Is it an appetizer? Is it a salad? It’s both, and it’s delicious! Cowboys and caviar go together like pickles and peanut butter, but this dish will make you grateful those two words found each other and lent the name of their union to this refreshing, taste bud-tingling dish.
Cowboy Caviar, a more intriguing name for Black Bean Salsa, is healthy and filling at the same time, and most importantly—fabulously yummy!
I usually make a Cowboy Caviar appetizer because any excuse for more tortilla chips is a win, but this recipe also makes a great salad. Add a little grilled chicken or shrimp, and it’s an easy supper!
A few tablespoons also works great on top of roasted pork tenderloin or fish. (By the way, this recipe is very different from the cowboy caviar dip with sour cream I’ve seen recently on Pinterest which uses a Mexicorn blend, Rotel tomatoes, cheese, and no beans.)
My Cowboy Caviar dip starts with a simple but flavorful vinaigrette. The key is making this Cowboy Caviar with red wine vinegar and fresh lime juice which adds the bright quality only fresh citrus juice can.
I’ve seen recipes for making cowboy caviar with apple cider vinegar, but that makes the dressing just a little too sweet for me. As with most of my go-to spring/summer recipes, there isn’t any mayo in this dip and not much oil, which makes it safe for transporting and a cool, light treat for a hot, sunny day!
Black beans make up the bulk of this salad. They’re also called “turtle beans” because of their hard shell, and they’re a staple of the Latin American diet. I like them in this dip because they hold their shape well even with all the mixing and dipping.
The beans are sweetened with a little corn, pretty, peppery purple onion, juicy chopped tomatoes, and the piece de resistance – avocado. I choose to make my Cowboy Caviar with avocado because it adds a cool, creamy component to the dip that isn’t typically found in this type of recipe.
Avocados are full of good fats, provide a richness of both flavor and color, and are surprisingly high in fiber. Heck, they can even be used for an indulgent, moisturizing facial if you’re tired of guacamole (said no one ever).
If you’ve tried the cowboy caviar Trader Joe’s sells, you’ll notice a difference in the heat level and saucy quality of my dip vs. there’s.
Their “dressing” uses chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, which adds quite a bit of heat and an undeniable Tex-Mex flare. I chose a much simpler vinaigrette seasoned with just salt and pepper so the flavors of the vegetables stand out and the freshness of chopped cilantro and ripe tomatoes is noticeable as well.
Fresh tomatoes make this dip infinitely better than some of the recipes that call for Rotel or other canned varieties, and summer is the best time for finding the perky, plump fruit, so definitely take advantage of it here.
The cowboy caviar Pioneer Woman prepares, which she also calls a black eyed pea salsa, doesn’t have any tomatoes (or avocado) at all. She fills her dip with other produce like celery, cucumber, and bell peppers. While these vegetables provide great texture, I think the celery in particular takes over a bit and hides the subtle flavor and textures of the other ingredients.
She also, obviously, uses black eyed peas instead of black beans, which I think folks from the Lone Star State would argue officially makes this Texas Caviar.
So many of my favorite summer dishes are great at doing double-duty or making leftovers less boring. Spending the day inside cooking just isn’t as much fun when backyard pool parties are calling your name.
This dip or salad or snack, or whatever you want to call it, is super easy to put together and satisfies all those criteria. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Salt Lick: If you do plan on serving this as a dip with tortilla chips, use a reserved hand when seasoning with salt. The dip combined with regular (salted) tortilla chips can be overpoweringly salty if you season the dip too generously. You might even start with unsalted beans just to have a little more control over the seasoning. You may find you need a little EXTRA salt if you go the salad route.
Beans, beans: There are so many beautiful shapes and colors of beans, and they’re all super good for you, so feel free to substitute and/or combine more than one bean in this recipe. The Pioneer Woman makes her cowboy caviar black eyed peas heavy, rather than using black beans, and they work as a great substitute in this recipe. Since you’ll need two cans, feel free to use one of both, or substitute a can of cannellini beans or small red kidney beans. I prefer not to use garbanzo beans in this recipe, especially when I’m serving it as a dip, just because they’re a little crunchier than other, creamier beans. (Flatter beans also seem to have an easier time not rolling off my chips!)
Tomatoes: You’ll notice this recipe calls for chopped (large) tomatoes rather than grape or cherry tomatoes. The latter are often my go-to in a salad because they require little-to-no chopping and are almost always ripe and sweet. It’s the sweetness, though, that I want to avoid in this recipe, especially since I already have the natural sugar from corn. Fresh hot house or large vine-ripened tomatoes have a very particular acidity that balances the flavors of the dish. Plum or Roma tomatoes are a good option, and you can definitely use quartered cherry tomatoes if the only alternative is green or mealy. Another trick is to remove the seeds from your tomatoes to better control the moisture in the salad and keep from diluting the vinaigrette. Just slice your tomatoes in half and spoon out the seeds, along with any tough white bits, before you chop them for this dip.
- 1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
- 4 Tablespoons Fresh Lime Juice
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 1/4 Teaspoons Salt
- 1/2 Teaspoon Black Pepper
- 2-15 Ounce Black Beans Canned, Drained and Rinsed
- 1-17 Ounce Whole Kernel Corn Canned,Drained and Rinse
- 3 Large Tomatoes Chopped
- 1/2 Cup Red Onion Chopped
- 1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro Chopped
- 2 Large Avocado Diced
- In a large bowl, whisk together red wine vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Add black beans, corn, tomato, red onion and cilantro and mix to evenly combine. Gently fold in avocado.
- Chill in the fridge for 1 hour to allow flavors to combine. Serve.