Texas Caviar is well known around here (here being Texas). I know that sounds silly, but when I mentioned on PIE’s facebook page that I was whipping up Texas Caviar, my new PIE friend Jeannie Miller kindly pointed out that if you are from Washington, this is not so obvious. And it is slightly ethnocentric of me to presume that everyone would know, so for the uninitiated, it is basically a black eyed pea salsa. And, man is it good!
My history with black eyed peas is pretty bleak. I may have already mentioned that whenever my Grandma Dean would make them I would stuff them into the hollowed out hulls of burnt dinner rolls. Nobody ever gets on your case for not eating burnt rolls. But, black eyed peas never really inspired me. This past New Year I made Hoppin’ John with Collard Greens and Cornbread that was, in a word, transcendent. Now, I’m eyeballing these humble cowpeas every time I go to the market. These were labeled field peas. There are all kinds of names and varieties of what we all call black eyed peas. In fact, they are “cowpeas” as I understand it. Some cowpeas are the heavily marketed variety called black eyed peas, and then there are many regional cousins such as crowders, colored-eyes, and creamers. The names of some of the varieties are great…Mississippi Silverbrown, Blue Goose, Texas Big Boy, and Dixie Queen, to name only a few. I turned to this article on pea (actually bean) varieties to straighten myself out on the topic. But for the sake of simplicity, I’m calling them black eyed peas…and I’m calling them peas even though they are beans. Suspend your need for accuracy just for me.
Texas Caviar, as I mentioned, is a classic Texas dish. However, most recipes call for canned black eyed peas to be soaked with a bottled Italian dressing. Let me say that in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I have no problem with that if you want to take the less fussy route. That is how it has been done for years. I, however, picked up a bag of beautiful black eyed peas at the Celebration Farmers Market and decided to cram as much fresh goodness into this humble little dip as I could. I also used a very simple olive oil vinaigrette. It is easy, cheap, and has great flavor. Even if you use canned peas I recommend trying a homemade vinaigrette. You can skip down a bit past the cooking of the peas if you are using canned. The onion and bacon are cut chunky for the cooking of the peas because they are removed after cooking.
This is addictive stuff. You might think there is nothing to this, but I found myself standing at the fridge eating it out of the bowl with a giant spoon. And it is so, so, so very good with chips. You need this in your permanent recipe collection. Believe me!
Black Eyed Peas:
3 cups of fresh (not dried) black eyed peas, or 2 cans, drained
½ medium onion, cut in half again
1 slice of bacon, cut into several chunks
1 can of low sodium chicken broth
1 red bell pepper, small dice
1 large jalapeno pepper, small dice
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 to 3 green onions, thinly sliced
10 to 15 grape tomatoes, cut into small bits
Fresh oregano and parsley, to taste (or about ¼ teaspoon dried of each)
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup champagne vinegar
1½ teaspoons brown sugar
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1. Place the fresh black eyed peas, the bacon, the onion, and the chicken broth in a medium saucepan. Add enough water to cover the peas. Simmer for approximately 25 to 30 minutes or until the peas are as tender as you prefer them. Strain the peas into a colander and pick out the chunks of onion and bacon and discard them.
2. Meanwhile, dice the vegetables and prepare the vinaigrette. You may either whisk all of the vinaigrette ingredients together or place them in a lidded jar and shake the jar until the ingredients are emulsified.
3. Place the peas and the vegetables and herbs in a medium bowl. Pour the vinaigrette over the peas and stir it all to combine. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate the caviar until you are ready to serve it. This is best made a day, or at least several hours, in advance so that the flavors can blend together nicely.
4. Season as needed with salt and pepper. Serve with corn tortilla chips.
Notes: This will keep in the refrigerator for several days. You may strain off some of the vinaigrette to serve the caviar. It acts as a marinade for the peas and is not necessary when you serve it, but be gentle because it is really tasty and you don’t want to lose too much.
This is easily made a vegetarian dish by omitting the bacon and using only water when you cook the peas.
These peas were purchased at my sweet little neighborhood market in the Celebration Restaurant parking lot. It is small, but you can pick up fresh seasonal produce, interesting food products such as local honey and In a Pickle spicy pickles, and Kessler Cookies. Visit my post on the Celebration Farmers Market to learn more. And in any case, I encourage you to become a patron of your closest farmers market. These markets are wonderful business incubators for small farmers, food entrepreneurs, chefs, artists, and crafters. It is also a way to meet neighbors that we have a curious way of never meeting these days (I’m the worst about that). It is fresh, fun, and festive and your grocery store will always be down the road to fill in the blanks. We all benefit from healthy and thriving farmers markets.
Finally, have I told you about my garden. I, the owner of a big black thumb who has spent years killing every plant-based life form around me, have started a vegetable and herb garden. And it is an absolute delight. I have done it as inexpensively as possible, given the likelihood of a small yield in my first year. It is in my driveway, because that is the only spot in our yard that gets enough sun. I’m sure I have chosen some duds of plants. I had to move watermelons that I gave only about 2 square feet of growing room. And, I have lost one or two. But for the most part it is a thriving little spot where the kids and I watch things grow. It has made me incredibly happy. And that joy is oddly not attached to the success of the plants. I am using my own herbs in this recipe and I think I’ll make my investment back on herbs alone. And what if…what if it works and I have a million tomatoes and cucumbers and watermelons in a few more weeks? Wow, it makes me smile just thinking about it.