss it together at the last minute. That should preserve the freshness! Thanks!

  19. Sharon K.

    Sounds fantastic. I was at a grad party and the host served this but instead of sugar, she added one can of crushed pineapple for the sweetness. It was very addicting!5 stars

    1. meggan

      THAT sounds like a genius idea. It’s perfect, it really is. It would give the sweetness plus pineapple is just delicious. Great idea!

  20. Carmen

    I am making this now. A friend brought this recipe to a group and everyone loved it! :) I was wondering how long will it keep in the fridge? I am the only person in my home that will eat it. So I am just wondering if I can have a week of lunches or if I need to share before it spoils. Thank you!5 stars

    1. meggan

      Hi Carmen! It should be fine for 3-4 days in the fridge. So maybe not quite a week? I’m so glad you loved it though! Have a lovely weekend. :)

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