Cowboy Caviar Recipe

A party salad from the 1940s with a serious cult following, this Cowboy Caviar recipe is 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.

This recipe is the classic version which is just as sweet as it is tangy. I’ve made some delicious low-sugar suggestions in case you prefer to keep things a little more savory.

Everyone is different when it comes to sugar, but I just want you to have a dish that you’ll make again and again, because you love it so much. (You’ll see in the comments that some readers find the original recipe way too sweet, while others think it’s just perfect!)

A party salad from the 1940s with a serious cult following, this Cowboy Caviar recipe is 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.

Need to feed 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.


What is cowboy caviar?

Cowboy caviar, also known as Texas caviar, can be a dip, salad topping, relish, side dish, you name it! It’s standard fare at any Texas barbecue and a fabulous way to eat more beans and vegetables.

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Who invented Cowboy Caviar?

If you’re trying to figure out who to thank, you can tip your cowboy hat to Helen Corbitt, a non-Texan. In the 1940s, she was working as a chef at Neiman Marcus and was asked to create a Texas themed menu that used black-eyed peas, but she didn’t really care for them. She ended up pickling the beans in a sweet, vinegar-based dressing. It was a hit, and the rest is history.

Is Cowboy Caviar vegan?

Yes, it is, as long as you don’t make it with honey.

Is Cowboy Caviar gluten free?

Because it’s all beans and veggies, cowboy caviar is gluten free. Just pick corn tortilla chips for serving!

A party salad from the 1940s with a serious cult following, this Cowboy Caviar recipe is 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.

Can you make Cowboy Caviar with less 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 ways to make it less sweet without sacrificing flavor:

  • Add 1 tablespoon of sugar at a time, blending well between additions and tasting, until desired sweetness is achieved.
  • Add a tablespoon of sugar and a quarter cup of lime juice to the salad.
  • Add 3 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 tablespoon maple syrup to the salad.
  • Add 1 tablespoon honey and a dash of tequila to the salad.

Can you make Cowboy Caviar ahead of time?

If you’re cooking ahead of time, a few of the fresh veggies might soften a bit in the dressing if you make more than a day in advance, but the beans can be dressed ahead of time without a problem.

I would certainly feel okay about letting it sit overnight, and there is no risk of anything spoiling if you let it sit in your refrigerator for 3 or 4 days.

A party salad from the 1940s with a serious cult following, this Cowboy Caviar recipe is 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.

Can you make Cowboy Caviar without cilantro?

If cilantro tastes like soap and you can’t stand it, feel free to omit the cilantro and add parsley, chopped scallion, or minced chives in its place.

What kind of vinegar works best with Cowboy Caviar?

This recipe calls for red wine vinegar, but you can use apple cider vinegar or even plain white vinegar if that’s all you have. It’s always a hit no matter which kind of vinegar you use.

Can you use Italian dressing in Cowboy Caviar?

If you want to use Italian dressing, and many people do, just omit the olive oil, sugar, white wine vinegar, chili powder, and salt. Start with using about 1 cup of dressing, taste it, and see if you think you need more.

How long can you keep Cowboy Caviar?

This recipe keeps about 3-4 days in the refrigerator.

A party salad from the 1940s with a serious cult following, this Cowboy Caviar recipe is 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.

Can you freeze Cowboy Caviar?

Although I wouldn’t recommend freezing this dish, I would recommend eating the leftovers on as many things as possible until it’s gone. Throw it on top of some scrambled eggs, toss it in a green salad, or spoon it over a steak.

Do you use canned or dried beans in Cowboy Caviar?

When it comes to the black-eyed peas and beans, seek out the canned varieties if you can, if only for the convenience. You may also find fresh, cooked black-eyed peas in the produce section.

If you’re trying to limit your sodium or you’re making Cowboy Caviar for an army, you certainly can use dried beans for this recipe.

Can you make Cowboy Caviar that’s low in sodium?

If you’re eating a diet that’s low in sodium, look for low sodium labeled canned beans, or cook dried beans at home.

Using dried beans to make Cowboy Caviar:

The instructions on the package should tell you how to cook them, but usually you boil the beans for an hour or cook them in half the time using a pressure cooker. The ratio of dried beans to canned beans is 1/2 to 3/4 cup of dried beans= one 15 ounce can of beans.

What kind of corn do you use in Cowboy Caviar?

If you’re trying to figure out what type of corn to buy, the original recipe calls extra sweet corn (in a can) which may also be labeled as super sweet corn or even shoepeg corn, depending on the brand. It’s a smaller can than normal, 11 ounces instead of 15 ounces.

If you can’t find it or would rather not pay the premium, use regular canned sweet corn (not creamed) or even 3/4 cup frozen corn, thawed. If it’s in season, use fresh corn cut off the cob for a nice, naturally sweet crunch.

An ear of corn upright with a chef's knife cutting off the kernels from the cob.

What else can be added to Cowboy Caviar?

If you’re feeling like changing it up even more, here’s what other creative cowboys and cowgirls like to add to their cowboy caviar:

  • Green bell peppers, chopped
  • Celery hearts, finely chopped
  • Goat cheese or feta, crumbled
  • Minced garlic
  • A dash of Tequila!
  • 1 can of canned Ro*tel tomatoes (drained) in place of the raw tomatoes
  • Cooked chickpeas
  • A dash or two of Tiger Sauce
  • Black olives, chopped

Save this Cowboy Caviar to your “Appetizers” Pinterest board!

And let’s be friends on Pinterest! I’m always pinning tasty recipes!

A party salad from the 1940s with a serious cult following, this Cowboy Caviar recipe is 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.
4.95 from 51 votes
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Cowboy Caviar Recipe

A party salad from the 1940s with a serious cult following, this Cowboy Caviar recipe is 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.

Course Appetizer, Salad
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 12 servings
Calories 194 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar (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 (from 1 bunch)

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, sugar, white wine vinegar, chili powder, and salt. 

  2. Add tomatoes, black-eyed peas, beans, corn, red onion, and bell peppers. Stir to combine.

  3. Stir in cilantro. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or overnight to blend flavors. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Recipe 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.

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